Steve Varley: The boss doing the running for EY

Steve Varley is head of EY’s British arm
No celebrations for EY Britain’s boss, Steve Varley, despite a 8.6pc rise in turnover.
Steve Varley, head of EY’s British arm, laughs nervously. After three years at the helm, the Yorkshireman has clear, almost PR-perfect soundbite answers to any question about the business.
The one that has flummoxed him is how he and the firm intend to celebrate the latest impressive results, which show growth of 8.6 per cent to £1.868bn.
“Celebration? Ha, ha, ha. I’m afraid we don’t have time for celebration. We don’t really tend to… I guess there is a rhythm of measuring yourself on a yearly basis and there is little pause for celebration,” he says.
Then in a heartbeat, he’s back in his corporate stride. “We’re far too busy enjoying this marketplace and pushing the business forward,” he adds finally.
Varley is, in fact, the consummate cheerleader for his brand. It is hard not to be enthused, almost brainwashed, in the face of his positivity.
“We’re very positive. Nine per cent growth is a very good position to be in, especially as we are coming out of the tail end of a recession,” he says.
“We’ve continued to invest throughout the recession and… we continue to be very positive about the outlook for the UK. There’s a bit of political uncertainty, but the overarching position is that the UK is a good place to invest and create jobs and invest in.”
Certainly EY has been busy creating jobs, hiring a record 68 partners in the past year and recruiting 3,500.
“We won’t be slowing down,” he says.
Varley’s headline plans for the next three years include £20m of investment in offices outside London and “significant investment” in areas such as fraud investigation technology and corporate integrity.
This last is a thorny issue, considering widespread criticism of companies that avoid paying tax in the UK, and the accounting errors for which Tesco (not EY’s client) is being investigated.
Unsurprisingly, Varley has a positive take. “All of business at the moment is on a journey of rebuilding confidence with our stakeholders, so it’s unfortunate when that seems to take a stumble,” he says.
“We do provide people with a lot of assurance services and we have an offering around corporate integrity… So our reaction is to think of ways to help our clients make sure they are delivering, not just by processes and controls but also by culture and values.”
Varley bats away worries that a EU-enforced system, which requires companies to change their auditor every 10 years, will harm the company.
“I think it’s added even more competition to an already very competitive market. But we’re very pleased that we’ve won more than we’ve lost. We’ve picked up the London Stock Exchange, BBC, the Co-op Bank and Sage.”
So how many has EY lost? “Two,” says Varley. There is a pause in conversation. He doesn’t dwell on the negative.
It’s a strategy that has served him well. Having joined Anderson Consulting (now Accenture) as a graduate trainee in 1991, he became a partner by 1999, joined EY (formerly Ernst & Young) in 2005 as head of advisory and became managing director for UK and Ireland in 2011.
His daily commute, from Buckinghamshire, points to the strong work ethic and drive which must also surely have helped propel him to the top job.
Asked how he trained for the six triathlons he did this year, and the six planned for next year, he says: “I tend to be an early bird. I take the 5.40am train, then when I get to Marylebone Station I run to the office, which is about eight-and-a-half kilometres each way, so I’m at my desk about 7.20am by the time I have my shower.”
“But I’m keen to make sure that my team understand that, being a partner at EY, you can still enjoy yourself outside work and do some interesting things. I have a young family and two young children, who are 11 and eight. We still have family holidays with all four of us going away together. We enjoy life and I think that’s a good thing to be a role model as well so that people don’t think that when you get into my job it’s all about work.”


■ Turnover growth of 8.6 per cent, with turnover up from £1.721bn last year
■ Profits up 12 per cent from £368m to £412m
■ Global revenues of US$27.4bn for the period, up 6.8 per cent on last year
■ Assurance sector up 8.5 per cent to £550m, with audit wins including London Stock Exchange, BBC, The Co-operative Bank and Sage
■ Advisory business up 15 per cent to £559m. Growth from resurgence in deals. EY involved in 40 per cent of IPOs
■ Tax arm grew 3.3 per cent to £470m
■ Average distributable profit per partner up 11.7 per cent to £727,000, from £651,000 in 2013.
■ Record 68 partners joining in UK and 3,500 recruited.
■ Plans to invest £20m in next three years in offices outside London, including a £650,000 investment in new technology hub in Manchester and expansion in Belfast.

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