UHY partner, David Kendrick, has made Accountancy Age’s ‘35 Under 35’ list this year. This illustrious list celebrates the best young talent in finance, and David has earned his place here by establishing himself as an automotive sector expert. His career is a brilliant case study on how to stand out in a crowded market and here, talking to the BDLN, he tells us exactly how he’s done it…
Lesson 1: Invest your time generously without expecting quick gains
After working for the Caudwell Group, I joined ASE in 2004. That was my first foray into the automotive sector. In the beginning we put a lot of hard work into being seen at all the automotive industry events. We cold-called, arranged meetings to get in front of key decision makers, and we picked up the odd piece of work. That started to get the firm – and my – name out there. 12 years on, and I’m now Head of Automotive at UHY Hacker Young – a Top 15 national accountancy group.
It takes commitment to build your profile. You can’t do it overnight. It requires lots of travelling to attend meetings, many of which don’t seem to come to anything. However, you have to play the long game. For example, we’re now handling a £60m corporate finance deal that came from a contact that I’ve known for 12 years. Before the deal I’d never billed him a penny.
Many firms want to charge for every bit of advice, but I’d happily spend two hours with someone at no cost to develop the business relationship. It allows me to learn about their business and give them a few pointers. As a result, when that person needs to hire an adviser, they will be more likely to remember me and give me a call.
Lesson 2: Build your sector specialism (caution: it takes years)
Early on in my career, I realised that being a specialist in a single sector is hugely powerful. Today my phone rings without me having to hunt for work because I’ve put the groundwork in and built a reputation for myself.
The appeal to clients of specialist sector knowledge is much greater than that of generic advice because they know that you have a wealth of relevant sector contacts and fully appreciate how their business works and how their market and their competitors operate. That means you become a confidant: your client can bounce things off you as they know that you understand the ins and outs of their sector. And what’s more, they don’t need to waste valuable time bringing you up to speed about their business.
We stand out against generic advisers as we demonstrate tailored expertise which means that we are more likely to win the work.
Lesson 3: Choose your specialism wisely when starting out
The reality is that when you start out in any sector, you’re not an expert. You have to hang in there, research hard and build your knowledge and profile. It’s taken me 15 years to reach this position.
When starting out, focus on something you’re interested in. I’ve always had a keen interest in cars and motor sports, and I knew that was something that would not wane during the course of my career. My passion for the sector gives me extra motivation and keeps my day-to-day enjoyable. It’s important to love what you do, as getting excited about something you don’t care about will be very hard to maintain in the long term. Look at the work you’ve done and choose something you already have a basic understanding of. It’s difficult to select something from scratch. Look at your firm’s portfolio of clients and get close to the ones in your chosen sector. Think about forming a sector group and pull in likeminded people to build your personal knowledge and to create a data bank.
Lesson 4: Build your personal brand relentlessly on every relevant platform
The effects of being seen in the media and on platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn are intangible. When using LinkedIn I believe you’ve got to personalise your profile. It’s got to be authentic and written from the heart – not just corporate jargon.
Social media is useful as it allows you to build a following that will hopefully include respected business leaders. It’s subtle marketing, which can create a drip feed of positive PR. An important contact may see something you’ve written on Twitter, for example, and next time they need advice they’re more likely to get in touch with you.
Lesson 5: Once your brand is built within a sector, keep your finger on the pulse
Blogging helps to build your profile too, as it allows you to demonstrate your expertise in your field. I spend around 50 per cent of my week on the phone to industry leaders. From those conversations I pick up nuggets of information – brands that are doing well or struggling, the impact of Brexit and so on. It’s not about reading books – it’s about listening and taking in as much information as possible. Developing good contacts over the years makes writing a blog – and using social media – much easier. It’s a case of summarising newsworthy conversations, combined with lessons from your own experience, and relaying them in layman terms to add value to the reader. As well as posting my own content, I’ll also comment on other sector news as soon as I hear about it, for example commenting positively on other deals within the automotive sector, regardless of whether or not UHY were involved.
Fifteen years ago I would have had to do a lot of time-consuming research to form a proper view. But once you’re immersed in a sector, it’s possible to write or speak authoritatively without investing serious amounts of time and energy.
Sixth and final lesson: Don’t blag it – you’ll get found out and damage our profession
If you’re going to call yourself a sector specialist, you must be a genuine expert in that area; otherwise you risk hurting your reputation and the integrity of our profession.
It’s frustrating and damaging when a business receives generic advice – often the wrong advice – because a professional purporting to be a sector expert, doesn’t properly understand the specific business landscape. Professionals must label themselves truthfully or risk harming us all.
David Kendrick was talking to BDLN founder John Maffioli.
Article written and edited by the BDLN.com