Why trust and fairness will drive BHP's expansion in Leeds and Sheffield

Hamish Morrison of BHP
Hamish Morrison of BHP
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The creation of a joint management partnership at BHP is a source of strength, says Hamish Morrison. He met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

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THIS is a tale of two cities which fiercely guard their independent identities. Sheffield and Leeds have strong businesses with a deep-rooted attachment to local advisers.

When it comes to professional services, businesses like to deal with people who have a detailed understanding of the local market.

So what do you do if your fast growing firm aims to serve both South and West Yorkshire without compromising customer service? The answer seems obvious but few firms have had the courage to embrace it.

You establish joint managing partners, with one based in Leeds and the other in Sheffield.

There might have been a few raised eyebrows when accountancy firm BHP revealed its new leadership team, but the firm isn’t scared to challenge convention.

Sheffield-based audit partner Lisa Leighton and Leeds-based corporate finance partner Hamish Morrison are now jointly in charge at BHP, which has offices in Sheffield, Cleckheaton, Leeds, Chesterfield and York.

They have both developed a powerful affinity with the local SMES – or small and medium-sized enterprises – that are driving economic growth in Yorkshire’s heartland.

Ms Leighton began at BHP as a graduate in 1995 while Mr Morrison joined BHP corporate finance as partner in 2012 with 20 years’ experience in the sector. Each will maintain responsibility for their current portfolio of clients as they seek to grow the business from their respective bases.

The firm has enjoyed rapid expansion over the last decade. From two offices and turnover of £8m in 2009, BHP now has five offices, and turnover approaching £22m.

It has more than 300 staff including 31 partners

Ms Leighton and Mr Morrison have been actively involved in the strategic and operational management of the business for several years and the handover process started in June 2018.

Outgoing managing partner for the last 10 years, John Warner, will continue at the firm full-time as senior partner to manage his portfolio of clients.

“This is a really exciting time for BHP, “ said Mr Morrison.

“We continue to push forward – standing-out in the mid-tier market with significant initiatives to further add value, lead with technology, expand services and support staff and clients to reach their true potential.

“I very much look forward to BHP continuing to exceed client expectations well into the next decade.”

An Aberdeen University graduate, Mr Morrison believes the joint management structure will give BHP the edge over its competitors.

He said: “Our clients want to be serviced out of those local markets. We treat those two markets as separate so it made sense from an external point of view to have a different person leading each office.”

Mr Morrison added: “From an internal point of view we have trebled in size over the last eight years and the job had become too big for any one person to do.

“The other benefit for us is that Lisa’s background is in the audit side of things, my background is on the advisory side of things.

“That gives us two different views.”

One thing the joint managing partners have in common is a belief in dealing fairly with everyone they encounter.

Mr Morrison said: “From a values set, fairness is the thing that goes through any decision we make.

“For both of us, we know that whatever decision we are making, we are making it from a well thought through point of view and we are trying to be fair.

“That makes it quite easy when one of us is making a decision and the other is not involved.”

He added: “You know the other person would make very similar decisions.”

BHP hasn’t been tempted to expand into the capital.

Mr Morrison said: “Rather than have a flash London office, what we’re trying to do is devote time into those relationships we’ve got so people are getting high quality advice.

“The idea is that we would not pursue growth for growth’s sake.”

The firm does, however, plan to grow to a scale that allows it to offer a wide range of expertise.

“Good competition is always great,” said Mr Morrison. “The competitors who aren’t very good at what they do are usually a bit painful to deal with.

“They might tell a good story but the only way they can compete is on price. Inevitably, they will win some work as a result of that.

“You just have to play that medium and long-term game and recognise that if you stick to what you are doing and provide a good service then you will succeed.”

But would it be good to reduce the dominance of the Big Four firms?

Many politicians believe that steps must be taken to reduce the power of the major players and encourage greater competition within the sector.

Mr Morrison said: “They (the Big Four) are such a size that regardless of what anyone does they are always going to continue to be very successful and dominant. They are playing in a different market to us.”

BHP has won national awards for the quality of its audit work.

He added: “That tells you that quality of audit is absolutely front of mind.”

He believes small firms are often held back by problems finding the right staff .

He added: “People is the number one issue for every business we speak to.

“The most successful businesses you speak to will tell you that you don’t have to worry about the skills gap if you look after people and invest in them.”

He finishes on an upbeat note: “Leeds and the wider Yorkshire region already has some fantastic tech companies and I am sure that this will lead to our region continuing to thrive.

“These high profile moves should in particular help local companies attract and retain talent and prevent people feeling they need to be in London.”

The cities of Leeds and Sheffield know how to look after their own. BHP believes its leadership team understands the nuances of these dynamic, resourceful markets.