John Hodgson of Smith & Williamson
John Hodgson, managing partner at the Birmingham office of Smith & Williamson, tells us what makes a great business leader and what makes the company stands out from the crowd.
What is it the company does?
Smith & Williamson is a professional services firm offering the full range of accountancy, investment management, financial planning and tax services to businesses and private clients. Our Birmingham office specialises in two areas: providing tax and business advisory services to owner-managers in their professional and personal lives, as well as strategic investment and wealth management services to individuals and their families.
What does your role involve?
I am managing partner of tax and business advisory services in Birmingham while my colleague Mark Willis is the managing partner of our investment management team locally. In my client-facing role, I provide practical advice and guidance to business owners, often at times of high stress, on a range of issues from expansion strategies, succession planning and business sales to maximising wealth for different generations or the financial implications of divorce. Internally, one of my roles is to set the direction and strategy for our part of the business and pull everyone together with a shared sense of purpose.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
To be successful in an advisory role and add real value, I think you have to have a credible and varied set of experiences. I started my working life as an auditor in London in 1980 before moving into the tax world including acting for landed estates, tax exiles, corporate tax and advising international businesses, dealing with the private and corporate affairs of owner-managed businesses, mergers and acquisitions, as well as private and company trusts. In addition to my day job, I am a company director, trustee and protector of various trusts, a pension trustee, and an executor for several clients.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think it’s about having a clear vision and communicating it well. There also needs to be a bit of bloody-mindedness to keep everything focused and on track, despite the challenges and distractions. You need to be good at what you do and be empathetic. In a professional services environment, there is a flatter structure so effective leadership here is about open communication, mutual respect and track record.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
We continue to work hard to try and leverage the great national reputation of Smith & Williamson within the Birmingham and West Midlands market, which is extremely competitive and dominated by firms that have been around here a lot longer than we have. When our clients first meet us, they are often amazed by the breadth and depth of services and the expertise they can access through our local office – but getting the message out there continues to be challenging but we are certainly getting there.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors, hill walking and organising events, such as the 10k cross country Seven Pools Run at Sutton Park in aid of the Norman Laud Association which I have helped to organise for the last 26 years.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Like many youngsters, I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a builder. To some extent, I am still obsessed with permanence which in a dynamic professional context translates to building a practice based on long standing client relationships.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I’d like to see the Birmingham office expand its tax and business advisory services still further, reflecting the national Scale-Up initiative we are supporting, which is aimed at ambitious entrepreneurs and businesses with significant growth potential. It would also be good to welcome a couple more partners to the Birmingham office to underpin our partner-led approach and help drive our growth. Our business really is about the people; we have some extraordinary talent working for us – that’s what makes us different.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Stay healthy and grow a thick skin. As much as we all like to talk about achieving a good work-life balance, the challenges work presents are relentless and it’s easy for leaders to allow work to take over every aspect of their lives. Looking after yourself is good for business and sets a positive example to your staff.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Enjoy yourself along the way and if you stop enjoying what you’re doing, then change it! I worked in London for 10 years and while I loved the buzz, the commuting was such a waste of time! I moved to Birmingham in the early 1990s and while I don’t necessarily spend more time with the family, I’m now more alive when I do!