FOR someone who is self-admittedly ‘old in tooth’, Ladislav Hornan, managing partner at UHY Hacker Young, is not perhaps a person you would expect to adorn the foyer of his London office with a three metre high Banksy painting. He has, and it is an indication of Hornan’s larger than life status within the profession.
Indeed, guests to UHY’s St Katharine Docks office are greeted by a larger than life ‘Lab Rat’, one of the anonymous artist’s earlier works, first exhibited as part of the stage at Glastonbury 15 years ago.
Hornan says he is “not a professional valuer” – he estimates the work is worth around £700,000 – and that the painting, plus other works by street artist Pure Evil are “motivational”. But the approach also reflects Hornan’s continuing youthful vigour after 40 years with the firm.
After two decades at the helm of UHY Hacker Young, including two stints as chair of UHY International, questions have inevitably arisen about when his tenure will come to an end. Hornan won’t be drawn on whether he is winding down, but does concede that succession planning has become an agenda item for management.
“I will enjoy keeping everyone guessing how many years it will be. Have a look and see if you think I can still take it,” he says. “We are planning, and have plans in place, for succession, not just for me but for other senior partners and business heads.”
What those plans are in detail, Hornan won’t say, but the firm recently added three younger partners into its executive committee. The committee is itself elected, and the youthfulness of its new entrants reflects the sentiment of the firm.
Hornan may be an unconventional character – he is a former refugee and was once, briefly, in charge of British boxing in the 1990s – but the firm’s growth has been much more traditional. The practice, Hornan says, is built on a strong and “very cohesive” national network of independent member firms.
“We are a national group of independent firms. It is what it says on the tin. We don’t manage individual practices in the group. Apart from meetings at a national board level, we regularly do things together.”
According to Hornan, the firm does not “dictate local management policy”, but that growth is always analysed across the network by comparing key performance indicators such as fee growth and recharge rates. “We look at really quite ordinary things but we learn so much from comparing,” Hornan says.
The firm’s network has grown to 24 offices across the UK, with fee income of £50m and is ranked 16th in the Accountancy Age Top 50+50. And while growth at the headline level has been impressive – 4% in the last year and 8.5% in 2012 – fees per partner have hovered around £0.6m. Failing to improve partners’ take home over the past three years could be a blot in Hornan’s copy book, but this is not the case.
“Historically we have some firms within the group are relatively small and that brings the average fee per partner down, just look at fees per partner in London. “We are there in terms of profit. [The fees] are just the way our group is composed.”
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The group continues to add new offices to its stable, and just as importantly its brand. In 2014, three offices in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire – acquired in 2013 as the UHY WKH Partnership – rebranded to UHY Hacker Young. This, explains Hornan, has always been part of the group’s strategy: to encourage all member firms to adopt the brand and support the message that it is a cohesive network.
Currently, the firm’s strategy is being developed around its technology capability, discussed during a national conference of partners and managers in November. It has since created a national technology group to “determine our direction and how we invest.”
“Audit technology and tax software support our practice and have all been there for many years. We have graduated from that” Hornan says. “We are looking at things in terms of real-time and online accounting and our interaction with the client.”
Hornan says the firm will not “pre-empt what they come up with within the review” but that the intention is to find a way to “free up time and let experts commit more time getting close to the client”.
“In two to three months’ time it will go high up to a think tank. We will look at this at a national board level and at an international level,” Hornan says.
At the same time UHY Hacker Young is developing its strategy vision for 2020, which has prioritised attracting and retaining the best people. According to Hornan, this doesn’t mean simply improving pay deals, but will involve improving how the recruitment process is run and “developing our recognition and reward system”.
“We formed a HR working group to decide what we want to do collectively and promote collective HR knowledge,” he says.
2012 – present Chairman, UHY International
2010 to present Member of the council, ACCA
1995 to present Managing partner, UHY Hacker Young
2002 – 2007 Chairman, UHY International
1980 – 1995 Turnaround and recovery partner, UHY Hacker Young
UHY Hacker Young in numbers
Top 50+50 ranking: 16
UK fee income: £50m
No of offices: 24
No of partners: 82
Fees per partner: £0.6m