Search for

Interview: Man of the moment

31 Dec 08

A high flier – at 37, managing partner at Campbell Dallas – Chris Horne believes the recession could offer Scotland’s third-largest independent accountancy firm its big chance. If any individual or company ever needed a committed CA to guide them through these unchartered economic waters, now’s the time.

by Richard Goslan

That’s the view, at least, of Chris Horne, managing partner at Campbell Dallas.

Now 37, he was not even qualified the last time the UK saw a recession. But that does not faze the man who, as head of Scotland’s third-largest independent accountancy firm, is a rising star in the profession.

“I think it was [former Scottish football manager] Tommy Docherty who said about Kenny Dalglish: ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’,” says Horne, at the Bearsden office of Campbell Dallas.

“I’m not drawing any other parallels there, but at 37, if I was a footballer I’d be at the end of my career! As it is, I qualified in 1995, I’ve been doing this for 13 years, so I don’t think it’s that young.

“If you look at the Entrepreneurial Exchange, there are a lot of people who are quite a bit younger than me doing some really great things.

“At Campbell Dallas, we’re forecast to do above £11m of turnover this year, we’ve got 150 staff, so we’re a big organisation but we’re not gigantic.”

The deterioration in the economy this year from initial credit crunch to outright financial crisis has affected everyone in some way or another, and Horne admits it has had an impact on Campbell Dallas’s expansion plans.

“We formed a strategy in February, and it would be naïve to think we could pursue exactly the same plans as we thought we could back then,” he says.

“But there are certain key things that are very much still our focus, which are to recruit heavily in Aberdeen and we’re also looking to significantly grow our Perth office.

“In Glasgow, we’re not looking to expand to the same extent and are looking to combine both our offices into one new purpose-built location. From there we’ll reignite our expansion plans.

“We’ve often talked about an Edinburgh office, but a lot of its economy is based on financial services, and with all the uncertainty about what’s happening there, with RBS and HBOS, I wouldn’t want to rush in. Edinburgh is still part of our strategy, but we might have to make more of a considered step into it, and the timing might change slightly.”

In terms of the economy, Horne’s promotion to the position of managing partner six months ago could have come at a better time. But his succession had been put in place well before that, as founding partner Bob Dallas stepped down to concentrate on client-facing work.

“It was a very consciously considered decision,” says Horne. “I knew I was going to take over, and everyone at the firm knew I was going to take over, for about 15 months in advance. I spent 12 months working with Bob to pick up what the job fully involved, and then Bob was able to go back and pick up his client work, which is his first love.”

The promotion came as part of an overall restructuring of the firm’s business and the introduction of a more corporate management structure.

Now, while some of the firm’s competitors are announcing redundancies, Horne and his colleagues at Campbell Dallas are looking at what opportunities the changing economic climate could throw their way.

“At this time, clients need their accountant, and it’s amazing when you pick up the phone to ask clients about their business, how much opportunity can come out of that conversation,” he says. “You need to ensure that you’re not selling them services they don’t need and that they can’t afford to pay for. But now is the time for companies to surround themselves with good advisers. That will bring growth to our business.

“Our clients probably engage with us more than clients do at other accountancy firms because we get more involved in the owner-managed business sector. If you look at our advisory service, we try to stay close to our clients, we feel well placed to advise them not to get into problems, and if they then get into trouble we can help them to get out of them.

“The last thing we want is for a client to phone us up and say something really dreadful has happened, because it’s much harder to get them out of a position than to help them avoid getting in it in the first place.”

If business recovery and insolvency activity has turned upwards, Horne’s own area of corporate finance has been one part of the business that has seen the biggest impact from the economic downturn.

That has meant re-evaluating what his team can offer businesses and colleagues.

“What we’re seeing in corporate finance is that the credit crunch has become a bit more of a reality. The banks hold the key, because in any fundraising you still have to leverage that equity up, and if the banks aren’t in a position to provide the debt for that, it becomes very difficult.

“We’re working very closely with our business recovery colleagues, because our view is that there are a lot of businesses which at the moment are unsuitable for any new investment.

“But we go in and work with them to rationalise their business, make it more effective, come up with recommendations, help them implement the changes, and by the end of that there is actually a business which is fundable and investor ready.

“So it’s about recognising that the market place is changing, and our clients’ needs are changing. The firm’s philosophy is that every client is an individual and our services have to be tailored to meet their needs.”

When it comes to relaxing, Horne retreats to his rural home in Callander, the scenic town in the Trossachs, where, with his wife, he keeps horses, including a retired thoroughbred. It’s a big change from Glasgow’s west end, which they left over a year ago.

“It’s nice to have somewhere to let your stress levels drop,” he says. “We fancied something a bit different. And it saves on all the livery charges we were paying before!”

And along with a round of golf, or a walk in the Trossachs with his dogs, the perfect weekend is complete when his team, Airdrie United, beat founding partner Jim Campbell’s beloved Partick Thistle in the Scottish First Division.

To watch CA Mag online's interview with Chris Horne, click here

Have your say

Page No: 41


Chris Horne

Related Articles

Practice Web Tower (link opens in new window)Advertisement