All Things Business sat down with Laurence Whitehead

Laurence Whitehead, Partner at MHA McIntyre Hudson
Laurence Whitehead, Partner at MHA McIntyre Hudson

Why did you became an accountant?

Obtaining the chartered accountancy qualification seemed like a great way to keep my options open at the time as I wanted to work in finance but wasn’t sure in exactly what capacity.

Did you set out to become an accountant or drift into it?

I worked in property sales for a while after leaving university which taught me lots of things which have helped in my career but I always wanted to work in finance in some capacity eventually, so I applied to KPMG and got accepted onto the chartered accountant scheme there.

How has your career developed?

I worked at KPMG for about ten years before joining MHA MacIntyre Hudson. After qualifying at the KPMG Milton Keynes office, I moved straight into corporate finance and mergers & acquisitions (M&A) as I had by then decided this was the area where I wanted to specialise. During this period I worked for over two years in KPMG’s Moscow office, having read Russian and German at university, and then for another year the Middle East. In both locations I worked with international clients looking to develop a presence via M&A in Russia and the Middle East respectively. It was really interesting and I learnt a lot. Then my wife and decided to start a family so we returned to the UK and after a year or so back here I was approached by MHA MacIntyre Hudson to head up their embryonic M&A team. I really liked the culture portrayed by the partners that I met, many of whom are still my colleagues today, and also found the idea of developing something from scratch really quite exciting, so I made the decision to leave KPMG and joined the firm in late 2001.

What achievements are you most proud of?

On a personal level, meeting my wife, having two sons and being happily married for nearly 30 years. On a sporting level, being a fan of my home city football team Liverpool, who have done me very proud over the years. Professionally, I think making a success of my time in Moscow in the late 1990s, when everything was changing there so rapidly and the whole way of life there is so very different to here in the UK. Although my wife and I speak Russian (it’s a bit rusty these days), there was still lots to adapt to and I look back with great fondness and pride at how we made some lifelong friends and also made such a success of our time there despite some interesting challenges.

When dealing with client work, what aspect have you found the most surprising?

Probably a lack of knowledge as to how businesses are valued and what can be done in the short, medium and long term to increase the value of a business. Given that a business is probably someone’s most valuable asset, alongside property perhaps, it surprises me how quite a few business owners are unaware of the key things to focus on to increase the value of their business asset. I am however always very happy to try and point them in the right direction once they ask.

What would be your one piece of advice to those wanting to have a career in accountancy?

Get through the exams as quickly as you can. They are really very tough. Once you’ve done that then spend some time working out in which area of finance you want to work and then go for it. Always be prepared to ask questions – you learn a lot more and it shows that you’re interested.

Quick fire box…

I’m happiest when spending time with my wife Sue, preferably on a beach somewhere.

My favourite film is Some Like It Hot (Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe).

The hardest lesson to learn has been Liverpool FC don’t always win. I’d like to be remembered as someone who showed passion and who put fairness and loyalty very high on his list of priorities. My worst habit is arriving too early for meetings (yes that is a joke). Favourite quote is what a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet (Anne Frank, I believe).