When Emma Henderson imagined her future as the first female partner of an historic accountancy firm, tiling and painting weren’t necessarily part of her dream job description.
Yet in November last year, just after the second national lockdown, she found herself ripping out ceiling tiles and painting the walls of a former hairdressing and beauty salon in Scarborough.
As the mastermind behind Wasley Chapman’s move to larger premises in the town, she located the property and negotiated a deal. With only a month to transform the old salon into a modern accountancy firm, Henderson and her team decided to do a lot of the work themselves.
“It’s a great building - glass fronted. As soon as I saw it I thought ‘yes, it could be amazing’,” she says. “It was really light and airy and it fitted in with the whole image that I’ve got for the firm.”
She adds: “But it needed a full rip-out and overhaul. With the help of the girls in the office, we worked morning and night, before and after work, to get it finished. Anything we could do we did ourselves, and we were up and running for the first of December with a fancy new office ready for tax season.”
Founded in Whitby in 1918 by Marmaduke Wasley Chapman, the firm provides accountancy, audit, advisory and financial services, primarily for small-and-medium-sized businesses.
Wasley and Chapman employs 30 staff, including four - soon to be six - partners, across six offices in Scarborough, Whitby, Saltburn, Redcar, Guisborough, and its headquarters in Middlesbrough.
Henderson’s leadership during the Scarborough office move has landed her an early promotion to partner at the age of 32.
“Partnership was always on the cards but it was a couple of years away,” she says. “After the move I said: ‘How about partner sooner rather than later?’ It was brought up at a meeting that week and they decided to promote me.”
Henderson describes herself as competitive, driven and ‘a bit different’. “I don’t like to be stereotyped as a boring accountant,” she says.
Brand image is a huge focus. As well as her accountancy role and managing Wasley Chapman’s Scarborough office, she is also in charge of all the firm’s marketing, including rebranding and social media.
“Everyone still thinks of accountants as the stereotypical man in a grey suit talking maths all day. You tell someone you’re an accountant and they immediately think you’re boring,” she said. “I like to prove them wrong.”
The new Scarborough office is painted in contemporary dark blues and greys and she plans to roll out the new colour scheme to the other offices over the next few months. Henderson has also overhauled the office stationery and social media with the new colours and branding.
She is also in charge of the firm’s social media accounts. “I’ve made them bright and more interesting,” she says. “We’ve made videos to catch people’s eye and the feedback is really good. People are saying how good it looks and how helpful it is, which is ultimately what we’re there for - to help people.”
She adds: “That’s the direction I’m pushing the firm in. I want to change how businesses view their accountants so you’re there as part of their team, not as someone they dread going to see. All my clients have my mobile number and they can call me any time. I’m pushing the firm into a more bespoke, relaxed approach.”
Henderson’s main focus at the moment is expanding the firm’s client base from the Scarborough office. “We’re spreading out further afield to Malton, Pickering and York. We’re a lot better value than accountants in cities like York,” she said.
Looking ahead, technology is another major focus and the firm is even looking at creating its own app with tips and advice and client areas. “We use technology to the maximum and really focus on using every tool that’s available to our strengths but we’re always expanding on that,” she says. “If we can make a service more efficient by using technology, that gives us more time to focus on the clients themselves.”
She adds: “It’s about developing our services and making them more readily available. I’ve noticed that we’re ahead of the game in our locality.”
Henderson was instrumental in the firm’s transfer to Making Tax Digital (MTD), a government initiative that launched in April 2019 to encourage businesses above the VAT threshold to keep digital records and submit tax returns using MTD-compatible software.
The service is designed to reduce the time spent on administration and integrate business and tax.
“I championed that and planned how were going to transfer clients to the new system. From there it developed into me looking into the future development of the firm,” she said.
Henderson’s career to-date is an incredible achievement considering she ‘fell’ into accountancy. Brought up in Whitby, she graduated as a bachelor of law from Teesside University at the height of the financial crisis in 2009. She didn’t want to move far away from the family home and there weren’t any legal jobs in the area so when a receptionist role came up at Wasley Chapman she applied immediately.
“They told me I was overqualified but asked if I wanted to train as an accountant, so I thought I’d give it a go,” she says. “I knew there had never been a female partner at the firm so when I started 11 years ago, I set my goals on that. I worked really hard to get there and luckily it’s paid off.”
Henderson still lives near Whitby with her husband. In her spare time, outside of the pandemic, she competes in show jumping competitions both nationally and internationally.
“I’ve got two horses that I compete with. It’s my escape. I’ve done it since I was three or four with my mum. It’s our time together,” she says.
She adds: “I’m lucky that we live in the countryside because during lockdown I can still get outside and be with the horses even if we can’t compete.”
Title: Partner and Scarborough branch manager at Wasley Chapman.
Date of birth: July 7, 1988
Education: Fyling Hall School, near Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire; Law degree at Teesside University
First job: Secretary/ bookkeeper for my father.
Favourite holiday destination: Mauritius
Favourite song: Caroline, by Status Quo
Favourite film: Gladiator
Last book read: Into the water, by Paula Hawkins
Most proud of: Becoming the first lady partner of Wasley Chapman & Co
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