The spirit of collaboration can help Leeds reach new economic heights, according to Gateley’s Andrew Johnson. He met Deputy Business Editor, Greg Wright.
THESE are halcyon days for everyone who wants to see Leeds flourish as a commercial base.
The announcement that Channel 4 is heading to the city has helped to thrust the region into the national spotlight.
Where Channel 4 leads, a host of other dynamic creative firms will surely follow.
Born and bred in Leeds, Andrew Johnson, the head of the law firm Gateley’s office in the city, is proud to witness these giant economic strides, which mirror his firm’s own expansion.
The legal sector continues to quietly accumulate talent. You just have to take a look at the rapid growth of Gateley, a law firm which now employs around 120 staff in Leeds, after starting with just six people in 2012.
Leeds is now the firm’s third largest base in its network of nine UK offices, behind Birmingham and Manchester.
Mr Johnson said: “We continue to expand and also increase the depth of the services we offer. We have continued to be able to recruit really quality people.
“The fact we are listed is interesting in terms of the things it allows us to do differently.”
Around 50 per cent of Gateley’s employees are involved in one or more share scheme and the firm has also experienced double digit growth in people and revenue since its flotation in 2015.
Gateley was established in the 19th century and provides legal services to thousands of clients, across multiple sectors.
It made headlines when it became the first British law firm to list on the London Stock Exchange.
Mr Johnson added: “I was born in Leeds, and went to university in Newcastle, but I always wanted to come back and work in Leeds.
“It’s a very mature market and there is quite a good collaborative spirit among most law firms in Leeds,” he added. “We concentrate on pulling work into Leeds as a legal centre.
“That’s a big plus point for where you want to work. There are other cities where that collaborative spirit is not quite as acute as it is in Leeds.”
He added: “In Leeds you have people working at a number of firms who are the leaders in their field.
“Nobody would question why a commercial organisation would be getting advice out of Leeds now.”
He believes wider economic trends and strong civic leadership are also working in the city’s favour.
“Having Tom Riordan (the chief executive) at the council has been very positive for the city,” said Mr Johnson.
He added: “The fact that Channel 4, and other high profile firms, have moved here have made it feel like there is a lot of momentum in Leeds and the region more widely.”
Mr Johnson has had a ringside seat on the development of Leeds as a tech and IT hub. Once you get a cluster of firms in one sector, an employee base has to be developed to service it.
“It might be tech or it might be housebuilding,” he said. “Yorkshire is really strong in house-building. As a law firm you develop areas of specialism that are complementary for the client.
“We can also bring to the client general market intelligence about who is doing what.
“I’m a commercial disputes lawyer, but I get a massive kick out of problem solving.”
Mr Johnson added: “I get a kick out of somebody coming to me with a problem that looks very difficult and knotty, and you then work out where you need to get to find a solution.
“Sometimes that provides an opportunity and it is something you can deal with in a different way.
“Having an openness and a willingness to collaborate is a really big part of that.”
“It’s a positive ‘we can do this’ mindset,’’ he added.
“In terms of the size of the Leeds office, if you had asked me five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said we would have got to the size we are now within five years.
“We are not growing for the sake of growth. We are growing because client demand requires that we do that.”
He said new recruits had to align with the collegiate culture of the business. In common with many business leaders, he is frustrated by the politicians’ failure to remedy deep-rooted failings in the transport system.
“We’ve been speaking about the Northern Powerhouse since George Osborne was Chancellor,’’ he said.
“If there’s a willingness to back up the soundbite with investment, and with a push to make people collaborate more in the region at all levels, then there are lots of things we could and should do better.
“Transport in Leeds is an ongoing problem. We’ve never had decent transport infrastructure here.
“It seems perverse that rail usage in Yorkshire dropped last year. In the current climate, with everybody concerned about climate change and emissions, something is going badly wrong if rail usage is dropping.
“It’s not due to a lack of goodwill on the part of people who want to use the train.
“Nobody wants to drive in to work, but they are having to do it because they can’t always be late for work because of the trains.”
“Regional connectivity is appalling in this country,” Mr Johnson said.
“If you’re thinking about building a relationship with somebody, people will be put off if they face a horrible two-hour journey to get to a meeting.”
Despite these frustrations, Gateley is continuing to prosper. Over the last year, the team at Gateley has advised Dr. Oetker on the purchase of the Alsa baking and dessert business.
Advisers from Gateley also supported the US company Asure Software Inc. on the acquisition of the entire issued share capital of OccupEye Limited.
The firm is also very active in the local community and recently raised £10,000 for Candlelighters, a Leeds-based charity which brings hope to the families of children suffering from cancer.
During 2020, Gateley is supporting the work of Simon on the Streets, an independent charity which offers emotional and practical support to rough sleepers or those at risk of rough sleeping.
Mr Johnson believes Gateley can help to create a city where nobody is left behind.