Sheffield accountants know how to throw a bash – their annual dinner is the second biggest of 24 held across the country.
This year, despite widespread snow and ice, 310 out of 350 guests managed to attend the event at the Cutlers’ Hall in early March.
It was a huge relief for Howard Freeman who, as President of the Sheffield and District Society of Chartered Accountants, was waiting to give his big speech.
The event was a success – and the turnout underlined local firms’ commitment to the society and its activities.
Indeed their annual dinner is the second biggest nationally, larger than those in Manchester or Birmingham, says Mr Freeman, who has just stepped down after a year in office.
As president his role was to raise the profile of Sheffield and the accountancy sector, and involved attending events all over the country.
He said: “It was great to meet people and make contacts and invite them to Sheffield.
“People are very aware of Sheffield’s history, but if they haven’t been perhaps they have a view of it as a grimy, industrial, steel city. I think they are very surprised when they come and see the greenery and parkland and development out towards Meadowhall, and Kelham Island is brilliant.”
Mr Freeman has returned to fulltime work as a partner at Shorts Chartered Accountants at a time when the firm is enjoying a “serious growth period.”
The Sheffield office where he works employs a record 50 people, while the company, which includes the Chesterfield headquarters, has doubled in size in five years to 120 people.
Last month, Shorts walked away with three corporate finance awards. And it continues to justifiably claim to “do it all under one roof,” with £100m of clients’ personal wealth under management and a recent link up with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and Sheffield Chamber to help SMEs make the most of tax breaks for innovative ideas.
But it’s not just about being good with money, says Mr Freeman, a chartered accountant, registered auditor and chartered tax adviser.
He added: “People skills and expertise are Shorts’ strengths. We have recruited very good people in all the different areas. Traditionally the accountant used to try to win the audit. Now they get to know a family’s business interests, personal wealth, tax – we do it all under one roof.”
The firm encourages and pays for junior staff to attend social events to meet other accountants, lawyers, bankers and business owners.
He added: “Building a network in a place like Sheffield really helps. Not a lot of our competitors do that. At our level, a lot of business development is a question of getting on with clients. They assume you can do the work but can you have a conversation with them? People will pick up the phone to someone they trust.”
Mr Freeman was chosen to be president of the Sheffield and District accountants’ society by his peers. It comes after he worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers for 11 years, joining Shorts as a partner in 2003.
He says the closure of PwC’s Sheffield office this summer was “very disappointing.” But it presents firms like Shorts with an opportunity.
“The larger regional firms can step up and do a lot of the work national firms can do. We have got a serious tax practice here.”
Another disappointment is the closure this month of Baldwins Omega banqueting venue, the spiritual home of Sheffield’s professional services sector at play. Mr Freeman has been there several times a year for more than 20 years.
He said: “It’s a great shame. Baldwins was a major hub for Sheffield’s professional community.”