Henderson Loggie: 'Owner managed businesses are the backbone of the Scottish economy'

With roots stretching back to before the outbreak of the First World War, Henderson Loggie has grown to become one of the most familiar names on the Scottish accountancy scene.From its foundations on Tayside, the firm now encompasses operations in Scotland’s four biggest cities - Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee - supporting hundreds of clients of all sizes.These days accountancy firms do much more than count the proverbial beans. Henderson Loggie’s services span everything from start-up advice for entrepreneurs to human resources, fund raising and financial planning.The firm’s managing partner, David Smith, offers some insight into the changing face of the profession, how the business is differentiating itself from its competitors and how it is coping with the challenges thrown up by the pandemic.
David Smith. Picture: Lisa FergusonDavid Smith. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
David Smith. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Can you explain what your role as managing partner involves - and what your aims are? What’s your approach to leadership?

My priorities have varied as we have reshaped and developed our business over the years, but I always follow our guiding principles that my role is to help our teams and our clients achieve their potential, we want each employee to be the person that they want to be and for our clients to create the businesses they dream to have.

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To achieve our clients’ ambitions, its essential we have the right people in our business to support and advise our clients. Focus has been and continues to be on getting the recruitment right at all levels of the firm and ensuring we mentor, coach and develop our teams so they can grow with us and want to stay with us too.

At one end I am a salesman, encouraging, maybe energising and inspiring, people to join Henderson Loggie and stay with us because of the autonomy they get in our firm, the opportunity to create the future and be masters of their own destiny.

And at the same time we have built pathways and infrastructure by creating the Henderson Loggie Academy which has something for everyone from a new start to a partner, to enable and support everyone to be the best they can be.

It’s incumbent on me to be a role model for our culture and our values. The importance of living your values has never been more evident than in the last 18 months. Our values have been our compass that has guided our decision-making, our actions and our behaviours through the pandemic.

The firm has recently rebranded. How has it adapted amid the pandemic, and how has it helped its client businesses?

We are delighted with our new look, it feels fresh and also really feels like us - accessible, friendly and welcoming.

Like so many businesses at the start of the pandemic we had to adapt to remote working, but then we got back to basics.

We focused on being close to each of our staff (and partners) with regular check ins and communications, to help them through the crisis by minimising their stress and anxiety. This enabled our teams to be close to our clients, checking in to see how they were and how they were coping. Listening to both staff and clients was key to understanding their needs and shaped the support we provided.

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From the start of the pandemic until now we have grown our workforce by over 20 per cent to ensure we are supporting our clients with their challenges and opportunities. We concentrated on creating a virtual induction process for new recruits that works even better than our office based approach did and this has paid dividends.

Amongst the challenges of the pandemic it was uplifting to be recognised earlier this year as Exemplary Employer of Choice in Scotland through the cHeRies Awards.

To what extent can Scotland’s highly ambitious entrepreneurs help fuel the recovery of the economy? How can they ensure they access the finance they need to realise their goals?

Owner managed businesses are the backbone of the Scottish economy and are key to our health. For the country to punch above its weight globally we need to ensure we create the right environment for those who are highly ambitious with innovative cultures, so they can be nurtured and supported.

Accessing finance to achieve their goals is one pillar needed to scale up their business, but in many cases the key challenges will be ensuring the business has the right people, creates a strategy with a sustainable competitive advantage and absolutely key that the strategy is implemented. If they get all this right, then they will have an investable and attractive proposition for lenders and investors.

You’re an accredited business facilitator and coach. To what extent have your client firms’ needs and the nature of leadership changed in recent years? What are their greatest challenges and concerns? Who do you admire in business yourself?

In the first few months of lockdown I think adrenaline got many leaders through. Maybe perversely, but a lot of leaders got a buzz from the crisis - we were in crisis management mode, decisions had to be made and things just had to be done. As we progressed through 2020 it became different, I was often hearing leaders say it was relentless and incessant, there was and is a weariness and fatigue amongst many leaders.

Now, each business has to find the right path for them, set their own strategies and ensure they implement them. This is hard. Finding time to do this is a massive challenge when so many leaders are time poor. They know what they should do, but they are caught up in the day job.

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The underlying issue for many businesses in 2021 is a lack of capacity, many are too lean to grow and leaders toil with finding others to pass some of their work to, to allow them to focus on what’s important for the long term and to take advantage of the opportunities that they see. The challenges with this are threefold: recruitment and retention in the current market where the employees are holding the cards; and performance enhancement where team members have perhaps stagnated in their role, high performers have plateaued in their development during the pandemic or productivity levels in teams have dropped.

There is much to admire and learn from former CEO of Lego, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, such as: focusing on the few, most important things; having a real sense of your core and the reason why your business exists; empowering your team; and growing a traditional product or service in a market being disrupted by technology.

Henderson Loggie stresses its independence as a Scottish firm. How can it compete with larger global players?

Our ambition is to be first choice in Scotland as a place to work and for our services to owner managed businesses. Our firm is an owner managed business itself, headquartered in Scotland and our teams have the autonomy to ensure our services provide real value for money in the Scottish market.

We believe we have a different story and a different and compelling proposition to many firms in the market, because we support businesses through their whole life: from developing their first business idea; advising as the business grows; and guiding through to a successful business exit, in parallel with personal financial planning and wealth management. We have the range of expertise in Henderson Loggie so clients will not outgrow us as their accountant and we will not outgrow our clients either. We are interested in all sizes of business.

We ensure we support our clients with their global needs through our membership of PrimeGlobal, the award winning association of independent accounting and business advisory firms, which ensures technical depth and geographic reach. When our Owner Managed Business clients have needs around the globe we introduce them to firms with a similar culture and quality to us, i.e. the same look and feel which attracts clients to us in the first place.

What are Henderson Loggie’s plans for growth in the next, say, five years? Would this involve any M&A activity? The firm took on part of Ernst & Young’s Dundee practice in the 1990s…

Our M&A activities in the 1990s, taking on significant parts of the Dundee practices of Ernst & Young and KPMG created a strong foundation for our geographic expansion across the country thereafter, which included a number of smaller acquisition of practices and teams.

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In recent years we have concentrated on finding the right senior appointments to lead and shape key areas of our services, to great success, both in the growth of our business and also for raising our profile and attractiveness to further recruits.

Our teams have ambitious plans to build on recent success and I picture our future growth will come from a combination of further senior hires, continuing to develop our own talent and potentially M&A activity. The key to any deal activity will always being that it fits with our business purpose and ensuring a matching of values and culture

And do you foresee much deal activity among your peers? Anderson Anderson & Brown recently acquired a majority stake in Edinburgh-based Purpose HR, for example...

I think we will continue to see deal activity in the sector in the traditional sense, solving succession issues, geographic positioning and economies of scale.

The recent deal with Purpose HR is interesting and corroborates the increasing demand we have seen for our own HR outsourcing service. Accountants are trusted advisors to their clients and so the acquisition or development of associated services does create opportunities for product expansion to accountants’ existing clients.

Beyond your day job, you support the Dundee fundraising group of Cancer Research UK, and are a Burgess of the City of Dundee, for example. Why have you taken on such duties and what’s your view of how the city has blossomed in the last few decades?

I have been honorary treasurer of the local fundraising group of Cancer Research UK for 20 years. Our family like so many have been touched by cancer. My Mum joined the local group in the 1980’s after my Gran was diagnosed with breast cancer, I found myself getting involved in supporting the group’s fund raising events when my Mum became Chair of the group and my involvement increased from there. Over the years the group has raised a terrific amount for the Charity’s research locally at Ninewells Hospital. I have recently joined the Board of Business Beats Cancer Dundee too, as we look to increase support to the Charity which, like so many others, has suffered a significant drop in revenues over the past 18 months.

I love the goals of The City of Dundee Burgess Charity which is to celebrate the past, present and future of the City. This sits perfectly with a key part of the purpose of Henderson Loggie to create wealth for the local economy now and to leave a legacy for the future in the communities where we are located.

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I am a Dundee boy and remember the driech, grey days of the 1970s and 80s, as traditional industry closed, sites across the city lay derelict and unemployment soared. The transformation and rebirth in recent years has been amazing and is testament to visionary thinking and great partnership working to deliver incredible results. There is still much to be done to see the city fully blossom, but I can feel confidence returning.

What has been the most pivotal moment of your career?

As one of our junior partners, more than 10 years ago sitting in our partners’ meeting, we were planning the succession of our then Board and I remember having an epiphany that I needed to step up to make the difference the firm needed, by leading it.

Curriculum Vitae: David Smith

Born: 1970, Dundee Royal Infirmary

Education: Dundee High School and ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland)

First job: Van Man, Gillies of Broughty Ferry

Ambition while at school: My first ambition was bus conductor

What car do you drive: My Mini seems to live forever

Favourite mode of transport: Bus

Music: Britpop, particularly Shed Seven

Kindle or book: Book, I get enough screen time

Reading material: Thrillers, William Diehl’s storytelling was amazing

Can't live without: My football team (Dundee United)

What makes you angry: More frustrated than angry - procrastination

What inspires you: Seeing people achieve their potential

Favourite place: Tannadice

Best thing about your job: Positive interactions with staff and clients

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