Gary Hanson, lead partner with BDO in Cambridge
Gary Hanson is the lead partner of the Cambridge office of BDO, an organisation with over 1,200 offices in 138 countries. A specialist in business assurance, he has over 30 years’ experience. One of his principal skills is UK/US advice and he has particular knowledge of US GAAP and its implications, working closely with BDO in the US.
Hanson is responsible for the relationship and workflow between the UK and US member firms of BDO International and for inward referrals for the East of England region from the network – as a result of which he is currently working with BDO member firms in France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium.
1. Why did you decide to join the accountancy profession and has your career choice proved the right one? It all began working in my family’s medical supplies company during school holidays. My cousin taught me about how he ran the business, from working out the pay on a Friday, through to purchasing, checking deliveries, warehousing, picking for despatch, sales, credit control and all aspects of accounting. I was fascinated by the art of business and what could be done to make it better. I wanted to help other businesses get it right, and the range of clients I’ve had the fortune to work with means it’s definitely been the right choice for me.
2. What do you think BDO brings to the Cambridge business scene?From the outset we wanted to be more than just another firm of accountants. We work extensively to build relationships across the business community and deliver exceptional service to our clients through our empowered people. We are not ‘yes men’ to our clients. We’re here to advise on what’s best for their business. And it works. We’re delighted to now officially be market leaders for client satisfaction – outperforming all our major competitors – in the latest independent research, the Mid Market Monitor.
3. What is the split for BDO Cambridge between local, national and international work?Part of the reason for creating the BDO Cambridge office was our perception that SMEs in the area needed help to get to international markets. One of my internal roles is the US liaison partner, in particular to connect with the Silicon Valley and Boston tech communities. I visit the States several times a year to help connect our internationally facing businesses with their ambitions over there and to build relationships. This is reflected in our client base which splits equally across those categories.
4. What are the greatest challenges facing globally ambitious Cambridge Cluster companies?With the benefit of the Cambridge brand, our companies have a unique opportunity to attract talent, customers and investors. The challenge is exploiting this and using advisors with the relationships to help make the right connections. In addition, companies need to understand when they are ready to move from the R&D phase to sales mode and focus accordingly. Too many continue looking for applications of their technology rather than who wants to buy it and what needs it solves. It is also important they protect their IP.
5. How sophisticated are the region’s companies when it comes to cross-border activity, in terms of understanding culture and the threat v opportunity balance in different markets?In tech markets the differences in culture are often overlooked because of the focus on technology and the concepts involved. Identifying and addressing these differences from the outset is crucial. We are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities in the international scene. We have the right skill sets, the right technology and the some of the best infrastructure to use as a spring board for international growth.
6. Do you work with business from start-up stage through to the established market leaders and what challenges does this diversity pose? Yes, we work appropriately at different stages of the business life cycle from cradle to grave, with each and every client getting the very best service. We work with smaller businesses and entrepreneurs who have aspirations to grow, and we are champions for mid-sized businesses across the UK – the engines of much needed economic growth. But we’re also here for the largest companies who realise there are more than four firms providing quality offerings.
7. How closely are you able to become involved in a growing business and do companies appreciate this closeness?We aim to help ambitious business owners turn their vision into a reality. But to do this requires a degree of trust. That’s why relationships are so important. Businesses expect an accountant to take care of the books and tax returns, but good advisers, those that help the businesses to grow, are really important to, and appreciated by, management teams. We are there to identify opportunities for growth and to help put them in to practice, while keeping costs low, keeping an eye on profitability and allowing management to do what they do best.
8. Does BDO have growth ambitions of its own and if so in what disciplines or business segments?We believe that businesses can never stand still and it is advice we follow for ourselves. Our merger with PKF is the first strategic merger in the accountancy sector for 15 years, and will see us create a single business entity with 3500 staff generating revenues of more than £400m. We take the responsibility of being advisors to the mid-market seriously, and we are constantly reviewing where we need to invest to strengthen our client offerings, either through new sectors, markets or services. This merger will strengthen our management consultancy offering, public sector and not-for-profit expertise and locally expand our presence in East Anglia with new offices in Ipswich, Norwich and Great Yarmouth. Like so many companies in the region, we have an ambition to grow. And we’re acting on it.
9. As a transatlantic specialist how do you rate the Cambridge technology cluster compared to the best in the US, such as Silicon Valley?Technically, technologically and intellectually the Cambridge cluster is world-leading. It is a great environment and nurtures new businesses with access to advice readily available through mentors, incubators and accelerator groups. But what the Americans are really good at is looking for ideas that make money. For the British, this is all too often a second thought. We need to keep ourselves at the forefront of innovation and investment, if we are to stay ahead of the game.
10. Should Cambridge join forces with Tech city and other European clusters to form a super cluster able to compete with the Valley?We sponsored a report on this question in (year) and our view at that time on super clusters remains unchanged. The US is huge and Silicon Valley stretches further than the length of the UK. In addition, there is the build-up of wealth and available funding there. As a result, Cambridge standing alone to fight the might of SV is clearly impractical.