A proposition unlike others
November 3, 2022
With offices nestled between Newcastle’s past and present, independent Chartered accountancy and business advisory firm UNW is well versed in the city’s – and wider region’s – changing landscape. And, having recently bolstered its ranks with numerous appointments, including Durham-born partner and head of corporate finance Chris Wilson, it is using its knowledge and expertise to help clients usher in new eras of their own. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to Chris to learn more about UNW’s growth plans, its enduring independence, its unrelenting support for entrepreneurial businesses and his delight at returning to the North East.
Identity is important to Chris Wilson.
A son of Durham, and having been schooled in Newcastle, his character is marked by the North East.
It is perhaps no surprise then, that Chris is part of the growing team at independent Chartered accountancy and business advisory firm UNW.
For just like Chris, the Newcastle-based company is a beacon of North East identity, its ethos a mirror of the region’s innovation and individuality, of its people and geographies, a tag synonymous with going above and beyond to achieve excellence.
“The North East is home; it’s where I was born and grew up,” says Chris.
“It has a very strong, cohesive community.
“Having worked outside the region in recent years, when the opportunity arose to return, and with a firm like UNW, I grabbed it with both hands.”
The opening to which he refers presented itself earlier this year, when Chris joined the business as partner and head of corporate finance.
But it wasn’t just the region’s counties and boroughs that lured the former Newcastle schoolboy turned KPMG corporate finance director back to his roots.
UNW’s unrelenting focus on the privately owned marketplace – where it has provided assistance to clients such as Cleveland Containers, Perfect Image and Lanchester Wines – across areas including mergers and acquisitions, finance raising, due diligence and grant support and subsidies, meant he felt right at home.
Furthermore, the company, whose Newcastle offices abut the city’s famous medieval Morden Tower, recently refreshed its branding.
And, just like Chris, identity sits right at its core.
Reflective of the business’ growth momentum and vibrancy, the marketing features the tag line ‘unlike others’.
Highlighting UNW’s individuality, it also points to the firm’s agility, which allows its expert teams to intimately understand clients and tailor services to their unique needs.
Chris says: “The privately owned business sector is the backbone of the regional markets, and I have a real passion for working with its people.
“You get to work with some really interesting individuals, find out what they are doing and where they want to take their business.
“And helping them with strategic thought planning and supporting their growth journeys through to genuinely life-changing transactions and outcomes is incredibly rewarding,” says Chris, whose time at KPMG included nine years in Newcastle, where he worked extensively with businesses across the region.
He adds: “The fact UNW has such a strong commitment to that market made it an easy decision to join the team.
“The firm’s whole raison d’être is around privately owned businesses.
“And it is working very well; I’ve stepped into a business that is firing on all cylinders, which has grown consistently year-on-year.”
“There is a modesty and humility to UNW, and we’ll never lose those traits,” continues Chris, who studied economics at The University of Edinburgh.
He adds: “But, at the same time, we genuinely do stand out from others in the marketplace.
“In the corporate finance team, we have two partners from the North East on the ground in the region, with almost 50 years’ experience between us of advising clients on strategic transactions.
“This provides us with a real edge, as well as a breadth and depth of experience that we can draw upon when advising clients.
“We are independent, and this is our business – each client relationship is personal to us, and is so important to us.
“When we say we’re going to do something, we stand by it.
“Our ability to work with clients, to closely interact with them, to take ownership of decisions and then deliver the outcomes, is genuinely empowering.”
The experience which Chris cites was bolstered in no small part by respected industry figure Paul Mankin, who joined in early 2022 as partner and chair of corporate finance.
Bringing almost four decades of experience to the company – predominantly helping businesses across areas including acquisitions and disposals, finance raising and valuations – from time spent at PwC in the North East and Yorkshire, Paul’s knowledge and experience is a fundamental part of UNW’s two-partner-led corporate finance team’s proposition.
Chris says: “Our offer is incredibly strong, and there is a really exciting opportunity to grow from what is already a very good base.
“The team has delivered consistent volumes of transaction activity, and the pipeline of opportunities is very full.
“We have scale, which puts us as one of the largest corporate finance teams in the region by headcount and, therefore, capacity.
“And we have ambitious plans to grow further – both through continued investment in the existing team and more strategic recruitment.
“And Paul adds another dimension; for a long time, he was the most senior and experienced corporate financier in the region.
“He has worked on countless transactions, and UNW, and by association our clients, are now benefiting from his vast experience.
“And, alongside my experience with KPMG, it makes for a seriously compelling offer,” says Chris, who spent 17 years with the Big Four firm, which included spells in Leeds, London and Cambridge.
He adds: “We’re hands-on, and there is very little we cannot do.
“And when you couple that with what is happening in the market, it is a really exciting time.
“UNW has always focused on providing real expertise, delivered in a thoughtful way, at a competitive price.
“That will never change, and our ambition now is to grow and maximise the opportunities in front of us, to broaden the offer and continue to be the best at what we do.”
A key element in ensuring UNW is able to do so will be its talent pathway, which complements experienced industry protagonists such as Chris with the next generation.
Expansions to its apprenticeship and graduate programmes – which provide trainees with practical learning experience while working towards Association of Accounting Technicians and ICAEW Chartered Accountancy qualifications, respectively – boosted the company’s ranks by 20 in September, taking its headcount to 160.
And Chris says UNW’s commitment to recruitment at all levels will remain as it seeks to further strengthen its client offer.
He says: “We have a brand and a proposition that attracts talent, from the culture of the firm to the clients we work with, the environment we have created, the host of extracurricular activities we roll out through a year, and the opportunity for people to work with equally exceptional colleagues.
“The experience we offer is as good as, if not better than, anywhere else in the region, and that translates to a great pipeline of people coming through.
“And we do have genuine talent here.
“A very high proportion of our
trainees are prize winners in the
qualifications they’ve taken; we have the
best of the best who deliver exceptional work for clients.
“We are very proud that UNW
students recently made up six of the top 20 trainee accountants in the North East and Cumbria, based on the latest ICAEW exam results.”
Chris adds: “And further recruitment will be a top priority as we seek to continue our growth and double down on who, and what, we are as a firm, and where we want to go.
“We already deliver outstanding services and add real value for clients both regionally and nationally, and we’ve got an existing, underlying growth strategy that is working very well.
“But we’ve also got a huge market opportunity to really accelerate our growth, and it’s one we’re determined to take.”