Meet the MD: Simon Littlejohns of Friend Partnership Limited

Meet the MD: Simon Littlejohns of Friend Partnership Limited

Simon Littlejohns is the head of tax at Friend Partnership Limited, providing tax advice and support to business and personal clients. He talked to BQ about his daily work, how he handles stress and where he sees the company in five year's time...

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

I head the company’s tax department and personally provide high level tax advice and support to our business and personal clients on all UK and international taxation matters. Our clients are a mix of business owners, owner managed business, entrepreneurs, and a wide range of corporate entities and High Net Worth Individuals. I also play a lead role in the business development activities for the company, meeting potential new clients and talking at conferences and seminars. I am also the engagement partner for a number of clients where I co-ordinate the provision of all services for them.   


What is it the company does?

Friend Partnership Limited was established in 1983 as a corporate finance boutique. Since then, the firm has grown and expanded into a well-respected Chartered Accountancy practice offering a full range of business advisory, accountancy and taxation advice and support services. It has enhanced its expertise in recent years with the recruitment of a number of well-known professionals in the Birmingham market. The firm’s clients are principally privately owned businesses operating in a variety of sectors including manufacturing, technology, renewable energy, distribution, retail and construction, and range from entrepreneurial start-ups to well-established businesses that operate nationally and internationally in Western Europe, North America and India.


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I am a graduate of Newcastle upon Tyne University where I studied zoology. After university, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1983 and as a Chartered Tax Adviser a year later. Since qualification I have specialised in taxation with roles at accountancy firms Deloitte Haskins and Sells, Coopers & Lybrand, and PKF (UK) LLP before a short spell with a local independent practice and as a sole practitioner. I first became a partner when I was with PKF. I joined Friend Partnership Limited as head of tax in 2013.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

A vision, ideas, people skills, thick skin, a sense of humour and the ability to engage with and enthuse the people around them. A leader is not a leader if there is nobody behind them!


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

The main challenge was fitting in to a well-established team with long-standing business and personal clients, and relationships, against a back drop of changing attitudes to tax compliance and tax planning. I also brought a number of clients to the practice and needed to ensure that the transition was seamless.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

As an early starter (I am in the office by 6.00 am) I have quality time first thing to crack difficult issues and get set for the day. Problems will always arise and one of my philosophies is that it is not the fact that a problem has arisen, but it is the way in which you deal with it which is important. This applies both personally and for my clients. As we have offices on the 11th floor of Birmingham’s Eleven Brindleyplace, an occasional moment of reflection watching the bird life (fifteen Canada geese flying by as I write this) helps alleviate the stress. When at home, fresh air and exercise helps to address some of the stresses and strains which cannot be left in the office.  


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I do not recall ever having an ‘I want to be an astronaut’ yearning. I was always interested in natural history and despite parental pressure to go in to medicine, I stuck it out and studied zoology with no real career aim in mind. On leaving university the competition for poorly paid positions with a zoological bias was tremendous, such that I turned to accountancy as a career with natural history the abiding interest to this day.


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

Printers and computers which decide to play up first thing in the morning when they were fine the night before. Sadly the resolution of this pet hate has to wait until I can speak to Jake our IT wizard who does on occasion come up with the classic ‘turn it off and then turn in it on again’. For fear of offending masses, talk about football can cause distress as I have a professed lack of interest in football having been brought up in a rugby playing environment.  


Where do you see the company in five years time?

Continuing to provide high quality advice and support to a wide range of clients against a back drop of tighter audit regulation and an ever changing tax landscape. There are challenges ahead for us as a business and for all our clients following the Brexit vote. We will address these head on and positively, as we do with all such challenges. I have no doubt that some of the work we will be doing in five years’ time may not even exist or change substantially now – the move to digital taxation may be one example of how our support to clients could well change in the future.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Go for it! Take advice but follow your instincts and never ignore those ‘gut feelings’ which suggest that something may not be right or as it seems.