January 3, 2020
June 1, 1990, is a day that Michael Leather remembers very clearly. It was day one of his new venture, having left his previous – and very successful – role at one of the Big Four accountancy firms to set up his own business, Leathers.
“I put on my suit and tie, went downstairs in my house and thought, ‘What do I do now?’ At that point, it all felt very real and a bit terrifying. It was a huge decision to leave my job and set up on my own,” he remembers.
But 30 years on, the success of that decision can be in little doubt. Leathers has become one of the most highly-esteemed accountants in the North of England, with recent back-to-back wins as small firm of the year at the North East Accountancy Awards, and a reputation for its ability to solve the kinds of complex tax issues that other firms just cannot handle.
Its client list is the envy of many a competitor – Leathers acts for businesses around the world, as far afield as Canada and South Africa, and at one point had four clients on the Sunday Times Rich List.
It has built long and trusting relationships with countless businesses and families throughout the UK, through its absolute commitment to offering a personal service to every client.
Despite being based in the North East, much of its work continues to come from London and the South East.
The Leathers team is expert and fast-growing. Several of the senior figures at Leathers have been with the firm since they were trainees, including partner Ryan Harrison, who has become one of the North’s leading private client tax advisors under Michael’s guidance.
Together, they are mapping the future of Leathers, helping to guide it to the next level as the firm – which now has offices in Newcastle, Durham and Harrogate – enters its fourth decade of business.
“Since that first day, when I didn’t really know what was going to come next, it has all come together quite well. We have seen huge growth as a business, with a continually growing team and client base and instructions coming in from across the world,” says Michael.
“We have an outstanding team and have a lot of young people within it – scarily, some of them weren’t even born when I set up Leathers – and Ryan was only four-years-old at the time.
“Alongside the recruitment of established senior figures, we have a culture of offering opportunities to ambitious young people, developing them to their full potential and creating a business they want to be part of. This is a team effort and everyone shares our vision and ambitions.”
For Michael, client service is at the heart of the ‘Leathers difference’ and is something he is as committed to delivering today as he was on June 1, 1990.
“We offer the highest standards of personal service and communication to each and every client, and this is something I am proud Leathers is known for.
“I am a firm believer in picking up the phone instead of relying on email, in speaking to people directly, in writing a letter. That shouldn’t be seen as an old fashioned way of doing things; in fact, it is this very personal approach that allows you to get to know people, so you can understand them, their business and circumstances to enable you to offer the insightful advice they need,” says Michael.
“Often, we are able to foresee problems for our clients before they arise, and that comes from investing the time so they come to know and trust us. This has proved so important in forming the strong relationships we have with so many clients, and I genuinely believe this is a big factor in why they stay with us. We have clients now who have been clients since 1990, and new clients are coming to us all the time. While we have grown significantly since that time, and continue to grow now and into the future, our levels of client service will never change.”
Looking forward, 2020 is a significant year for Leathers, not least because of its milestone anniversary, but in its strategic growth plan. The business continued to make strong gains last year, with some significant new client wins along the way, and is now ready to reap the rewards of its progress.
“We have seen another year of growth across the business, so now is an ideal time to start a new chapter as we mark 30 years and build for the future. Having moved into our Collingwood Street headquarters in Newcastle last January, we now occupy one of the most prestigious business addresses in the city, which is an ideal setting to welcome clients into. That in itself has made a difference to our profile, and will continue to do so,” says Michael.
“The progress we have seen in Harrogate and across Yorkshire has been even quicker than we imagined, and that is a key territory for us in the near future. Ryan has been instrumental in leading the development of our Harrogate office, and despite being there for just over a year, he is winning new instructions by the week. We have always acted for clients throughout Yorkshire, but the opening of an office there has enabled us to build on the work we have done previously.”
And in another development for the business, 2020 also marks year two for Leathers’ partner business, Leathers Corporate Finance, led by award-winning dealmakers Abu Ali and Phil Williams and with Michael as executive chairman, after a highly successful first 12 months.
“Leathers has, for many years, been involved in highly significant corporate finance deals on a national basis, but it is an area in which we have never publicised our involvement. The creation of Leathers Corporate Finance has brought an ambitious and dynamic new business into the region’s corporate finance market, and Abu and Phil have done a fantastic job of leading it,” Michael explains.
“In their first 12 months, they have been involved in a number of prominent deal processes and have even taken on their first member of staff, months ahead of when they planned to do so. I have no doubt this will be another area of strong growth for the Leathers brand in the year ahead and beyond.”
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