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Sam Phillips at PKF Francis Clark

Sam Phillips, transaction services director at PKF Francis Clark talks about building momentum, positively disrupting the norm, and adding value to the firm’s due diligence offering in the South West and beyond.

Why did you embark on a career in finance?

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and my working life started in our family’s financial advisory business. To develop technically and obtain a qualification, I joined Milsted Langdon, a large regional firm, and trained as an accountant. I did think I would return to the family business after I qualified, but Milsted Langdon was invaluable to my development, and I gained both chartered accountancy status and gained the CPI qualification.

However, I wanted to be in a role supporting high-growth businesses, and joined the corporate finance team. I was also ambitious and wanted to drive this further, so in 2015 I moved to Grant Thornton.

You retained a regional focus?

I progressed well at Grant Thornton, but EY was building out a regional model and I saw an opportunity to support the roll-out. I also wanted to work with more high-profile clients. I joined EY in April 2018. The first deal I worked on was with Bath-based media company Future. I found myself on a plane to New York. This was followed quickly by KKR private equity.

I enjoyed my time at EY and was on track to become a director, but recognised that spending time with my young family was really important to me. PKF Francis Clark wanted someone to drive transaction support services forward. This appealed – I could have more control and be more entrepreneurial. PKF has all the credentials, but is small enough that you can have an impact and, in my opinion, be in control of your own destiny.

What is your current role?

I joined PKF Francis Clark in January 2020 to lead the due diligence arm. Historically, due diligence was undertaken when requested and did not receive a push. But it is non-contingent and tends to be more recurring than M&A disposal work.

Now I have joined, we have launched a separate services line for transaction support services, covering diligence and vendor assistance work. My role is to recruit and build a team that has those specialist skills. We have seen exceptional growth and I now have a team of 10. The feedback from clients makes it worthwhile and it’s exciting to see the development of the team. When I first joined, pre-COVID-19, I was building the strategy. Momentum started building during the summer and now it’s fantastic to look at the current clients and the value we have been able to add.

What recent deals have you brought in?

We acted for online florist Bloom & Wild on its acquisition of Dutch firm Bloomon. I was able to introduce PKF in the Netherlands to support on the transaction, too. The acquisition completed in April and has created the largest online florist in Europe.

Earlier this year, we supported a private equity-backed Irish security services company, Fortus Group, with its acquisition of nine Enterprise Security Distribution companies. A very different transaction, but it’s fantastic to think of the diversity we are working on, in terms of deal type, sector and location. We have a number of live mandates that are expecting to complete very soon.

How do you see your role developing?

I want to take due diligence beyond the perception of it being simply a compliance exercise, making it something that adds real value. We are changing the way we report, to improve the client experience through interactive visualisations, using data analytics tools, podcasts and video presentations.

We’re working with a technology partner to delve into more granular levels of data and understand key trends within a business and where growth opportunities lie. I always try to tell a management team something about their business that they don’t already know.

In the short term, I want to be the adviser in the region that people go to for due diligence and transaction support. I also want to be disrupting the norm. My view is that just because something has always been done one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way, especially with advances in technology. And then the next chapter is PKF globally.