Tuffin Ferraby Taylor LLP is a professional services practice with 20 partners of diverse experience and a supportive staff of 130. Its expert advice and analysis helps clients make qualified decisions about investing in, developing and managing commercial and residential property.
Turnover is vanity; profit is sanity; cash is reality’ according to the banker’s mantra and Tuffin Ferraby Taylor (TFT) has proved its truth in the past five years, writes John Burbedge.
Not that TFT operates in the financial sector. It’s just that this growing property consultancy has recognised that the old saying contains two key aspects for sustainable business growth success – profitable work and cashflow.
At the end of 2011, TFT set its five-year objective as doubling its £8 million turnover. Interviewed last month, managing partner Alan Pemberton confirmed that turnover is already approaching £15m, but he quickly pointed out that turnover growth is no longer the firm’s main focus, and hasn’t been for several years. Today TFT aims to be “profit generative.”
The ‘road to Damascus moment’ had come during a management team development course at Henley Business School, from which TFT developed its fresh sustainable growth strategy.
Pemberton said TFT reviewed its clientbase and prospective workbook, its strengths and market opportunities, then re-aligned its professional offering to key objectives.
“We align ourselves with clients whom we want to work for” – from established organisations with good long-term strategies to well-managed aspirational embryo clients.
Among its blue-chip clients, TFT works with large asset-holders and investors such as The Crown Estate (eg Banbury Gateway Shopping Park), Oxford Properties (Green Park, Reading) Legal & General, Aviva, M&G Real Estate, and ING, major property/infrastructure developments (Heathrow), and occupiers such as Tesco, Screwfix, and B&Q.
TFT also maintains its flexibility to react to clients’ requirements as they change or develop within their own increasingly changing markets. So, whether the project is offices, commercial, retail, student accommodation, residential, etc, TFT is today agile enough “to align our skillsets to the pipeline of activity.
“Sustainability is very much at the core of what we do for our clients too. We aim to tangibly add value to our client’s built assets or deliver in-use savings. As our clients grow, we grow.”
Business independence, unconflicted advice, and the expertise level among its partners and support teams are key USPs for TFT as an advisory firm, says Pemberton. “We focus on work where we know we can make a difference; are selective in terms of who we work for; and don’t go in the marketplace to buy work.”
That controlled approach to its future – “We are not seeking exponential growth, just sustainable growth” – was shown five years ago. TFT targeted technical due diligence (TDD) as one of its future growth areas. Today, that specialist discipline represents around one-third of TFT’s varied property services workbook.
TFT weathered the recession with no bank borrowings – It still has none. It could have chosen M&A growth, but instead invested organically. Expanding from its Guildford base, TFT now has offices in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester and Bristol, plus a wider scope of work within new business sectors – together providing greater career opportunities for its employees.
“We rationalised at the top, not the bottom; invested in the people that had seen us through, and they are now growing with us.
“Managing people during growth does need careful understanding, plus the structure and trust that you put in place for your people to deliver their technical skills. We are not a rigid KPI organization, we are more about enabling, inspiring and supporting.”
Professional services firms rely on their personnel. With heightened UK competition for talent and TFT’s own double-digit growth to resource, Pemberton accepts that 2016 will be challenging.
TFT has already implemented ‘grow-our-own-talent’ staff development programmes, including urban-focused CSR involvements, and graduate open-day learning. “It’s all about nurturing and training your people with an instinct for business.”
By achieving sustainable growth, TFT will also encourage employee engagement, by producing a growing income for its partners and staff, he points out.
“We are not averse to lateral hires, but for us going forward is succession; bringing on the next generation of growth and development in our business.
“There’s little point in having a mass recruitment campaign that dilutes your offering and endangers your client relationships. It’s better to get the people who are best at doing your type of ‘knitting’.”
TFT is currently an SME – a small fish in a big pond – but, to quote another old adage, it appears to have achieved an external operational regard and internal mindset: ‘Big enough to cope, Small enough to care.’
TFT keys to successful growth
- External alignment with customers
- Internal agility to react; appropriate skillsets
- Investment in all staff: technical, managerial and business training and development that produces ‘more rounded’ professionals.