Practice Talk: Alex Bottom from Hillier Hopkins
Joining Practice Talk this week is Alex Bottom, who was recently announced as the new managing partner at Hillier Hopkins.
When Bottom joined the firm as a student in 1997 he had thought nothing more about his career than knowing he was “quite good at maths” and so would probably be good at accountancy. Just over 20 years later he has progressed through the firm and grown a large practice.
Bottom has served on the firm’s board of management since 2013 but hasn’t forgotten his student roots. In addition to client work and his leadership of the audit department, Bottom heads up the firm's student recruitment programme, which has given him a role in shaping the team over the years.
On this week’s Practice Talk, AccountingWEB asks Bottom to talk us through a typical day in his practice life.
* * *
How do you start a typical working day?
I’m up at 6.30am, leave the house at 7.15am, and in the office by 8am. So in my day, I try to be super-efficient between 8am-6pm. I'm a bit of a rarity, I guess. We've all got interconnected phones and everything is on them, but I try to work 8am-6pm and be focused at work, but that means I do not want to be checking my phone outside of work. I do try to separate that work-life bit, which seems to be an issue these days for many.
When you arrive at the office at 8am, what's the first thing you do?
I make coffee and fire everything up. There are actions you wanted to finish the previous day that you probably do and then people start filtering through. We're not a long-hours-culture firm. There are people in before me, but I am one of the early ones. And then you pick up from where you left off the previous day. It's constantly being on your toes and prioritising the stuff that is important: in the day-job bit it's the clients; in the managing partner bit it's the firm.
How much of your day is spent talking to clients?
In terms of numbers, 10-20% of the day is actually spent talking to clients. Talking to clients is becoming rarer and I'm probably of that generation which still did telephone calls. Clients tend to drop emails and even if you talk to them now, they want it written down as evidence of what you've chatted about. So you still have to write an email after a call. It depends on the time of year. I have busier periods in the run-up to Christmas after but now is starting to get into the easier time for me.
Do you have lunch at your desk or do you make a point of getting some space from the work?
I'm probably like a man from the 1950s trapped in the 2010s. I buy my lunch out, so I pop out and get that. I'm still old-fashioned enough to have a newspaper and I read the news. I genuinely think switching off and not trying to work during that lunch hour makes you more focused when you are working. If a phone call comes in, you take the phone call. If a client pops in, you move your lunch to suit clients. But it's nice to sit down and take half an hour as a minimum where you're not actually trying to multi-task and eat at the same time.
You said your day finishes at 6pm. Do you make a point not to take any work home with you?
No, no, no. I will check to see if anything urgent has come through, but that's it. I try to switch off. If I know there is something urgent, then I will be looking out for it and there will be some generic checking. But I am not someone who surfs their phone and always answers emails just because something has come in at 7pm. If it is just a "can you get back to me tomorrow", I don't see the point in getting back that evening.
So your day at the office has finished, what do you do away from accountancy to unwind?
I have dinner with my wife: we chat about the day, the kids and her job. But on the weekends, we have quite a busy social life. We're often out Friday and Saturday night. We're often doing stuff for the kids during the day on Saturday and Sunday - lots of events for them, birthday parties, whatever. It all goes really quickly.
No practice is complete without a calculator. So can you remember your first calculator?
I'm not sure I can. But I can remember when my future wife (at that point) bought me her first Christmas present. Because I was an accountant, she bought me a calculator thinking it was a rather clever present. Rather foolishly, before opening the present I said 'as long as it's anything other than a calculator'. It clearly didn't put the kibosh on the relationship but was very funny when I immediately opened it up and realised it was a calculator. I had to backtrack very quickly!