Monday, 29 March 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Simon Leathers, Daniel Stewart

This month, Abchurch spoke to Simon Leathers, a Director at investment bank Daniel Stewart & Company who challenges perceptions that Corporate Finance is a glamourous world of high-power deals and sharp suits.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to do something in the City although I had no real idea what everyone did! I guess at some level I wanted to be the father figure in Mary Poppins!

How did you get into Corporate Finance?
After my ACA with PwC I moved into TMT corporate finance for four years, before moving to Evolution Beeson Gregory. Three and half years later I moved to Daniel Stewart and have now been here for just over two years.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
Advisory service provided where transaction/project management meets business and public market regulatory advice.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I would be reviewing a draft circular.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
The variety – no two situations or deals are ever the same and whilst the basic tools at your disposal remain the same you are always learning new ways to apply them.

Is there a common misconception about Corporate Finance?
Yes – the public perception is that we spend our time in a rather glamorous world full of short sharp negotiations with high powered deal makers – sadly this is very rarely the case and the vast majority of our work is detailed, time consuming and slow to unfold.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
Corporate Finance is particularly prone to well documented market investment cycles – over the past few years the junior public markets have been hit particularly hard as these always represented the riskier end of the equity markets.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
As market stability returns so too will investor appetite for risk and reward – fiscal policy will be a key driver and so I expect the market participants to be keen observers of the general election.

You can find out more about Daniel Stewart's Corporate Finance services here.

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Monday, 22 March 2010

base 2010 (business and sustainable environment)

base 2010, the event where business meets sustainability, was held in the Excel centre on 16-17 March this year. The run up promotion to the event, which promised a plethora of prominent speakers, seemed too good to be true however the final turn out did not disappoint. Few conferences have managed to gather together such an influential list, with attendees from the government, NGO’s, advisory bodies, the FTSE 100 and leading national media. In fact, it often seemed, perhaps due to the size of the venue, that there were even more renowned figures present than delegates themselves.

Given the event’s proximity to the national elections, the Q&A sessions and keynotes were dominated by MP’s and government advisers, not wanting to miss a key opportunity to plug their respective “red-green” and “blue-green” agendas and relevant party’s commitment to the cause. The resulting outcome of the successive speeches by Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn MP (Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Nick Herbert MP (Shadow Secretary) was strangely cohesive, which both parties pointing out the importance of sustainability on the corporate and social agenda after the financial turmoil of the last two years. Both speakers chose to focus much of their content on the issues of waste and landfill, highlighting the fact that waste is an opportunity, not a cost and stating their aims to make landfill sites obsolete. Benn pointed to the successes of the Landfill directive in encouraging new technologies which are highlighting the upside down way in which we talk about waste. Herbert couldn’t resist having a dig at the Labour Government’s lack of ambition when it comes to setting poignant targets, in particular for landfill tax, but while he agreed that business certainly needs a fiscal and regulatory strategy which would allow them to plan ahead, we must be careful to recognise that the overall regulatory burden on companies is too high.

There were a couple of surprises to this green-off, however, with Benn acknowledging the difficult environment for innovative high-risk technologies to attract investment and asking the conference “how can the government help with this problem?” Given that he carried on talking I can only assume that this was a rhetorical question, however, he demonstrated awareness of a key issue holding back the supposedly burgeoning cleantech world and perhaps even willingness for the government to consider a solution. Herbert, although less impressive and perhaps less rounded as a key political figure, also made some good points, stating that “natural resources are no more finite than the fiscal resources of the Treasury” and that the UK “makes a mistake of seeing the sustainability agenda as a burden.” Further to this he pointed out a solid sustainability strategy would actually help to uncover inefficiencies in our businesses as well as our economy as a whole, allowing continuing growth without long term commitment to the path of consumerism that we have trodden for so many years.

Carrot or Stick?
The key differences in messages really showed when discussing regulation. The Labour party remains committed to forcing sustainability on business through establishing a fiscal and regulatory regime which will punish avoiders. The Tory mentality was far more interested in working the carrot approach, relying on societal buy-in, which would essentially amount to a smarter form of procurement, encouraging community empowerment and private sector investment in new technologies, hence reducing the cost to the public sector and investing and encouraging through non-regulatory means. Micro-management or macro-management? Ensuring sustainability rather than encouraging sustainability? The vote is yours!

“We must work together”
Another highlight of the event was the Q&A session with Rt. Hon. Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. In his brief address before the grilling started, he attempted to salvage Copenhagen’s reputation, labelling the conference as a big step forward involving 80% of the worlds emissions producers, compared to Kyoto’s 45%. The importance of an attitudinal change was crucial to his agenda, encouraging people to talk about opportunities arising rather than dangers to be avoided and removing climate-change from the environmental box, instead making it about opportunity. As the world leader in the generation of offshore wind (since overtaking Denmark), the UK, Miliband promised, is in a great position to take advantage of this transition. “We must work together” he enthused about the public-private partnership. Kate Silverton, who appears to be enjoying a whole host of extra-curricular events, encouraged questions from the crowd which flew with the speed and kindness of machine gun fire. Topics covered included the lack of ambition with regards to the Feed-in Tariff, the skills shortage to embrace this new transition, the damage done by Climategate, Miliband’s thoughts on carbon offsetting (positive FYI), the controversial fairytale adverts on TV, party coalition on green issues (nuclear energy seemingly being the elephant) and what can be done to reconcile the demands of climate change with the short-termism requirements and attitude of the City. All credit due, Miliband handled the questions impressively, never breaking sweat or coming unstuck. Although, it has to be said he moved exceptionally quickly towards the exit at the conclusion.

The timetable of the event was so crammed with goodies, that planning was essential and sadly many, no doubt, highly informative lectures and discussions were impossible to attend. I did, however, attend one other top hit; Question Time with Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, Philip Green, CEO of United Utilities, Richard Reid, the London Chairman of KPMG and Professor William Pope, representing England’s RDAs. This impressive panel commented on the relationship between sustainability and economic development, producing some interesting insights before answering questions on Britain’s broken society, institutional investment mindset and how the big companies were reconciling sustainable strategy with corporate strategy.

For me, the most interesting theme of the event was the challenge of aligning shareholder and stakeholder interests. It has been known for CEO’s to be sacked for not having their shareholder’s best interests in mind following the announcement of a new CSR strategy. This links in with the short-termism of the City and the never-failing requirement for rapid growth and immediate prosperity. Society has not kept up with the rapid growth of the last decades and adjustment is required. The financial markets have abruptly and painfully adjusted themselves, however social change is moving more slowly. Too slowly. Sustainability does not have to be about dying polar bears and palm trees in Scotland; it can be about opportunity and putting in place a foundation for a new and reliable future. If we do not move quickly we will miss out on the wave of opportunities rising. Those who lag behind do so at their own peril, whichever political party ends up in the driving seat.


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Friday, 12 March 2010

PLC Awards 2010

The PLC Awards 2010 defied the economic downturn with a glittering demonstration of City success stories. It was attended by over a thousand high-flying CEOs, investment bankers, fund managers, City advisors and of course, the finest of London’s financial PRs – including several Abchaps – who gathered in the Great Room of the fantastic Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane on the evening of the 11th March.

The three course meal and flowing wine created a tough environment for the awards presenter, news reader Kate Silverton, who gallantly attempted – albeit with limited success! – to maintain control over the upbeat crowd. Britvic, Weatherspoon and Mothercare were amongst the prestigious winners of the evening and the joviality, boosted by the unstoppable one-liners from comedian Milton Jones, continued into the early hours of the morning as the gathering progressed to the bar.

Abchurch hosted a table and was joined by clients and journalists as well as a sterling group of financial services representatives including analysts & financiers. In particular, we were pleased to have the BBC’s Business Reporter Joe Lynam (@jblynam) on our table – we hope he found it more of a success than his recent conversation with Lloyds’ Eric Daniels! The conversation flowed more freely than the wine throughout the evening though it did mean that memories were blurred by the next morning!

Thank you to the excellent organisers and guests and we look forward to seeing you at the awards next year!


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Monday, 1 March 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Quincy Allan, Abchurch

Abchurch's newest Account Executive, Quincy Allan (complete with alice band and affirmations that Quincy is indeed his real name) is the first of the Abchaps to shed a little more light on the world of financial PR...

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was always used in an avocatory capacity during my younger years to help settle disputes between friends. Coupled with the fact that my Mum is a lawyer I guess I was pigeonholed into becoming a barrister. I threw a spanner in the works when I decided geology was more my thing, less reading…

How did you get into financial PR?
I had interned at Abchurch about 18 months ago, just after a move back from Singapore where I had been working for an oil and gas consultancy. Up until then I had little idea about the function of Financial PR in the City, and how my oil and gas background could be applied to the industry. I loved my time at Abchurch, learnt a lot, and enjoyed working with a great team. When the chance to join permanently arose, I jumped at the chance.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
As an Account Executive, I am responsible for…. Not possible.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I have a couple of update reports I need to finish and send out to clients, as well as a few pitches that need my magic touch.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
Variety – I get to deal with a wide array of people and businesses everyday, from journalists to fund managers and Chief Executives to sell side analysts. But I especially like listening to smaller, really innovative companies that want to make it in the big time. Makes me feel like a baby “dragon” when they explain their companies and big ideas to us.

Is there a common misconception about PR?
Myth: PR Professionals make up news or distort the truth
Fact: PR Professionals communicate useful, factual news to a targeted audience

Companies that distort the truth will find it difficult to regain public trust once they are “outed”, and their bottom lines can suffer. When working with the media, PR practitioners promote story angles that provide a benefit to their clients’ target markets and the news audience. PR professionals are trained to identify newsworthy opportunities for different types of media outlets and news formats.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
The industry is getting more up to date. With major advancements in social media, blogging, and companies more than ever trying their hands at “tweeting”, it has created a whole new scope for a company to reach its target audience. PRs are experts at managing organisations' reputations, and now more importantly, communication between an organisation and its public. Social media should not just be seen as 'a few tweets' because a damaging message can spread virally in minutes and could potentially undermine all key messages. PRs should now be looking at building a rapport with the public, as we are moving towards a culture where it is the individual who has the sway.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
Structural changes in the media, and the challenges of Generation Y - who increasingly run their lives via the internet - and cost pressures that will force publishers and broadcasters to accelerate their online plans. It is here where organisations of all types are crying out for skills and advice from PR agencies.

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