Viewpoint: Lisa Hart Shepherd

October 3, 2018

Chris Dobson talks with Lisa Hart Shepherd, chief executive officer of Newcastle-headquartered Acritas Research, a company that has developed a global reputation for niche market research across sectors such as commercial property and law

Acritas intrigues me because of your international success as a market research company. Just how have you achieved this?
I think it’s about being bold, committed and willing to invest in time and effort to develop the business. I have done this throughout the growth of Acritas. To this end, I have one day a week in London, I travel to the US about eight times a year and, throughout, I have a hands-on management style supported by an excellent team.

What is the structure of the company in terms of the sectors it follows?
We have a staff of 50 in the Newcastle office, four in London and two in New York. Both London and New York offices are headed up by Newcastle people. Being headquartered in Newcastle gives us access to two universities, which are a brilliant source of linguists. Law and commercial property are key sectors and there is synergy between them and other professional services. We are very comfortable with our Newcastle address, which in no way reflects negatively on the business.

Aren’t you just heavily focused on the legal sector?
Certainly from the beginning that was our focus and today commercial lawyers are a predominant share of the business. We have some high-value relationships which currently generate 80 per cent of our revenue. But we also have strengths in commercial property surveyors in the UK and Europe.

I see you single out ‘property’ as one of your sectors. Is this just a focus on property law specialists or do you follow the property sector as in chartered surveyors?
It’s the major firms of surveyors where property models are similar to those found in the legal sector. We seek out challenges to assess positive or negative impacts on a business. Clearly Brexit is a main one just now. We certainly have growth plans for the property sector with innovation and technology to the fore. We are also engaged with the Big Four accountants who are moving into the property and legal sectors.

I see you offer a data package relating to the future of the property market. Are you being particularly brave given the many unknowns facing the sector through the twists and turns of Brexit?
When we introduced our Sharplegal programme about ten years ago, we presented a new, original and unique approach to measuring and tracking brand performance and market trends in the legal sector.

Something similar will apply to the property sector. We celebrate being data savvy, bringing an integrity and energy to projects that we believe will not be found anywhere else. Brand assessment is allowing clients to look through the lens of the market. You refer to ‘unknowns’, I feel brand assessment is a process of removing ‘unknowns’.

Sharp property data particularly interests me given the anticipation of change. Is this based on national views or can you drill down into a crystal ball for the North East?
The first point to make is being headquartered in the North East is not a negative. Yes, regional markets vary in size, which brings different twists and turns, but this is a very good base for business.

There is probably too much over-emphasis on anecdotal evidence, persuasive personalities and ‘gut’ feelings about the region.

As for clients, we bring science and rigour to the decision-making process. The ‘outside view’ is a fundamental part of any strategic decision-making process and is proven to forecast outcomes more reliably than any other approach.

Your name is linked with Harvard. What is the connection and does this indicate your strength in North America?
I believe it does. I was just recently a guest speaker at Harvard Law School, which is effectively teaching the future leaders of global law firms. It’s about running a law firm as a business, managing talent and future-proofing the business. I think it underlines our reputation in the States.

Where do you go from here?
We must build on our data assets and our consistency in delivering a top-quality professional service, as well as growth in Europe, North America and Asia. We have access to over 10,000 contacts at partnership level across the world and we are focusing where we can on the clients of our clients. We are growing our tech team and have just invested a six-figure sum in digitising our business intelligence system. We are certainly well-placed for the future.

Acritas Research

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Supporting role: Lara Coulson and Rebecca Arachchiae