The three musketeers of start-up accountancy

ACCOUNTANTS are supposed to be boring, right? Well that’s what I thought until I met Lynton Stock, Susan Hutter and Bobby Lane. They have taken their number-crunching skills and mixed in some entrepreneurial spirit.

In 1988 Stock and Hutter were working at a big accountancy firm. They had risen from the ranks, become partners and were doing well. But after a disagreement over the direction of the company, rather than putting up with it or moving to another firm they decided to go it alone.

“It was the beginning of the 1990s recession when we started out. It was a scary time. We were lucky in the sense that a lot of our previous customers quickly migrated to our new firm but we had committed ourselves to dealing with a lot of debt at a bad time. We made it our priority to clear it and we managed it in the first year.” From this entrepreneurial start they have done something more interesting.

In 2005 Bobby Lane came to them with his frustrations with accountants for entrepreneurs: “The problem with accountants is that they swoop in every six months, tell start-ups what they are doing wrong and then leave. What could be wrong for a start-up in the first six months might not be in the next six months,” Lane explains. “I felt that there needed to be some strategic input.”

Stock felt that this was the way the industry was moving. Of course, accountancy firms have always had consultancy wings, but Shelley Stock Hutter would provide start-ups with strategic management advice. They created an add-on company, Denver Chase, and mixed their accountancy service with this idea. Initially, some might be sceptical of this. Surely they must use this as a way of colonising start-ups and taking a share in their profits? But it turns out, they don’t. They never take a stake in a company. “I kind of think it would impair what we can offer, kind of make us less impartial,” Lane says. “This approach worked well through this recession, clients can scale up or down our services depending on how much they feel comfortable spending. We’ve found that clients that cut back in 2009 have come rushing back as soon as they recovered.”

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing, they have had challenges along the way. “Staffing was an issue for a long time: we need technical experts – equipped with all the right financial skills – but we also need people who have the interpersonal skills to be able to come into a small business and tell them what they are doing wrong with some tact,” Hutter explains.

They have chosen to take most of their bookkeepers straight from school to tackle this. “We like to train people ourselves; prevent people picking up bad habits,” Hutter suggests. None of the three have Oxbridge backgrounds themselves. Hutter for instance wanted to get out of school and start working as soon as possible. Despite being offered a place at LSE to study economics, she was determined to be financially self-sufficient as soon as possible. So she opted for a foundation programme at the then City of London Polytechnic, now London Metropolitan University, to fast-track herself to a career in accountancy.

Their attitude towards risk has seen the business grow rapidly. Lane claims Denver Chase is experiencing a 25-30 per cent growth spurt this year purely from the new bespoke services – pushing Shelley Stock Hutter’s overall turnover this year to £4m. Impressive for dull number-crunchers.

CV | SHELLEY STOCK HUTTER LLP & DENVER CHASE

Lynton Stock
Age: 52
Born: London
Studied: Manchester University
Lives: Stanmore
First ambition: Professional tennis player
Favourite business book: Taxation magazine
Talents: Bridge and tennis
Reading: Ken Follett
Motto: “Always under-sell and over-provide.”

Susan Hutter
Age: 53
Born: London
Studied: 1-year foundation course at City of London Polytechnic, 1976
First ambition: Ballerina or a princess
Favourite business book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Motto: “You always regret the things you don’t do, not the things you do.”

Bobby Lane
Age: 37
Born: London
Studied: University of Westminster
First ambition: Pilot
Favourite business book: Marketing Judo
Talents: The ability to find something positive from every Spurs match
Motto: “You can achieve anything in life if you want it enough.”