ACCELERATE2016: BQ meets Brian Henderson, PwC

ACCELERATE2016: BQ meets Brian Henderson, PwC

With ten years experience and a nose for a good idea, PwC’s Brian Henderson was at ACCELERATE2016 to offer his advice and wisdom to those attending IFB2016’s final event. He explained to BQ’s Suzy Jackson what was so exciting about these hustlers.

Brian is an audit partner at PwC; more specifically his role is to operate their fast growth company programme. He helps support startup and scale up tech companies with their growth phase, typically early stage and pre-revenue but usually when they’ve got some funding, and an idea with legs.

Brian helps them to understand the support PwC can offer to help them become a successful established business, through their growth phases to potentially an IPO or exit.

With ten years experience, it’s fair to say that Brian has weathered the odd economical storm or two; but he says that entrepreneurs – ‘hustlers’ – see difficult market conditions not as a threat, but as an opportunity to do something else.

“The number of tech companies that started in 200708, at the time when there was a banking crisis, no housebuilding, a recession and no recruitment... tech has boomed because they work differently, they’re leaner and they built things that have become the big firms of the future.

“Where you’ve got established companies who are seeing their business suffer and their expenses rise, technology is disruptive and offers a different way of doing things. I used to see a lot of media, advertising, software firms – most of them have been sold and are doing other things, there’s a real move towards FinTech and Commerce based businesses... because the opportunity to disrupt just evolves over time.

“Early stage businesses are all about potential,” Brian says, as we discuss our limited understanding of the upcoming tech area which is Blockchain. “They need to develop the proposition so that it’s wide ranging, and scalable, because at the moment they’re limited by not realising the full potential of the technology.”

PwC sponsored both IFB2016 and the ACCELERATE2016 events, and because ACCELERATE focussed on innovation, technology and creativity Brian was perfectly suited to come along. In line with their mantra, ‘passionate about private business’, he isn’t the typical PwC partner - having never worked with a FTSE100 firm in his career. “This space is my home, and being amongst these entrepreneurs I feel I can help out and really add a bit of value.”

“At the start of Wayne’s session [Hemingway, who spoke about his career], he’d said that when they started their first business they didn’t know if it was going to work, but if it had failed, they would have just done something else. That’s the mantra of the tech entrepreneur; if it fails, I’ll start working on one of these seven other ideas I’ve got instead!”

“We’ve got that in droves in the UK, and the fabulous thing about this event being in Liverpool is that tech is not all about London!” He cites Newcastle, his hometown, and Manchester as other examples of hubs of activity outside of London.

The skills gap is a recognised problem in the technology arena, and Brian comments that he sees this nationwide; it’s not a problem confined to the North of England. “In London, because there’s a bigger tech community, there’s just an even bigger need. It’s not just tech companies that need tech talent, non-tech firms also need people in their businesses who have that expertise to run systems and ecommerce.

“We get by, whether that’s by reskilling, offshoring functions, bringing in new talent from overseas, but fundamentally the education process has to change to broaden out the coding skills in this country.”

PwC employ almost 20,000 people in the UK so skills, recruiting and retaining talent has to be at the heart of a people-based business. But they’re proud to be involved in community programmes and engaging with Universities to support this agenda.

When put on the spot, Brian is forced to cite Shazam, Funding Circle, Transferwise, Far Fetch and Deliveroo as some of the most exciting firms he’s worked with in his career.

“The thing I love about working with those businesses is that they’re always doing things. When I pick up the phone, I never have any idea what they’re about to ask me.

“There’s always a new challenge, and that’s why I love to advise them!”