Brian Johnson - UHY Hacker Young

Leaders with Ambition - Brian Johnson

Published on 27th September 2021

In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky talks with Brian Johnson, Partner at UHY Hacker Young. Brian shares his career journey within insolvency as well as the practical lessons that can be adopted to foster career growth and success.

Brian also talks about his passion for the job, while noting the challenges faced by insolvency professionals, with particular emphasis on the importance of creating long-term relationships.

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Key Takeaways from this episode with Brian Johnson, Partner at UHY Hacker Young.

Starting his insolvency career

Brian started working in insolvency in 1982. Although there was no Insolvency Act back then, the job was paramount and to a large extent, had an unpredictable schedule which made it exciting.

Brian also acknowledges that he had a lot of passion for the job which made it rewarding despite the demanding nature of the work.

Career development

Brian admits that he didn't plan ahead to develop his career and become a Partner but mostly focused on working hard and took opportunities when they came.

He advises younger professionals to give adequate attention to the stages in their career development, rather than only focusing on doing the work as he did. Of particular note was the point where he should have gotten his license but didn't at the time, while other colleagues got theirs simply based on their experience.

Brian mentioned that the platforms that now exist for young people to meet and discuss their career development, didn't exist when he was starting out. He would encourage junior insolvency professionals to take advantage of these opportunities to connect and learn from peers.

Brian also highlights that the absence of face-to-face meetings is a major change affecting creditor engagement as most of the meetings are currently taking place virtually.

The benefits of building relationships

Young people coming into the industry are advised to interact and build relationships with other insolvency professionals at their level because years from that time, those colleagues could become Partners. Already having strong relationships with these Partners will create easier opportunities to get work from them when you become an appointment taker.

It pays to build relationships with other professionals because it is that network of contacts that will be your human capital as you progress through the industry.

Moving into mid-tier and SME companies

The beauty of large practices is that they have copious amounts of courses that you can go on. One of the benefits however of moving to a mid-Tier company was more freedom to develop the department as he wanted.

However, Brian shares that they inherited a live business without systems in place to monitor the business effectively, hence he only discovered after taking time to find and create a list of all their live cases, and still got more letters of cases that were not on their list. He advises practitioners to do their due diligence before moving because prior to his move he did not know the financial pressure that the partnership was under.

Brian highlights trust and respect and key qualities he looks out for before joining any company or working with any professional, reiterating the importance of building these relationships. Nowadays an increasing number of companies disappear from the register without any proper investigation because checks and balances that would object to such removal are no longer as efficient. After getting his license, he moved to HW Fisher to become a partner.

Becoming a Partner

Brian shares that becoming a Partner was a coming together of skills he had gained over the years. He remarks that it is a very personal situation when becoming a Partner; having full control over the process, while working with a team to find a solution is extremely rewarding.

One of the highlights of his career was building the team at HW Fisher and seeing the careers of those team members develop.

He notes that it is pivotal to get Directors to act as soon as possible because there is greater satisfaction with saving jobs than just winding up the company.

Career challenges

As the industry develops it can be overwhelming to keep updated on all the changes that arise affecting the Insolvency Act and insolvency rules. There is a broad spectrum of things in other fields affecting insolvency practices that insolvency practictioners need to keep up with.

Another challenge is the speed at which things move nowadays which is significantly faster than it was in the early years of Brian's career, mostly due to the advancement in the technology of communication. This has created a need for faster decision-making and thinking.

Advice to young Insolvency Practitioners

In terms of your fundamental knowledge base, an accounting qualification on the side would help immensely in your work in insolvency, because a lot of the work involves restructuring finances.

Never lose sight of the importance of negotiation; people don't embrace this enough but this is a bulk of the work, including negotiations with creditors, banks, Landlords, and other professionals.

Lastly, specialisation, gaining a greater understanding of the financial services sector and building relationships in that sector are important.

Start building those relationships early and think about it in the long term. Following the pandemic, a lot of companies are very strained and Directors need to be proactive in taking decisions on insolvency where necessary.

Key quotes from this episode:

  • "I found that the experience I gained from just sitting in a meeting and listening to the way some of these Practitioners conducted themselves and the way they controlled meetings was very impressive."

  • "The one thing IPs are very good at is networking."

  • "Your human capital is all about your relationships. "

​About Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is a Turnaround Recovery Partner at UHY Hacker Young. He has been working in the field of corporate recovery and insolvency since 1982, when he joined what was then Coopers & Lybrand, where he gained extensive experience of dealing with "big ticket" insolvencies, including administrative receiverships, LPA receiverships and administrations, working closely with bankers and other lenders, as well as undertaking investigations and reviews.

Having been head-hunted, Brian joined Casson Beckman & Partners, with a view to trying to rejuvenate the insolvency department and was made a Partner in 1995. Following this he joined Kingston Smith & Partners and then HW Fisher & Company in 2003.

Working in the mid-market has allowed Brian to apply the skills learnt and developed at a big ticket firm to the SME sector. As a result he has undertaken reviews of SME companies and recommended turnaround solutions and assisted in introducing both equity and loan finance in order to try and preserve the business. I have also utilised insolvency tools, such as company voluntary arrangements and administrations in order to preserve both companies and businesses.

On the personal insolvency side, his time in the mid-market has led to greater involvement in the personal market on an advisory and formal basis. He has undertaken individual voluntary arrangements and bankruptcies.

Over the years, Brian has been involved in giving lectures for professional bodies and writing articles and chapters in specialist publications as well as the national press.

About the host:

Nicky Acuna Ocana has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Managing Director of Ambition UK, she currently leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.

If you're a Leader with Ambition from a professional services firm and would like to feature as a guest in a future podcast, please email: marketing@ambition.co.uk.

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