When Jonathan Sherlock announced he was stepping down as head of UBS’ Manchester office, he envisaged a life of playing golf and watching football.
That was until Brown Shipley’s chief executive Ian Sackfield heard of the announcement.
Telling Sherlock, in his late forties at the time, he was ‘too young to retire’, he set about convincing the former UBS and Barclays Wealth veteran to come back to Brown Shipley in Manchester, which coincidently was looking for an office head.
Over the next three to four months, Sackfield tried wooing Sherlock with his vision and strategy for the company. At first, Sherlock was hesitant: ‘I thought “I’ll just play my golf, I don’t need all that extra responsibility.”’
Fast forward a few months and Sackfield’s plan worked. ‘Then I thought, I’m in my late forties, do I really want to spend my next 12 years just playing golf? Or will I look back and regret it?’
In January 2015 Sherlock was announced as the new head of the Manchester branch, 11 years after he originally left the firm.
Part of the allure of coming back to head the office was its ambitious plans to grow, including the proposed acquisition of financial planning firm The Roberts Partnership.
‘I was aware they were talking to The Roberts Partnership [before I joined], and looking to build that capability, and that was very exciting,’ he says.
The deal was complete on 1 November 2016, adding seven advisers and 12 support staff to Brown Shipley’s Manchester office, which houses a 128-strong team.
It also added another £540 million to the branch, taking it up to £2.5 billion, almost half of the group’s £5.5 billion total. Not surprisingly, it is the company’s largest office sitting alongside the London headquarter and hubs in Leeds, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Nottingham.
The acquisition, Sherlock says, was all about keeping up with the times: ‘We need to continue developing the wealth management business we’ve got because the 21st century client is different.
‘If you look back to the clients I was talking to 20 years ago, in terms of what they’re looking for – the interaction, the innovation, the solutions and transparency. People want more, so we have to develop that service – that’s why we bought The Roberts Partnership.’
While acquiring another firm is an exciting opportunity to help a company grow, from a practical viewpoint managing that can be a daunting task. Especially in Sherlock’s case, where he went from overseeing a small team of 12 people at UBS to taking command of Brown Shipley’s largest office.
The key to successfully managing an acquisition, he says, is gradual integration. Sherlock spent two years bringing together staff from Brown Shipley and The Roberts Partnership to ease the process for when the big day of moving offices finally arrived.
‘The people bit is the hardest bit to get right,’ Sherlock says. ‘So we spent two years going through that whole process, and as part of that we had a number of events with their staff and our staff – social events and educational events – where they came and talked about what they did as a business.
‘We’re buying them to enhance our business. We recognise they do a lot of things well, and we want to learn from that, so this wasn’t a case of us just sort of absorbing them and telling them it’s now the Brown Shipley way.
‘We wanted to make it a collegiate approach so we can learn from them and they can learn from us.
‘So when they turned up here on day one there were semi-familiar faces. They knew people here, people knew them, and we sat them close to where the people they would be working with were sitting.’
An often neglected part of an acquisition is the simple issue of where to put the new staff, and making sure they are not just dumped in a few desks in the corner of the office, he explains.
‘We had to reorganise the office a bit to create the seats. That’s quite interesting, because when you do that you think “well okay I could just create a space over there for them”, but then it’s “them and us”.’
Aside from the acquisition, a big part of Sherlock’s decision to re-join Brown Shipley was Sackfield, who splits his time between Manchester and the firm’s head office in London.
It would appear the two have a great relationship, and having the chief executive around the office can also be a big help – especially when it comes to clients.
‘If you were a client of mine somewhere else and I was to say to you come to Brown Shipley, I’ve got to show you why it’s good for you.
‘So from a client point of view, I can bring a client to this office and say “come and meet the chief exec”.
‘I’ve also got the chief investment officer here, the research analysts, and the discretionary management teams. I’ve got all this resource locally, which is a massive advantage. Clients like that. You know what life’s like, everyone likes to feel they’re important.
‘Any client you’re trying to win, you’ve got to show – in a very competitive world – why you might be a little bit different.’
Such is the standing of the Manchester office that even the big cheese himself, Yves Stein, boss of Brown Shipley’s parent company KBL European Private Bankers, has been to visit.
Sherlock believes that type of access is important for clients, especially for the demographic Brown Shipley in Manchester caters to. They are comprised of mainly business owners who have had a company for anywhere between 10 and 100 years, often in the family, and have made the life-changing decision to turn that business into cash.
‘Sometimes in this industry we forget whose money it is. We are custodians of somebody else’s hard earned wealth, and we have to treat it like that.
‘So I think it is right that those clients who are trusting us have access to the key people and understand the organisation. I would want to do that if I was in their shoes, because it is a leap of faith.’
That unique selling point might not last long though, with Sackfield due to step down from his role when a successor is appointed, which is likely to be early next year. After that, he will continue to be an employee at Brown Shipley, becoming a client director and focusing on advising.
Sherlock is unsure whether the new person in charge will spend as much time in Manchester, which is larger than the company’s London headquarters in terms of staff and AUM.
But he hopes he will have the same ‘great working relationship’ with the new person coming in as he does with Sackfield: ‘We’re quite a flat [management] structure, and that’s throughout the organisation.
‘When I first came back, I met the board and I went across to KBL. Everybody knows each other as we are still a relatively tiny organisation in terms of employees. I do hope [the new chief executive and I] have the same relationship.’
With one acquisition behind him now, what is Sherlock’s plan for growth in Manchester? Are there any more acquisitions on the cards?
While he declines to put a number on any growth in AUM or staff numbers, he doesn’t rule out adding more talent, or making further acquisitions.
‘As you grow you need the resource and the people to support that growth, so we will continually look for good talent – young people, and stars wanting to join the journey.
‘We want to get the integration piece with the Roberts guys done right before we start doing more.
‘Unless something out of the blue came along and you thought ‘crikey that’s a great bit of business’ we may well do it, but you’ve got to take it step by step.’
As for Sherlock himself, having taken the decision to jump back in and leave behind a life of golf, going from a small fish in a very large pond at UBS to a bigger fish in a smaller pond at Brown Shipley, he says he is in it for the long haul.
‘I would only ever leave Brown Shipley if, on this journey we’re on, they stopped delivering what clients want, and I don’t believe they would do that. Because if they stop doing that, the business isn’t going to work. They’ve got to carry on delivering the right solutions to clients.
‘I can’t see myself leaving. Unless I win the lottery of course, then I’ll become a client!’