Name: Alistair Green.
What is your business called?
Taylor & Henderson.
Where is it based? North Ayrshire. We've offices in Saltcoats, West Kilbride, Largs, Kilwinning and Irvine.
What does it produce, what services does it offer? Legal, Estate Agency & Independent Financial Advice.
Who does it sell to? Individuals & businesses, mainly based in Ayrshire, throughout Scotland. We act for individuals at significant points in their lives - buying and selling houses, investment decisions, ensuring they make provision for their loved ones, assisting those who find themselves in court, helping individuals with child and family issues, providing a caring and practical service when a relative has died or in suffering from dementia and generally being there to support individuals in their legal and financial needs. We also support small and medium sized business including those involved in social housing.
What is its turnover? £1.2 million
How many employees? 35
When was it formed? The firm was started by John Taylor who was manager of the Clydesdale Bank in the 1930s. As was common in those days, he combined the role of bank manager with that of local solicitor and started the firm of John Taylor and Co. In the early 1950s, William Henderson joined the firm and subsequently married Mr Taylor's daughter. Mr Taylor and Mr Henderson became partners and the firm was then known as Taylor and Henderson.
Why did you take the plunge?
I joined the practice in 1975 and became a partner two years later.
What were you doing before you took the plunge? I did my law degree in Aberdeen University and then joined as a trainee solicitor in Glasgow once I graduated.
The idea of living in Ayrshire and on the coast appealed to me greatly as I wanted to be in the countryside while still being close to Glasgow.
Taylor & Henderson were looking for an assistant and I was lucky enough to get the job.
How did you raise the start-up funding? I bought the firm from William Henderson, who retired due to ill health, in 1982. I paid for this out of earnings over a five-year period and I also arranged a small working overdraft with the bank.
What was your biggest break?
There are a number of milestones but the biggest break in terms of growing the business over the past 20 years is undoubtedly joining forces with Martin McAllister (Partner) and incorporating his firm Dorrian McAllister in 1998. By the time this happened, I had already acquired the business of Alison Jamieson Solicitors in West Kilbride.
Integrating with Dorrian McAllister was transformational. I was correct in thinking that we would be stronger as one entity than two - we were able to pull the resources and skill sets of two firms, which presented a much better offer to existing and new clients.
Thereafter we took over the businesses of Gilmour & Christie as well as Cameron & Co in Irvine. This instigated the opening of our office in Irvine where we incorporated both these firms. About five years ago, we opened an office in Kilwinning and two years later, we opened an office in Largs. We now have a presence in five north Ayrshire towns.
What was your worst moment?
The start of the recessions in 1992 and again in 2008 when virtually overnight the phones stopped ringing.
On both occasions, the strategy was the same - reduce costs as far as possible and look to your existing client bank for other business opportunities to develop.
For example, when houses weren't selling, we looked to grow our wills and private client business while developing court and family law work, which, although not untouched by the recession, were not so badly hit. In the 1990s, we also branched out into financial services as we felt this was a natural fit with our other services.
We have steadily grown our financial services business in response to demand from clients.
There has been a slight improvement in the housing market recently, with more activity and more first-time buyers keen to get on the ladder.
This has not yet translated into a significant increase in house prices in our area and is unlikely to do so until there is a material rise in incomes.
What do you most enjoy about running the business? Providing career opportunities for young people. Over the years we have been able to take on and train legally qualified and unqualified staff and most have stayed with the firm. Martin and I also get great satisfaction from meeting the needs of clients. It can be something as simple as reassuring someone whose husband or wife has just died and then sorting out what needs to be done, or helping a young couple buy their dream home.
What do you least enjoy? Trying to predict the future for providers of legal services!
The service industry has changed dramatically in the past 10 years and solicitors have not been immune to this.
The planned introduction of ABS (Alternative Business Structures), which will allow up to 49% of a firm to be owned by a non-regulated professional, will bring fresh challenges such as the appearance of the Co-op and others as major providers of legal services. It is difficult to predict the future and all we can do is try to build on the foundations of the business and be adaptable.
However, although a lot has changed over the past 30 years, we have managed to grow the business during this period. We believe there is still a place in the market for local firms - not everyone wants to deal with a large organisation that may seem impersonal.
What are your top priorities?
Maintain the quality of our offering and look for consistent improvement, continue to build the brand, increase profit, provide a good working environment for our employees, improve focus on customer satisfaction.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help? The UK, Scottish and local governments have tried to promote business activity. We have benefited from funding from North Ayrshire Council, which has helped us to train youngsters and also in marketing activity, but their resources are limited and I know they could do more if there was more funding. I would like to be able to access more support for training. We have five offices and because of that do not benefit from the Scottish government small business rates support scheme and, therefore, we pay more in rates than most of our competitors.
This is a disincentive to growth, hampering us from opening up any further offices and being able to provide employment opportunities in other towns within Ayrshire.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?
Lead by consensus where possible but don't shirk the tough decisions necessary for the good of the firm. Constantly review and reassess the needs of the business, our team and our clients.
How do you relax? Cycling, gym, five-a-side football.