Tony Down

On leaving school, I initially worked for my late father, a sole practitioner for most of his business life. He was a well-respected chartered accountant specialising in tax in South Wales and the West. He was the first person in Wales to be awarded the Institute of Taxation ‘Fellowship’ examination prize which was a particularly impressive achievement as he was a sole practitioner with multiple offices at the time. It was under his direction and leadership that I grew up and into, his accountancy practice. Although a sole practitioner he was regarded as an exceptional leader.

When, in 1987, he unexpectedly died, he had no succession planning in place. At that time my brother and I were not yet qualified, so it was an extremely difficult time for the practice on top of the bereavement. It was quite a big practice for a sole practitioner with multiple offices, so making arrangements for other firms to come in to run it before selling it on was a difficult and challenging experience.

That experience has shaped my thinking and I’m a big believer in the Dead Sea principle. 

"The Dead Sea is dead because it has an inlet but no outlet - the water is stagnant, and the result is that there is no life. You can apply that to business. "

If leaders don’t bring through new and younger people over time then it will stagnate. You need both people with experience and a younger generation who bring with them new drive, energy, innovative ideas, and embrace new technology. An exit strategy is also important to maintain that ‘fresh flow’.

I’m now 62 years of age and hoping to work, but in a reduced capacity, for many more years - eventually only in an advisory capacity to the leadership team in our group of businesses. However, I want to bring that team through and keep it fresh and creative to take the business forward. 

"Succession planning should be continuous. For example, even if now you’re only in your 40s, you should already be bringing through emerging leaders who are in their 30’s or younger."

Identifying and investing in leaders, whether they stay with the business or not, is key to successful growth and ultimately, succession.

In bringing in new people, I’m looking for diversity – different cultures and genders. My co-founder holds an MBA and has a very strong business background, having led her own family’s construction and grounds work business for many years. Our different backgrounds, experiences, and skills sets has made our business relationship a very successful one. 

"I make sure that I’m not in an echo chamber and only listening to other accountants. "

I’ve been working with a semi-professional rugby team and their coach’s team talks are inspirational. We talk about attitude, quality, setting standards, honesty, and integrity, and seeing him deliver that in his team talks is not something I would get from spending time only with accountants. I apply what I learn from him to myself first and foremost, and then hopefully radiate it onto others. 

I am also a mentor under the ACCA mentoring programme, so it is good to pass on not just my own experiences from my own business journey and from the world of sport, but also from other recognised and influential leaders from other backgrounds and cultures. I also have my own business and personal mentor.

"Part of succession planning is looking to the future and planning for the future. "

My practice delivers the more traditional services such as compliance and regular management reporting (data gathering and processing), and an expanding R&D side. A business must be innovative to grow so at Langstone Advisory we’re always looking for ways to innovate, grow and to build. We’re currently working on developing a new financial model and dashboard, mining data (Big Data) and using AI to identify patterns to make client management reporting more informative, effective and efficient. 

PS. Autobiographies and documentaries that I’ve found useful:

  • Only the Best will do - autobiography of Eddie Stobart 
  • Secrets of Success – Sir Alex Ferguson (documentary)
  • Never Give In – Sir Alex Ferguson (documentary)
  • A coach’s rules for life (the Jill Ellis episode - Jill Ellis is the USA Ladies Soccer Head Coach) (documentary)
  • Any talk by Brene Brown (including ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ and ‘The Call to Courage’)