Interview: Laura Clarkson, office managing partner in Scotland at accountancy firm Mazars

Businesswoman keen to scale Scottish arm of key name in global sector.

Laura Clarkson holds the roles of office managing partner in Scotland and head of healthcare accounting services in the UK for audit, tax and advisory firm Mazars, which is present in about 100 countries.

But she says the route into her chosen career stretches back very far. “Just a keenness for numbers, for analysing numbers, that was always what I was good at doing right back at school, I suppose. It felt like a natural progression to explore something at university which let me just do that on a day-to-day basis, and enjoy it really.”

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The Scottish arm of Mazars comprises its bases in Capital Square in Edinburgh (having last year relocated from nearby Haymarket) and on Queen Street in Glasgow, and it enjoyed double-digit growth for the 2022-23 financial year. “Where we are right now is quite an exciting place to be,” says Clarkson. Areas it credits with helping it recently go up a gear north of the Border include public sector audit, having worked for Audit Scotland since April 2023, with a relatively young relevant Scottish team that is now 15-strong.

'Just a keenness for analysing numbers, that was always what I was good at doing right back at school,' says the executive. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.'Just a keenness for analysing numbers, that was always what I was good at doing right back at school,' says the executive. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
'Just a keenness for analysing numbers, that was always what I was good at doing right back at school,' says the executive. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

The business has also upped its financial planning operations, now numbering just over 20 staff, and having been supplemented by the acquisition in 2022 of the Edinburgh-based, female-focused advisory firm Independent Women, which consequently launched a presence in six of the accountancy firm’s offices across the UK. “We've got them sitting within our team, which is brilliant”, says Clarkson of the IFA firm led by Mazars partner Lesley Mackintosh. The firm has also teamed up with Censis – Scotland’s innovation centre for sensors, imaging systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies – to boost diversity in cyber security.

Another tie-up that stretches thousands of miles further is one announced in December of last year with US accountancy major Forvis to create a new top ten global network, and will officially kick off this summer. Clarkson believes the partnership is a real shot in the arm for Mazars’ activity in Scotland. “We will learn, I think, quite a lot from each other. I think we need to be bolder about our international capability. We have kept things quite quiet, probably… I know our teams are really keen to start working a bit more together.”

Mazars has been polishing up its workforce, welcoming 16 graduates in September, and undertaking 17 promotions over the last financial year, plus nine in the first half of the current 12-month period. And it now has about 200 staff in Scotland altogether, “pretty much focused on the privately owned business market,” Clarkson adds. According to the latest Royal Bank of Scotland purchasing managers’ index, the Scottish private sector gained momentum in January, growing to 51.7, crossing the 50 threshold away from contraction into growth from 49.4 in December. However, the lender also warned that the gloomy economic backdrop “could undermine growth prospects” going forward.

Clarkson says Mazars in Scotland has seen good expansion over the last couple of years. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.Clarkson says Mazars in Scotland has seen good expansion over the last couple of years. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Clarkson says Mazars in Scotland has seen good expansion over the last couple of years. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

Clarkson says Mazars in Scotland has seen good expansion over the last couple of years, and she is aiming to see its turnover increase to £20 million, and wants staff to reach the 250 threshold next year. Helping the latter is a handful of senior hires currently being considered, and “at least half of those will be new services that we don't currently offer the market, so that's the bit I guess that gets me quite excited” – while she is also keen to hire at the more junior end of the scale, and nurture school-leavers, for example.

However, she acknowledges that it is a “difficult” recruitment market, and a survey by Intuit QuickBooks found that 92 per cent of 2,000 UK accountants polled had suffered hiring challenges in the previous year.

Mazars has also now north of the Border created a transfer pricing team, “not something we're known for in Scotland”, and keen to grow this. It is also seeking to beef up its advisory and health arms, working with under-pressure GP practices and larger NHS boards, while Clarkson is also a member of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants.

The firm is operating amid consolidation in the sector – with recent deals in Scotland including heavyweight MHA snapping up Meston Reid & Co followed by Geoghegans, and AAB acquiring French Duncan.

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Furthermore, Clarkson flags a sector-wide move away from the Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG). “We focus on doing what we're good at doing, and staying close to our clients,” she says. And the Big Four have seen some tarnishing of reputations in recent years. “We are careful in terms of the work that we will pitch for – we're certainly not going after all the work that is coming our way,” she replies. “We're fortunate that we can be selective.”

Clarkson also admits that stepping up to the Scottish managing partner hotseat was something of an intimidating prospect - but welcomes the fact that she was in an environment offering the opportunity to take on something new. “I guess, like everything in life, you take things on and you do your best.” Now, just over six years since taking those reins, and nearly 80 years since the group was set up by Robert Mazars in Rouen, France, “the aspiration [in Scotland] is growth, it's building the team, building the services, continuing the journey that I feel we're already on, and just broadening out the services that we offer clients – and aiming for that £20m”.

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