Alex Gutteridge

Alex Gutteridge, Hannah Longbottom and six-month old Sophie

We are family

Grant Thornton tax partner Neil Sengupta introduces Mike Hughes to three of his clients – Alex Gutteridge, Hannah Longbottom and their six-month old daughter Sophie.

It seems that nothing fazes Neil Sengupta and his team at Grant Thornton. Can we meet at your office on our way back from a weekend break? Of course. If we could grab some lunch as well, that would be great. No problem. Is it OK if our baby Sophie is with us? Sure – looking forward to seeing you all again.

Grant Thornton’s expanded ‘family’ is a key part of their own philosophy. With 40,000 people in more than 130 countries worldwide (including 185 partners and 4,500 people in the UK alone), it knows all about relationships, so the way Alex Gutteridge and Hannah Longbottom look after Sophie as well as running Innovate Orthopaedics really chimed with their way of doing business.

The business is run from the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre in Huddersfield and utilises the clinical expertise of some of the world’s leading surgeons to design products that address their surgical needs.

The example on Neil’s desk in front of us at Grant Thornton’s Whitehall Riverside offices in Leeds is a small screw that re-attaches ligament to bone. Working with surgeons who had identified the need for improvement, Innovate Orthopaedics came up with a new design to make the screw insert more easily and with less force. The device has already been used in the knees of patients who range from Premier League footballers to prima ballerinas to weekend warriors. Surgeons who use the screw say it makes their operations simpler and safer.

Alex has spent 12 years working in orthopaedics with leading ‘sports med’ providers Smith & Nephew and has built up some powerful relationships and an awful lot of knowledge, so much so he is considered a reliable source of problem-solving by the surgeons. When he was in his early 30s someone asked him what he was planning to do ‘with the second half of your life’. That startling question was the starting point for a new challenge.

Explaining the importance of collaborations to success in that challenge, Alex said: “Shortly after Hannah and I started the company we got involved with two eminent UK surgeons because we wanted to be a different kind of businesses supplying the medical device market.

“We sell products that surgeons actually want as opposed to selling them an iterative design made more cheaply or something dreamt up in an R&D lab. We found that surgeons are getting tired of being told what products they should use. Collaborating with surgeons is key and we have found that if we engage our customers right at the beginning we can take them through the complete process of analysing the problem through to design and prototype creation. The benefit then is that you have a pre-prepared market that trusts you and your product.”

ScrewsThe business only started in 2015, so why turn to Grant Thornton at the outset? “I used to be in banking and knew all the big firms,” said Hannah. “I always thought Grant Thornton was a more holistic firm and when we were setting up I was very keen to get the right people on board. The wrong partners at such a critical stage can really affect your journey and how you operate, so the relationship is important. It’s about getting on with the people and having trust rather than just advisers who would charge you by the minute every time you wanted something, because as a start-up you just can’t afford that.”

The recognisably high quality of their whole operation is critical for Innovate Orthopaedics, from the surgeons working on the world’s most valuable elite sports stars, to the designers, the suppliers, the manufacturers and on to the advisers. If one element of that network slips, all the hard work and the reputation is put at risk. Alex and Hannah are not the sort of people who will settle for second best.

From Neil Sengupta’s point of view, the company was a perfect fit for two reasons. “Firstly, in our early meetings, Hannah did a great job in conveying her vision of what the business was all about. I saw the excitement of the journey right from the outset and that means I am fundamentally and emotionally engaged with them – that’s just human nature,” he says. “But also, I think one of the great things about Grant Thornton is that we take a pragmatic and flexible approach to get the relationship where we all want it to be. We are in this for the long haul and we are already excited by the progress Alex and Hannah have made in only 18 months. I can’t wait to find out what the next 18 months and then the next 18 years have in store.”

Because of the model Alex and Hannah have adopted for their company, that future will be driven by the relationship with their surgeons, who have identified, at last, a partnership that can directly sort out issues they have in the operating theatre. Now that trust has to be converted into delivery of a range of solutions to keep all sides happy.

“Surgeons are the engineers and carpenters of the human body, and they see things they want to improve” says Alex. “We sat down and plotted all the issues on a sort of Boston Matrix and we had 30 or 40 things on it. Lots of ideas, but which do we start to work on first? We have a good idea of what will come next, but we don’t want to rush and force something into the market. The old marketing mantra of charging as much as a customer will pay doesn’t sit well with me. We want to provide a cost benefit to the buyer as well as a benefit to the surgeon and make a business out of it - we don’t see why you can’t get those three things lined up.”

Such strong principles are admirable, and are mirrored by Grant Thornton’s own approach, but that final requirement - to make a business out of it all - is what unites these three people, as Neil explains.

“When I heard what Alex and Hannah were saying, I found myself thinking ‘yes, that’s what I would do as well’. We love to back entrepreneurs and as well as respecting their business vision we want them to succeed. We will always be supportive of that, even if it is just for an hour’s chat to discuss export duties to a particular territory.

“We want to give them the right platform from which to operate. For instance, we offer an online accounting platform called ‘Geniac’ which Alex and Hannah use. This has recently become an important part of our holistic service because we recognise that our core strength is owner-managed businesses and Geniac offers clients the opportunity to look after payroll, tax returns, accounts and other compliance matters for a very competitive fee, alongside our own day-to-day contact where we can concentrate on value added conversations. That mix is very important to us and is a key part of how we can work with dynamic start-ups, and younger and growing businesses.”

Alex and Hannah both intend that after the new screw is accepted and use established across the UK market, growth in the near term will come from the Australasian region, away from Brexit concerns and building on existing relationships, and a great tradition of fellowship based training between Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Alex Gutteridge 01The funds will then build to support further work in the UK, so that the company can keep leading its sector for innovation and stay as a sustainable and ethically sound organisation.

Hannah says: “There is no point in us or any entrepreneur starting a business to fail and make no profit. For us it is about sustainability, keeping an eye on the numbers whilst designing better products. There is great fulfillment for us in that and it is a huge help to know that Neil and Grant Thornton share those views.”

Through all of our conversation, the backdrop is provided by the chatting, gurgling and exclamations of the most important person in the room. Sophie has clearly changed the lives of Alex and Hannah and has already been to meet most of their business partners.

New company, new baby, new products and new relationships make a formidable combination. As Neil says: “Modern life is all about families getting involved in their dreams and projects together, where that might not have been the norm in decades gone by”