The incoming chief executive of the UK’s first listed law firm, Gateley, says he reflects a ‘comforting continuance’ of the strategy which has seen the firm grow to more than £100m in revenue and nearly 1,000 staff.
Gateley today (16 July) confirmed earlier guidance its revenue had surpassed £100m by reporting a 20% increase in turnover to £103.5m in the year to 30 April 2019, up an impressive 67% from when it listed in 2015. Profit after tax lifted 11% to £13m, as fee-earner headcount rose 20% to 610.
Stripping out the impact of three acquisitions during the year – legal business GCL Solicitors and non-legal companies Kiddy & Partners and International Investment Services – revenue was still up about 10%, in what chief executive Michael Ward told Legal Business was a very pleasing year.
‘£100m is a bit of a psychological barrier, isn’t it? So it’s nice to get that out the way,’ he said. ‘We’ve got another one coming up soon which is 1,000 people, which will probably happen this month or next month.’
Ward said the firm had seen growth across the board but pointed to a resurgence in the corporate recovery team, which this year landed high-profile mandates in the collapses of Patisserie Valerie and Jamie Oliver’s restaurant business.
‘We’ve maintained our investment in that team in what for them has been recessionary times since 2008, we always believed their time would come,’ Ward told Legal Business. ‘It’s nice for them to get their teeth into some administration work as they’ve been few and far between over the last few years.’
Last week, Ward announced he would be stepping down as chief executive next year, in line with guidance given at the company’s listing in 2015. He will be succeeded by the firm’s Manchester office head and leader of its national property team, Rod Waldie, with Ward remaining on the board of directors and leading Gateley’s non-legal businesses.
Ward said Gateley’s non-legal businesses accounted for about 7% of revenue, but his ambition was to lift this to 20%. The firm had a strong acquisition pipeline, of which about 90% were non-legal businesses: ‘Whether we get them all across the line only time will tell, but we’re certainly talking to lots of people at the moment,’ he said. ‘We have to do the right acquisitions as and when they arrive.’
Waldie, meanwhile, is stepping away from client work entirely over the next nine months to shadow Ward before taking on the chief executive title officially on 1 May 2020. Waldie has been on the firm’s strategic board for nine years – both pre and post-IPO – and said his appointment was a message of ‘comforting continuance’, both internally and externally.
‘It will very much be business as usual from 1 May next year,’ he told Legal Business. ‘I’m very evangelical about following the same strategy. It’s important to continue that: our core business is legal services but the mind-set of the people in the business is still that of a partnership and they want to be led by a lawyer.’