Market leaders: Who is the finest winding-up merchant?

Partner, Geoffrey Martin & Company

WE HAVE a trade association called the Society of Practitioners of Insolvency and those in our industry who are called to be president of this are usually those who encompass qualities which are vital to be a decent insolvency practitioner. The current president is Murdoch McKillop who leads Arthur Andersen's corporate recovery team - an awesome character. Colin Bird of PricewaterhouseCoopers is an incredible man who has done an tremendous amount of work to harmonise our structures with those of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Gordon Stewart was also a president of the SPI. He is now head of Corporate Recovery at Allen & Overy, is hugely intellectual and has a wonderful command of the written language. And Alan Bloom of Ernst and Young who is a very sound character. Our industry used to have the fairly awful reputation of being gross male chauvinists, but those days are past. We now have in particular the extremely good Shirley Jackson who has her own practice and Maggie Mills of Ernst and Young who is an awesome lady.

To get on in the industry you need to be an all-rounder, with both intellectual pragmatism and the common touch. Speedy reactions are important as is the ability to listen. But most important is to have the courage of your convictions, and inspiring confidence in your client.

Hamish Anderson

Insolvency partner, Norton Rose

THE INSOLVENCY business is quite a diverse field. - you've got both lawyers and accountants working closely together. What you're looking for in a good insolvency practitioner is professional skill, good common sense, and sound commercial judgement. What everyone has in common is that they are all professional people with high skill levels. Obviously those in the employ of the big five accountancy firms stand out, there's Murdoch McKillop of Arthur Andersen, Alan Bloom of Ernst and Young, Tony Lomas of PwC, Nick Dargan of Deloitte and Touche and Phil Wallace of KPMG. If you can see the wood from the trees and make sound financial judgements, you'll be a successful practitioner. Obviously a sense of humour helps too - the workload will include fiendishly unexpected problems and very tight deadlines.

Nick Dargan

Head of Lender services, Deloitte and Touche

THE BUSINESS is very wide in nature, and I'm generally involved in turnaround work, so I am inevitably in contact with turnaround people and impressed by them. In particular, there are Ian Powell of PwC and Alan Bloom of Ernst and Young. Both of whom are extremely discreet. They are both fairly commercial individuals, which is important. It is also important to be able to remain calm and not get emotionally involved in the client's business. You have to make dispassionate decisions. My nominees encompass all of these qualities.

David Buchler

Senior Partner, Buchler Phillips

IT IS a time of great change for our profession. Our leaders have had to be very focused on helping the change to progress frugally. It will result in a contraction of our industry, probably with a number of mergers and a question mark over whether the big five firms are going to find traditional insolvency work profitable in the years to come. The successful firms will be those that recognise issues, grapple with them, and have the financial stability to find the right solutions. There are high profile partners at the top of our profession, like Alan Bloom, Murdoch McKillop, Gordon Stewart and Stephen Gale, who will have a real part to play in gearing the profession through the next millennium.

Murdoch McKillop

Managing Partner, Global Corporate Finance, Arthur Andersen

I SEE there being two qualities in particular which successful practitioners have: first, the ability to see through the haze and get down to the important matters; and second, an unpanicable manner. You mustn't lose your head when things become a bit frantic. You've also got to be able to listen, make your own judgement, and communicate that judgement to the client. Those are the key qualities and there are obvious people who embody them - leaders of the major firms for example. But I would also like to mention Simon Freakley from Buchler Phillips. He doesn't cover particularly large jobs, but they are substantial. He has been an immense help in building their firm up. He went there from us, of course!

Mark Andrews

Head of Insolvency, Wilde Sapte

I THINK one of the most important qualities in an insolvency practitioner would be the resilience to withstand great pressure for long periods of time. Someone in whom this is implicit is Peter Phillips from Buckler Phillips. He endured so much, so patiently, during the Maxwell estate business. I also admire those who have cornered the specialist areas of insolvency, such as those involved in insurance insolvency. I'd single out Philip Singer and Paul Evans from PwC, Tony McMahon from KPMG and Gareth Hughes of Ernst and Young. Versatility and practicability are essential to get on in the business. It is an incredibly varied profession: one day you'll be looking after a football club and the next week it'll be a retail company. It's real life stuff - you go around saving businesses.

Colin Bird

Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers

THIS IS probably one of the most difficult problems I've had to solve as an IP, but I've got two nominations: Alan Bloom of Ernst and Young and John Talbot from Arthur Andersen. To be a great IP you need a vision of where you intend to get to before you start, and my sense is that Alan has that capability. But more than that, I think it is vital to be able to communicate. Alan is a superb communicator. You have to articulate a view and ensure that people accept it. And you're dealing with all sorts of levels of people: factory floor workers, directors in the Board Room, creditors for whom the deal will mean survival or failure.

Really I've chosen these two chaps because of their communication skills. John Talbot I admire because of what I would call his "bedside manner". He is an arch-communicator. You've got to be as hard as nails with someone, then as soft as butter with another, and he can do this. Everybody has a price to pay in an insolvency situation. Everybody has to lose. So the idea is to convince the clients that even though they hate the idea of the deal, so does everybody else. You have to mould their opinion. And that's the greatest thing in the business as far as I'm concerned: making a deal between warring factions.

Shirley Jackson

Senior Partner, BN Jackson Norton

IT IS a wonderful business to be in. It's such a fun job. People think "Oh dear, here come the undertakers", but in fact we are bringing about the next step and rescuing them. My own best ever job was Canary Wharf in the middle of the slump. We managed to turn it around and make a success of it. Indeed, it has recently been floated. But I was enormously impressed with the people with whom I was working: Steve Adamson and Maggie Mills, both of Ernst and Young. I believe Maggie was also involved in the Barings' work. I really do admire her and her work - obviously within the context of Steve's work too.

She knows so much about everything and her work is always keenly calculated. She's innovative, and a bright light among so many men. The business used to be rooted in male masochism, but that is changing. But it is changing slowly, which makes Maggie's success all the more impressive.

Scott Barnes

Head of Corporate Recovery, Grant Thornton

ON THE recovery side, in insolvency practitioning I really do admire Murdoch McKillop. He's been involved in some very high-profile situations. One's impressions of fellow IPs really rest on the back of cases they've been involved in, and the attitude of bankers towards them, and McKillop is very highly regarded within the industry. On the investigative side of IPs, I hold Aidan Birkett of PwC in high esteem.

You need an ability to assess information in a short space of time to be a decent IP. You mustn't be frightened of taking flak. You are involved in a distress situation and you have to have the ability to ride through those difficult moments.

Cedric Clapp

Partner, Ernst and Young

WHEN TALKING about those who have really impressed me in our industry, I really couldn't miss out Alan Bloom. I know he is my boss, but I've had first-hand experience of his work in high-profile deals like Canary Wharf and Barings bank. He really is a first class IP. Then there's Gordon Stewart of Allen and Overy, who is also a very impressive example of an IP.

On a more general level, to be a successful IP, I think you need a good level of technical expertise. It's not like 20 years ago when there weren't many of us around, and you could wrap the industry in an air of mystique and get away with murder. You also need to be able to work with people. IP is, very much, a people business. When people are hit with insolvency, it really does hit their soul - not just their business, but also their private life. It's important to recognise this. If you're cold-hearted you won't really get the best result. You'll get a result, but it won't be the best result possible.

Interviews by

Sally Chatterton

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