I was struck recently by this article on the ICAEW’s website quoting Ryan Grant, a Partner at accountants BDO who suggested accountants looking for a new challenge might do well to look at Corporate Restructuring as a specialism to help develop their career with a desire to ‘running’ companies, writes David Little, a Partner in our Corporate & Commercial team.
Contrary to popular myth, working on insolvency projects is not comparable to the role of an undertaker. As Ryan says: “I want to dispel the myth that restructuring is about insolvency, liquidations, making redundancies and closing things down,” he says. “A lot of our work is transactional and we work with businesses to navigate periods of distress. It is about problem solving and helping a business come out of the other side and survive in terms of jobs and value.”
Ever since I became a Corporate & Commercial lawyer I’ve also enjoyed the pace and variety of challenges each different client presents. No two pieces of work are ever the same. Like him, I find the level of exposure that we get in speaking to board members and Financial Directors is also really useful in our work.
Successful corporate restructuring work requires the support of all the stakeholders. In normal corporate restricting projects, the needs of the stakeholders such as governments, suppliers and customers might be a secondary consideration to the transaction. They will typically support the transaction provided they get a seamless service. However, in the distressed arena, they all may have a reason not to support the transaction, particularly where they have been impacted by supply issues and late payment.
Building trust and transparency throughout the deal process is critical so those stakeholders can understand why supporting a transaction is the right course of action and beneficial to them in the long run. This is one of the areas where advisers are particularly helpful to a transaction. They have independence from the circumstances that have created the distressed situation and therefore can be the broker between parties.
Stakeholder management is increasingly important as company structures and stakeholders have become more complex and numerous over the years. Often, we see transactions with private equity, multiple lenders, powerful customers or suppliers and management teams with their own agendas. The difficulty of aligning all these parties should not be underestimated.
Ryan chose to go down the audit route, but this could equally well apply to Commercial Law: “You can challenge assumptions within models and their integration really well. People with classic audit training can look at financial records and they can very quickly get to the bottom of them.
“In working with organisations in financial difficulty it is crucial for practitioners to be able to grasp the situation quickly, to understand the drivers of a business and to build relationships.
“This can be even more difficult if you’re put in on behalf of the lender,” he says. “We are put in some very difficult situations in our role. You need confidence balanced with a strong degree of empathy; you cannot hide behind a desk.”
Hear, hear to that. But where does the role aspiration diverge?
“Recently a newly audit-qualified member of staff joined our team from BDO audit stream because he could see the opportunity to gain skills in stakeholder management and negotiation, and in dealing with difficult, time-critical situations,” Ryan continues. “Ultimately he wants to become a CFO or CEO and believes his CV will be bolstered by having two or three years of restructuring under his belt.”
According to the ICAEW’s calculations there are currently 18 accountants running FTSE 100, and apparently this is a far greater number than there are lawyers, or simply female leaders- frustratingly, even in 2021, only 7 women are currently CEOs in the FTSE 100. I am lucky to be part of Bishop & Sewell where we have ensured that on a managing board of 6, 3 of these roles are held by female leaders in our business.
So why do so few lawyers become CEOs when they have the same skillset as their counterparts? My view is that it is because for those of who practice law it is the law and the application of it to help our clients which gets us out of bed in the morning, rather than the ambition to lead large institutions – although I will try to avoid entering the philosophical debate on whether any act is wholly altruistic as there is undeniably a real sense of satisfaction when you have helped a client navigate through stormy waters and been a part of the process in saving and strengthening their business.
On this, Ryan and I agree: “The most satisfying part is all the companies that you help behind the scenes. Those projects where you can’t necessarily talk about it, but you know that you’ve made a real difference and that your work helped a business to survive.”
Being able to work as part of a team, and recognising which skills each member of that group can bring to the table to is an integral part of being a good Corporate Restructuring specialist. It would be disingenuous, and fundamentally flawed to suggest that the only difference between accountants and lawyers, in a restructuring sense, is with a view to career progression. Both disciplines bring their own unique skills, training and viewpoint to these problem solving situations and I will continue to enjoy working closely with them in our clients’ ultimate interests.
The above is accurate as at 18 January 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.