The Managing Partners’ Forum (mpfglobal.com) holds quarterly meetings of its Advisory Board where senior leaders discuss issues pertinent to the professional services sector. Updates are provided by Richard Chaplin, Jon Geldart and John Rowland together with the chairs of the Forum’s specialist groups: Management Teams Together; Finance & Operations; Strategy & Marketing; People, Performance & Culture. A guest speaker is usually invited. Below is a summary of the key issues discussed in September to illustrate the nature of information and debate typical of these meetings: Managing Partners’ Forum – Highlights from the Advisory Board Meeting September 2023.
Managing Partners’ Forum – Highlights
Neville Eisenberg (former managing partner Berwin Leighton Paisner) – in his role as chair – opened the meeting and thanked RPC for hosting the meeting at their fantastic offices overlooking St Katherine’s Dock during a dramatic rainstorm.
Professional Services Sector trends
Richard Chaplin reported on the highlights of the Summer 2023 Quarterly Sector Trends Tracker of CEOs and C-Suite members at mainly mid-sized firms which has been running for 12 years.
44% of the 95 strong research panel are from law firms, 14% accountancy, 9% consultancy and the remainder from marketing, property, patent attorneys, recruitment, research, engineering, construction, technology, architecture and actuarial firms. Only 20% are members of the Forum.
Key findings of the Summer 2023 tracker included:
- The Forum’s confidence index (the net of those panel members expecting expansion and those expecting contraction) was 80%. This compares with 84% for the Spring 2023 tracker and 71% for the Winter 2022 tracker. Few other sectors can match these numbers given an equal number of firms expecting expansion and firms expecting contraction would give a confidence index of zero. This confirms the vital contribution of the professional services sector at a time when growth in the UK overall is flat-lining.
- Topics carrying most weight during partner/director discussions include: people/employer brand, finance and cash flow and marketing/new business generation
- Effective communication, getting the best from your team and making change happen were the three management activities considered to contribute most to firms achieving their goals
- Three biggest constraints to achieving optimal performance: poor economic outlook, employee turnover and fee pressures
- “Our leaders are accessible” was the statement chosen by most as true – followed by employees are valued, on-track for post-Covid success and our leaders share strategic options for the future
- The majority expected their people around half time at home and half at the office
The latest tracker survey – which usually has a 100% response rate – was distributed today with results circulated to Government and other key audiences before the end of October.
Professional Services input to Government policy
The professional services sector is the largest and fastest growing business sector in the UK economy. ONS statistics indicate that it accounts for 11% of economic output. ONS data is based on outputs. Professional services are key contributors to processes which are often classified as the outputs of other sectors, for example manufacturing and construction. This disguises our true size. The true number is greater – probably 15%. This compares to 8.3% for the financial services sector and 10% for manufacturing.
Until recently, the Forum was a full member of the Government’s Professional & Business Services Council. This brings together firmwide leaders of sector firms and trade bodies. The latter lobby on behalf of their members.
There was debate about the importance of Government hearing the collective voice of professional services as a standalone sector. The Forum leads in this area but there are significant overlaps with financial services lobby group, TheCityUK, which represents financial and ‘related’ professional services – mainly law and accountancy.
Other Forum developments
Other issues mentioned by Richard Chaplin included:
- “Collaboration through consensus” the Forum’s leadership development programme. Most leaders acknowledge the need for leadership development but signing up to programmes is somewhat slow (“The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak”) Leadership Development Programme – MPF (expertcircle.uk)
- Firms need to develop a systematic approach to skills development – a learning culture and community/social learning programmes. Learning is critical for both retaining people and preparing for the future
- A new (free to members) Skills Development Platform includes significant content, a learning management system, gamification (e.g. acquire points and digital trophies for competitiveness) and the ability to incorporate learning resources from social media and other sources. The system will be unveiled at a launch webinar on 1st November. 100 people have already signed up.
Jon Geldert, Director General of the Institute of Directors provided his regular briefing. Key points included:
- Things are changing rapidly – briefings a week ago were different
- The general view is that further interest rate rises will be unnecessary. Inflation peaked in October 2022. Last month it reduced from 6.8% to 6.7% – despite oil price increases. The Government’s target is to achieve 5% inflation by the year end
- UK GDP growth – despite the uplift from previous incorrect figures – is still behind most large economies in the world and the lowest in Europe
- The party conferences are due in October – Scotland will be a key factor – and the Autumn Statement on 22nd November will be important indicators of future economic policy
- Industry and business want a Government commitment to ease the tax burden on training and skills development and to support lifelong learning
- The Government is backtracking on Net Zero targets – Businesses need to know what to do and how to do emission control and other work it in this area
There was some debate about the demise of the CBI (the voice of large businesses). IoD represents directors in the middle market. There isn’t a unified voice representing business to Government although there are many sector-specific groups. There were also suggestions about possible tax incentives for emission reductions by businesses.
John Rowland, Executive Director, Cicero Group/AMO provided his regular briefing:
- Polls indicate a 20 point lead for Labour in the polls (Labour polling above 40% and Conservatives around 26%)
- Starmer’s initial task to gain control of the Labour party was achieved early
- A General Election could take place anytime between May and October 2024 so we are about to witness longer campaigns (recent elections had short campaign windows)
- The imminent party conferences may reveal the frameworks and policies to be adopted
- Labour is likely to focus on industrial relations
There were questions about the likely changes to taxation.
Non-Executive Directors – Guest presentation
Sally Dunwoody, Senior Executive Search Partner, Warren Partners talked about:
- Professionals being NED for businesses (many partners ask about securing NED roles)
- Professional Services Firms needing NEDs
A key role for NED is in governance (there was discussion about the role of NEDs in helping businesses transition through change). Governance information is often requested in pitches and tenders. NEDs also enable businesses to have greater diversity on their Boards.
Some businesses are reluctant for lawyers and accountants to be NEDs – primarily for style reasons.
Qualities sought in NEDs included: financial literacy, tech literacy, ESG knowledge, change management experience, people literacy, interpersonal skills, team collaboration, consensus-building, intellectual capacity, integrity and independent-minded. Experience in stakeholder management and funding is also desirable.
Ways to prepare people to acquire NED capabilities included: shadow boards, board apprentices, membership of steering and project groups, secondments, trusteeships and training workshops (eg financial literacy).
Sally commented that many professionals found it hard to transition from executive to non-executive roles as they are used to being hands-on.
There were reports of future events from the Specialist Groups who are all developing their 2024 programmes.
The full Advisory Board membership is shown here: Managing Partners’ Forum (mpfglobal.com).
Attendees in person:
- Neville Eisenberg, Chair, Managing Partners’ Forum
- Richard Chaplin, Founder & Chief Executive, Managing Partners’ Forum
- Nicky Acuna Ocana, Regional Managing Director, UK, Europe and USA, Ambition
- Janet Gaymer DBE, Principal, JG Consultancy
- Julia Hayhoe, Non-Executive Director and Board Strategy & Leadership Consultant, Hayhoe Consulting
- Claire Mason, Founder & CEO, Man Bites Dog
- Steven Rowan, Chief Financial Officer, RPC
- John Rowland, Executive Director, Cicero Group/AMO
- Sally Dunwoody, Senior Executive Search Partner, Warren Partners
- Kim Tasso, Head of Training and Learning Transfer, Managing Partners’ Forum and PM Forum (MD, RedStarKim Ltd)
- Claire Mitchell, Head of Memberships, Managing Partners’ Forum
- John Jeffcock, Chief Executive, Winmark
- Marianne Saarikko Janson, Founding Partner, Vestra Group
- Francesca Lagerberg, Global CEO, Baker Tilly International
- Jon Geldart, Director General, Institute of Directors (IoD)
- Rachel Holmes, Chief Executive, Matrix Chambers
- Richard Thorby, Head of Peer Groups, Managing Partners’ Forum (Director, Matrix Consulting)