Allan Wilson

Allan's LinkedIn profile

Wilson Partners turned 16 on 1 February this year – my brother and I started the business back in February 2008. I’d always dreamt of having my own business and we started from scratch with just a handful of clients that knew we were about to set up and would come with us. 16 years on, we now have over 150 staff and six offices.

We’d seen a gap in the market between High Street firms that were compliance based, and the big firms that seemed to going after ever bigger fish. In the middle were large numbers of good quality, typically owner managed SME businesses that didn’t get the support from the High Street but were unloved by the bigger firms. 16 years on, the gap is probably as big now as it has ever been – particularly on the audit side. We’re seeing a large number of business, that fit right in our sweet spot, falling away from the big firms as they no longer seem interested in servicing them.

Early on, we brought in experienced people on different service lines to build their teams – first a tax director and then a corporate finance director. These were quite bold and ambitious hires for a firm of our size at the time, but it allowed us to differentiate ourselves early on by having that expertise in the team. 

"From early on we wanted to create something that looked and felt different in terms of our brand and the way that we communicate with the world, and that has made us attractive to both clients and talent that want to come and join us. "

We’ve always been avid networkers so growth within our business has not been a challenge and we’ve enjoyed strong organic growth from day one – typically 20% plus growth per annum. 

Three years ago we were approached by a family office backed investment firm that had been looking for a platform to invest into to implement a buy and build strategy. We’d been approached by many firms before wanting to buy us but that wasn’t what we wanted. This proposition was different – we would be the platform being invested into so it would still very much be our culture, our strategy and our brand. It would allow us to accelerate all the good things we’d been doing and add acquisitions into our strategic mix and bring other like-minded businesses in to create something quite special for all of us in terms of greater opportunities – whether that’s the ability to manage teams earlier in your career, or go across different service lines that we would now offer. It presented a great opportunity, so we did the deal in 2021, took that investment and since then we have been busy executing the plan to get into the top 25 of firms in the UK. That’s quite ambitious but it will be a combination of continued organic growth and acquisitions of firms to come and join us on that journey.

To date we’ve made four acquisitions – a general accounting firm, a specialist in FCA regulated firms, a business focused on high tech growth businesses, and corporate recovery specialists which has added a new service line. We’re looking at doing some larger acquisitions and accelerating our plans over the coming years. We want to build a truly integrated business that looks and feels like one business - a scalable, sustainable business that will be here in 50 years’ time, and something we can all be proud of that provides an exceptional place for the team to be, which then naturally drives client satisfaction.

Our strategic roadmap was always to have some offshore support, so we’ve expanded our team to South Africa. Initially we struggled to find people with the right level of expertise and qualification to build our corporate finance team in the UK, so we made our first hire in South Africa and since then have built the team to 16. Those 16 are across all service lines as well as some internal finance resource and it’s been a really good way of adding additional quality resource – all doing client-facing work with UK clients. It has opened up a talent pool to us that is very helpful given the challenges that everyone in the UK has in terms of resource and people.

"The importance of culture is really ingrained with us – for me, it’s the be all and end all and it’s vitally important that as we continue to grow, we’re spending time focusing on maintaining and enhancing the culture we have."

Our first key strategic hire after we took the investment was a Head of Employee Experience - that’s been one of the best hires in our 16 years and has allowed us to do things like the Best Companies process. We ran that process for the first time two years ago which gave us a benchmark and some areas to really focus on to drive improved engagement in the team. We ran it again last year and we’re now a 2 Star “Outstanding” company as part of that accreditation. The recognition is one aspect, but the really valuable bit is the insight gained from the process.  This helps us to continue to make our workplace an even better experience for all of us to be part of. Alongside our objectives for revenue and profitability are Net Promoter Scores (NPS), for both our team and our clients, and we aim for world class engagement on both fronts. Ultimately having those key metrics to measure ourselves against as we continue to grow is important.

Over the last 16 months we’ve developed a management development training program, as part of our “Thrive” Academy. It’s a structured learning program around building the skill sets of our managers and leaders of the future. The key pointer to employee engagement is the relationship with their manager - the old adage of people don't leave companies, they leave managers is often true. Quality managers can drive that engagement and have good conversations with their team members talking openly about challenges and helping them to understand individual objectives and aims for the future. 

One of our big topics this year will be equality, diversity and inclusion aspects to continue driving overall engagement and satisfaction within the workplace. Another is around sustainability – both what we do internally for ourselves but also as a potential service line and offering to clients as reporting requirements come in, and supply chain requirements impact smaller businesses.