In the past few years, there’s been a great deal of discussion surrounding employee satisfaction. Many people are no longer content working for big faceless corporations that seem to lack a personal touch or care for their employees or clients. Some of the most successful businesses today are learning the importance of ensuring human connection, from the top down.
Co-Host of The Interview Luke James sat down with Richard McNeilly, Manging Partner at Dains Accountants to discuss how caring about the people you work with is at the core of what makes any business truly successful.
I never actually intended to work in accounting. I wanted to be a banker from quite a young age and spent the first sixteen years of my career in banking. But when I reached my mid-30s, I got to a point in my career where I’d effectively reached my ceiling, financially speaking. I had a young family and felt I needed to earn more. That’s when I started researching accounting firms as an option, discovered a number of opportunities, and ultimately chose Dains. During my time here, I’ve headed up business development, supported clients through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and for the last seven years, worked as a managing partner and now, CEO.
In truth, a lot of that growth was generated through M&A, but that started from a deliberate effort. In 2019, we had a planning session where we discussed strategies for growing as a business. That resulted in us taking private equity investment from a rise in capital at the end of 2021. Over the course of that year, we acquired three accountancy-related businesses which supported our growth. But alongside that, we’ve had really strong organic growth as well.
Whenever we look at a company to acquire, we start with culture. We think about the strategic fit between our business and our target businesses before we even start to look at the financials. Does this business share our values? If they do and we can make the numbers work, that’s when we start to have a conversation about working together. The key is being as communicative as possible. We have a long history of sharing financial information on a month-to-month basis. We put ourselves under the microscope so everyone knows how we’re getting on.
The other important feature is that, while we overlay the Dains infrastructure over each business, we leave the leadership team intact. After all, that team’s success is part of the reason we were interested in the merger in the first place.
We start off with what we call “valued relationships”. This actually begins internally. If we as colleagues look out for each other, then it becomes a habit that we can repeat with our clients, so they know how much we care. The second of our core values is fairness, which is all about being upfront, open, and honest. One of the things businesses get wrong is not being honest about fees, timings, and scope of work. If you explain all this from the outset, it makes a world of difference!
One of the things businesses get wrong is not being honest about fees, timings, and scope of work. If you explain all this from the outset, it makes a world of difference!
Our third core value is integrity. Sometimes we have to have difficult conversations with our clients or colleagues. However tough that might be, it shows how much we respect and truly care about delivering for them. And the final one is working together for success. Ultimately, my best days at work aren’t about being paid but about delivering something special for a client. And I get equal enjoyment from seeing people who have joined the business progress through the ranks and develop their careers to become brilliant professionals and advisors in their own rights.
It’s something we have to continually work at, but it’s really all about communication. And you can never do enough. I provide regular updates on the business and we work through a series of objectives on an ongoing basis. We have regular meetings at every office and within every team to build on the work we set out at our annual Dains Day Out conference. This is an opportunity to get everyone in the business together, share our objectives, and explain what we see as the key changes coming in the foreseeable future. We also inject some third-party thinking by bringing in outside speakers. Additionally, we have something called The Hub, where staff can share information and good news stories with each other, and welcome new people. But we’ve never finished. It’s a constant process.
I love people and working with them but I don’t feel I always have enough time on a day-to-day basis to provide our team with the personal attention they may need. I felt we needed someone at the board level who was driving our people proposition on multiple levels, whether it’s improving diversity and inclusion, helping them make their way up their career ladders, or what have you. We want to be the employer of choice in our chosen market, and you only do that if you give your people real attention. Nicola comes with long experience. I’ve not met anyone who understands the leadership and development part of business better than Nicola.
Personal ownership. I’ve always believed that you should take control of your own leadership and development. I’m 51 and don’t think I’ve ever been on a stronger, steeper learning curve. It’s invigorating! The day that you think you know it all is probably the day to get out of the business you’re in. So I still believe in my own personal development. I have to take charge of that and make it happen, and I think whatever stage you’re at, that’s what you should do if you’re serious about your career.