In the second of our Grant Thornton interviews focusing on the importance of business relationships, BQ Yorkshire Editor Mike Hughes meets Martin Boddy, chief executive at data and marketing specialists Jaywing plc, and Rachel Engwell, tax partner at Grant Thornton UK LLP.
With 40,000 people working in more than 130 countries, including 4,500 in the UK alone, Grant Thornton has the scale and expertise to tackle pretty much any business issue an organisation may be faced with. However, perhaps one of the key factors that makes Grant Thornton the advisor of choice for dynamic, growing businesses, in a particularly competitive environment, is its ability to configure those vast resources to provide the best tailored support and advice.
For various reasons, the firm’s relationship with Jaywing is an ideal example of this, a suggestion I discussed with its boss Martin Boddy and Grant Thornton partner Rachel Engwell over lunch at the Hilton City in Leeds.
Headquartered in Sheffield and with offices in Leeds, London, Newbury, Swindon and Australia, Jaywing helps its clients navigate an increasingly complex and fragmented marketing and communications landscape. Of its 650 people worldwide, around half are based in Yorkshire and one in ten is a heavyweight data scientist. Its specialists analyse and interpret the rising tide of data to provide insights its clients can act on, from understanding customers and business metrics to directing marketing communications and even assessing credit and fraud risks.
Increasingly this is expanding into machine learning and artificial intelligence, which when combined with specialist skills in brand development and activation, digital and performance marketing make for a powerful offer to today’s CMOs. Martin turned to Grant Thornton soon after being appointed Jaywing’s CEO. He had ambitious plans for the business and knew he needed to partner with an organisation that was equally ambitious.
"Jaywing has had a working relationship with Grant Thornton since 2000 when we were a much smaller business. We knew if we wanted to talk to some serious players in the market in order to grow our business we recognised it was critical to have a heavyweight partner alongside us," he said. If you are a smaller company with a smaller company representing you, then you can only punch at your weight and we knew we needed to be punching above our weight in the early days.
"I set up the original Jaywing in 1999 when it was purely a data analytics consultancy. That got acquired in 2007, with Grant Thornton’s help, and the company as it is now is what I came back to lead in 2012 following a few years spent elsewhere. As this is my first plc experience, I was concerned about it now being a much larger and much more corporate organisation than that which I originally set up, but the reality I found is that you just need to find a way of being entrepreneurial within any structure and stay true to yourself."
Rachel added: "The individuals are the crucial element within any organisation rather than the business itself. The driving force for Grant Thornton is that we strive to work with dynamic businesses and their stakeholders.
"Martin has always been very entrepreneurial. He had clear plans for his business and knew where it had the potential to go, but he coupled that with a sensible and grounded approach. He knew he couldn’t do it all on his own. He knew he needed to seek advice and support from the right sort of partner.
"I had long admired Jaywing as an organisation since I first met Martin and got to know the business as part of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year programme a couple of years ago. I was with Ernst & Young for over 16 years before I joined Grant Thornton earlier this year. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Jaywing, alongside Martin, and was excited to have the chance to move the relationship forward, taking it to a different level. This has happened dramatically in a short space of time."
"In my mind Grant Thornton had always been the home for entrepreneurial businesses and still is. Jaywing was a privately owned business originally, employing about 30 people when we first began our relationship. Now we are a plc with nearly 700 people and an international reach, so it is a completely different ball game. Yet, Grant Thornton’s approach is still fundamentally built on the relationship regardless that our needs have developed. Grant Thornton has made the journey with us, and their support and advice is as relevant and as commercial as it ever was" said Martin.
"No more so has this been apparent since Rachel joined the team. She very quickly invested time in really getting to know us and understand our culture. There are now many different elements to the advice we receive for increasingly complex deals, the tax and commercial implications of these and the wave of new regulation coming in for companies like us. I know if I or any one of the team calls Rachel she will ensure we get the best answer, whether it is a tax question specifically for her team or, indeed, another business issue. Grant Thornton and Jaywing are both very people-centric businesses.
"For me, a good working relationship is a mixture of how you get on and how effectively solutions and suggestions are made and discussed to drive the business forward. Rachel is a very proactive person and it feels different working with someone who not only provides quality, commercial advice, but also gets you and your team as individuals, and genuinely cares about your issues. And there has to be humour in the mix as we like to keep meetings lively and productive."
As well as being commercially instinctive, the close collaboration that has been built here had to be founded on results and performance levels – friendship and cordiality are a bonus, but they can only get you so far in business.
"There is certainly a comfort and ease in how we work together, and that naturally leads to a sharing of ideas and reciprocity on both sides," said Rachel.
"There is obviously a need for us to deliver quality, robust advice which adds value and I think our involvement with the recent acquisitions Jaywing has undertaken has allowed us to deliver a wide range of complex services across accounting, tax and transaction advisory, both in the UK and overseas. This has enabled us to demonstrate our depth of experience and further develop our relationship. Jaywing is mindful that whatever work we perform is likely to be subject to a certain level of scrutiny given they are a public company. We are mindful and committed to deliver a service that is completely robust, open and transparent and that will be signed off by all parties involved with confidence."
Martin and Jaywing also know how important trust is to such a relationship. He said: "Being a public company with investors means trust and confidentiality is important. For instance when asked who performed the due diligence on our recent deal, when we tell them we are working with Grant Thornton that meets with immediate approval. Where we are looking to acquire businesses that are privately owned this might be their first major transaction and the first time they have had to appoint transaction advisers, so they might not be quite sure how that relationship works. I have been there myself, so we often find ourselves, where appropriate, supporting them through the process. This is another area where Grant Thornton’s expertise and sensitive understanding of differing parties’ requirements are valuable."
That support is now global, with the recent deal in Australia adding search agency Digital Massive to the Jaywing family. With more than 1,200 people working in offices in Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, Grant Thornton was perfectly positioned to help them with the acquisition.
"Our acquisitions are all a part of a plan for the future of the business, including a desire to have a larger international footprint, said Martin. "Having now completed the deal in Australia, the local Grant Thornton team over there has been fantastically supportive beyond that in looking at how we can take our business offering to a broader market."
"We are an international firm and work very closely with counterparts in other jurisdictions who are as Grant Thornton through and through as we are", said Rachel. "There is a clear awareness, even on the other side of the world, of how important our local relationships are. It is not just a matter of putting a Jaywing director in contact with someone at Grant Thornton in Australia, it is a matter of taking an interest and staying involved, making sure the client is happy with progress and that there are completely open lines of communication across all teams."
On the other side of the world, these two large and growing businesses know where their roots are and their drive to be a major influence on regional economies was another shared passion, as Martin explained: "Our regional impact is very important to us and I am very proud of the work we do across Yorkshire. We want the best people to come and work for us in a very competitive market, so our regional reputation is key and the fact that we are soon to be located in the centre of cities like Sheffield is a major pull to us attracting talent."
Rachel added: "There are so many great regional businesses in Yorkshire that offer us unique opportunities. Our strong Yorkshire team across our Leeds and Sheffield offices knows the region intimately and is ideally placed to help shape a vibrant economy. Our people in each of those offices can offer a wide breadth of knowledge whether it be through specialist Research & Development tax advice to Corporate M&A, to forensic accounting – the list goes on."
I was struck by the level of trust Martin and Rachel have in each other. This has become a cornerstone of the wider relationship between these two dynamic organisations. It is perhaps one of the biggest investments they will make, but is certainly one which has the potential to deliver the biggest returns.
We were talking in one of the private Brigante suites at the Hilton, which had typically pulled out all the stops for us, producing a table full of selected highlights from the chef’s menu. We happily ‘grazed’ throughout our conversation, enabling a very relaxed and productive couple of hours.
Go to bit.ly/bqhilton for more details.