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Practice Talk: Gary Brown from HWB

3rd Dec 2018
Editor AccountingWEB
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Each week, AccountingWEB’s Practice Talk series catches up with a different accountant in practice. This week we speak with Gary Brown, who heads up Hampshire-based HWB’s legal specialism team. 

Most firms settle for the untangling a human knot or building a balloon tower and then everyone reconvenes at the pub. But Gary Brown, the director of Hampshire-based practice HWB, dragged his team to the top of a mountain – three mountains to be precise.

Brown and his team decided to take one step further than the mundane social drink and take on the Three Peak Challenge.

A quarter of the firm’s 50-something staff members climbed the highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland in 24 hours and raised more than £5,000 in the process for their local paediatric care charity The Murray Parish Trust.

What’s more, many of them returned to the accountancy office the next day.

It was a real team effort, though. While the firm’s 12 plucky mountaineers scaled the peaks, two HWB support teams waited in the van for 24 hours and provided the transport and logistics.

The importance of having a strong and cohesive team is a regular theme on Practice Talk. Other practice directors don’t have to climb a mountain with their team to achieve similar unity, but Brown who had previously mastered the Three Peaks saw his team members rally together to overcome the challenge.

“I've done it before so I sat back, thinking I don't want to tell the team how to do this because I've done it,” Brown told AccountingWEB. “I wanted to see whether people would come to the forefront.”

“We did have people who stuck their hand up and said I'll do that - simple things like research on what to pack, do research on the route to up each mountain, or what's the best route on the road to avoid any traffic hotspots because the time is tight.”

“It's not something our staff are used to doing. We've got a few hills down here but we don't have mountains. Everyone was out of their comfort zone.”

While an arduous hike or anything physical for that matter seems at odds with a typically sedentary profession, Brown’s Practice Talk shows how fitness plays a key role in his practice life.


What's the first thing you do when you start your working day?

I've probably done a three or four-mile run before I've started my working day. I try to keep myself fit because it helps clear my mind before getting into work.

The first hour I try and clear a few very easy things – it’s what I've been thinking about when running in the morning or on my drive into work. I can clear those things easily without any interruptions and then I'll log on to my emails and then prioritise things for the day.

Checking emails outside office hours is a common issue heard here on practice talk. Are you guilty of this?

I do - especially if I am on holiday. I try to pace it out so I am not checking every day because you have to relax whilst on holiday. However, I will try and turn them off at some point in the evening because I want to spend time with my family and children. 

Speaking of long working days, have you got any self assessment horror stories?

I have more clients that are March year-ends so my horror story tends to be making account changes on Christmas Eve. Staff and clients are unavailable over Christmas, so we've had it in the past where we're working up to Christmas Eve and we'll email a client to prove this and you get an out of office saying they've broken up for Christmas. 

Last year I had about 30 limited accounts to get done in December which is quite a high number. It wasn't a pleasant December when you're trying to relax for Christmas.

During these periods of high workload, what do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts?

Running is my release. Where I live I can be out into the new forest quite quickly in the space of two minutes. There are no cars. It can be quiet. I either go out in the mornings or at the weekends I go out for long runs for an hour or two.

What's been the biggest change in the profession since you've qualified?

I qualified back in 2005. At the time I was with a smaller firm who were just moving from paper files and preparing manual accounts. In 2006 I then moved to where I am now, HWB, and it was a lot more electronic. We were starting to do paperless files and gradually over time, it's become more and more paperless.

We use a paperless scanning system here and now it's full into Xero and QuickBooks. A lot of our clients are transitioning onto those products so they're ahead of the game before MTD comes in next year.

What steps have your firm taken to being MTD-ready?

We've appraised our client base and found out their current position (are they using spreadsheets?) And come up with a plan to communicate what MTD means for them.

In the last month we've also allocated clients to each of our business advisers - they're the ones that look after portfolio of clients. Their role has been to call clients and helping them through the cloud transition, like moving from spreadsheets to Xero.

Can you remember your first calculator?

I've still got it - it's a Casio JS-120ER, although the number four button is a little bit temperamental so I have to press it that little bit harder. The top of the screen comes away but because it’s solar panelled it works absolutely fine. It's been like this for the last two years. The thing is I'd have to find one similar.