Stuart Newman, PwC’s Cambridge office senior partner
The Cambridge office of PwC has been serving clients in the region for 25 years in both the private and public sector.
1. In what areas of activity is PwC in the East of England busiest?I am not sure if we are a leading indicator but we are seeing activity levels picking up generally as corporates get back to getting on with business; the wheels of M & A are starting to turn again but there is still a way to go with this and we don’t see IPO’s flowing with any predictability just yet.With the announcement this week of the Coalition Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, we are seeing preparation for a great deal of activity in the public sector as well as with private sector businesses who contract with public sector bodies. A sector likely to see growth opportunities from spending cuts is outsourcing, and not only in back office services. Government and public sector organisations will look to reduce their non-core and fixed cost operations by increasing the use of private and voluntary sector organisations for the delivery of front-line services. Organisations with flexible supplies of labour, such as manpower service providers, will have new opportunities in future.Having said all that, early stage businesses are finding fund raising pretty tough, and starting up exceedingly so.2. How has PwC as a practice adjusted to the constraints imposed on business growth by the global recession?We have aimed to stand shoulder to shoulder with our clients and support them through the challenging economic environment and to focus ourselves on retaining our people in the business in readiness for the recovery; whilst individual businesses cannot control the course of economic events, it is possible for management to adopt a strategy that goes some way towards controlling their own destiny. Key ‘self-help’ techniques – focusing on cash, stakeholder management and effective scenario planning – have made all the difference in surviving the storm and helping businesses to emerge from the downturn in the best possible shape.3. How important is the East of England to PwC’s strategic plans?As an engine to drive the UK forward, the innovative growth businesses here in the East and the first class public sector bodies have a really crucial role to play – so we see the East as important to the country and for the same reasons, important markets for PwC to support and contribute to. We serve our clients in the region from our locally based practices in Cambridge, Norwich and St Albans. With centres of national strength in technology, the life sciences, renewable energies, engineering, food and public sector the firm recognises the important contribution that the East makes to the UK economy and is committed to supporting the wide range of world leading businesses that are proud to call the East home.4. How have PwC’s East of England teams adapted to the constantly evolving business climate?Clearly the UK economy is delicately balanced at the moment and whilst Cambridge and the East, so far, has been pretty resilient there have been clear impacts on the availability of funding and on exits; I see the already established technology companies continuing to prosper but funding challenges for those at earlier growth and expansion phases. Whilst the public sector organisations are strong, they will have some challenges to deal with in the coming years. We have worked hard to keep our people in the business through the downturn and to move skills around – for example our deals team have been busy throughout the cycle using their skills to help support businesses in trouble.However, I am sure the next few years will be exciting times and Cambridge seems well positioned to succeed – with the developing cleantech capabilities for example providing a further axis for innovation and growth. The opportunity to participate in the entrepreneurial growth around Cambridge and to help companies to grow, expand internationally and succeed on a global stage is what most attracts me to the market.5. In terms of science & technology, which clusters do you see as the major growth drivers going forward?The cluster of life sciences and technology companies is already incredibly entrepreneurial and innovative with some genuine global leaders to aspire to. If you asked me to pick some areas I would go for telecoms related infrastructure – mobile content is now real and will drive an insatiable appetite for bandwidth and connectivity; the low carbon economy is a real opportunity and a whole host of Cambridge technologies have the potential to play significant roles – however I am not sure the UK generally is yet punching its weight; and the convergence of communications with medical technology seems really exciting to me - and over 5-10 years has the potential for really dramatic changes to health provision.Key to the ongoing success in my mind is continued world class research and an environment that is appealing for business and growth – from an active connected cluster and the ability to attract the right skills locally through to an internationally competitive and attractive UK business environment – in particular for IP and R & D. Providing the infrastructure to support the growth whilst retaining the distinctive feel of Cambridge will be an area of constant debate I am sure.6. In an era of increasing internationalisation how important is it for a professional services firm to be able to advise across disciplines?Many of our clients in this position find it extremely valuable in making sense of the overall picture of their business when we are able to help them join up a set of connected issues, be they strategy, cross border presence, tax and funding and so on. It is essential for professional services firms to be able to advise across disciplines and sectors and our local team includes real industry expertise in life sciences, technology, media, food and health and local government, with capabilities covering internal and external audit, transaction and IPO’s, corporate finance, and the full range of taxation capabilities – from corporate to personal, direct and indirect and the capability to support entrepreneurs and venture capital investors. Our UK R & D centre of excellence is here and we have strong human resources capabilities.7. To what extent is PwC prepared to work with young companies through their growth cycles – hopefully to global maturity?Well this is close to my heart as I believe this is absolutely fundamental to the way we approach the life science and technology companies – the smallest start-up aspires to be playing on a world stage and has iconic success stories around Cambridge to look up to and emulate.We aim to tailor our service to reflect the stage in the lifecycle, supporting early stage companies in ways that matter to them at that point – R & D credits and share schemes, for example – through to expanding into international markets, and then presenting themselves for investment and IPO and beyond, and being realistic around what companies can afford at an early stage, too.8. To what extent do you feel PwC has immersed itself in the business communities it serves?Our people are extremely active in their local communities, supporting businesses through our extending programme of informative workshops and events, as well as contributing directly to the communities where we all live and work. Our Charity of the year for 2010 is Romsey Mill, with their excellent work creating opportunities for young people and their families.This week, our staff completed a ‘Cambridge to Cambridge’ challenge whereby they cycled, rowed, walked, ran and swam their way to the 3,266 mile distance equalling that between Cambridge UK and Cambridge Massachusetts raising over £3,000 for Romsey Mill in the process. We are also actively involved with the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation and are delighted to be supporting this years fireworks. 9. Now you are heading up the Cambridge operation, what are your personal ambitions for PwC going forward?For me, I want our reputation to be one where the relationships we have with our clients delivers real value to them; that makes a real difference to their growth and success.The opportunity to lead the team here in Cambridge is a great new challenge – a growth, entrepreneurial market, with a really strong PwC team who have an incredible breadth of capability, and in a part of the country that is both really important to the UK’s growth and a great place to live and work. With my engineering background I have a particular interest in the technology sectors and really enjoy getting a layman’s understanding of the underlying technology. As a family we moved out of London to come to Cambridge and in the last year, in addition to taking on my new role, we bought and refurbished a lovely house in Great Shelford and had our third child – so quite a busy year all10. Which business issue do you think should be at the top of CEOs’ agendas at the moment?Well, apart from the public sector spending cuts that we’ve already mentioned, the security of corporate information is a particularly hot topic at the moment. Historically, business leaders and boards have tended to regard information security as a technology issue – as reflected by the traditional reporting channels – but this a misconception that needs to change. Business leaders should be highlighting risks to the board on current and emerging threats as the context for needing world-class information security standards.