One of the North West’s leading independent firms of Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, Cowgills, has recently launched a Liverpool office which will be led by partner John Dean. John will be joined at the 20 Chapel Street office by Peter Ainsworth, who has been appointed as assistant manager.
The move into Liverpool follows the acquisition by Cowgills of the business recovery arm of Manchester based accountancy firm RPG and takes the business recovery team to four partners, four directors and 11 staff. Cowgills partner and head of business recovery Jason Elliott said: “John and Peter bring a huge amount of experience to the team and their professionalism and local knowledge will be key to helping us in building our new Liverpool office. This investment and expansion into Liverpool further underlines our intent to be a market leader in the north west restructuring sector as the country slowly begins to reopen and I am delighted to welcome both John and Peter to the team.”
As a result of the Cowgills announcement, My Planet Liverpool was delighted to meet up with John Dean to chat with him about his career to date.
It was 1979 when I received a letter from the Civil Service that was to map out my career path for the next 40-plus years. Before I left school I had fancied joining HM Customs and Excise (as it was then called), checking for illegal goods aboard ships that entered the port of Liverpool. I guess I had visions of a Miami Vice kind of role if you like - but sadly without the Ferrari.
However, my dreams of becoming a Crockett or a Tubbs were dashed when it turned out that I had been assigned a role in the “Official Receivers Office”. I had absolutely no idea what “The OR” did and neither did my family or close friends, or so they said. We know it better now as The Insolvency Service.
I spent the next 10 years dealing with both bankruptcies and liquidated companies, initially under the 1914 and 1926 Bankruptcy Act that preceded the Insolvency Act 1986. From a bankruptcy perspective the 1914/26 legislation provided little or no exempt property provision, requiring a property inspection in each case. There was also a public examination and a review after 5 years to determine whether a discharge from bankruptcy was to be granted. This earlier legislation was invasive and long overdue a revision. You were dealing with people’s livelihoods, people who were going through a very stressful situation. The starkest example of this occurred many years before I joined the Service and this was the shooting of the then Liverpool Official Receiver by a desperate bankrupt during a public examination - thankfully he survived and the bankrupt was duly punished for his crime!
There were many lighter moments, due mainly to the personalities and humour of my colleagues and the clients we met on a daily basis. The first Official Receiver I worked for would sweep, Darth Vader-like, into court and back dressed all in black! Following his retirement from the Civil Service I had the good fortune to work with him again at Ernst & Young and he was the most supportive and engaging colleague you could possibly meet.
On leaving the Official Receiver’s Office in 1989 I joined the renowned firm of Arthur Young, who were based at Silkhouse Court. They were previously called Arthur Young McClelland, Moores & Co and had a history that could be traced back to when James McClelland first started practising in 1824. I joined just prior to its merger with Ernst & Whinney, forming the current Ernst & Young.
The early 1990’s was an extremely busy time in light of the 1992 recession, which was caused in part by the debt accumulations of the 1980’s. From a learning perspective I couldn’t have been with a better firm. The wealth of experience there was second to none, the proof of which was how many colleagues went on to head up either their own firms or become senior partner in national practices. It was at Ernst & Young that I first met a gentleman named Matt Dunham, with whom I would form a valued and close friendship for the next 25 years.
The next leg of my career journey began after nine years with Ernst & Young, when I joined KPMG. My workplace was initially at their Princes Parade offices, which was surely the windiest office entrance in Liverpool, as anyone who has worked there will testify. However, the views out over the River Mersey more than made up for the effort it took to battle the wind and actually get into the office!
I spent the next 16 years with KPMG, eventually moving from Liverpool to the Manchester office. During my time there I also worked in Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol and London, with both the Corporate and Personal Insolvency teams. Again, the breadth of experience in KPMG was exceptional and, as with any organisation you work with, it’s always best to make the most of each and every opportunity that comes your way. I eventually landed back in Manchester but decided it was perhaps time to move out of the “protective bubble” that big firms can wrap around you.
In my later years at KPMG my focus had been with the Asset Based Lenders and as a result this would lead into my next venture as a Finance Broker. Whatever I thought I knew about being a finance broker I was to quickly forget as I embarked on a new and very steep learning curve. Cash within each and every business is of course crucial, but what’s equally important is how any new cash is utilised, from both a stability and growth perspective. Getting to know the clients is equally important, and irrespective of business size, being with the right stakeholders, banks, funders, suppliers is vital to any business.
My previous relationship with business owners had been at the distressed end of the scale and the new-found capacity to engage and advise, especially in a burgeoning business was indeed refreshing and highlighted the importance of growing a business properly. You wouldn’t increase the size of your property without putting in adequate foundations and it’s exactly the same from a business perspective. If your turnover has increased significantly you need to ensure the support capacity has been suitably bolstered.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a broker but I found myself missing the Insolvency and Advisory aspect of working with clients. It was with these thoughts in my mind that I had the mad idea of starting up an Insolvency Practice of my own.
Subsequently, in late 2016, a train journey home with Matt Dunham was to be the catalyst for the next chapter in my career. Matt was a highly respected Insolvency Practitioner, both locally and nationally, and he was also looking for something new. The timing was right for both of us and so we joined forces and set up Dunham Dean Advisory in early 2017. It also had to be based in Liverpool, what with my local upbringing and Matt being an adopted scouser, albeit he did support Wigan!
One thing setting up a business from scratch teaches you is how difficult it is to set up a business from scratch! All the advice and guidance previously given to clients was brought sharply into focus as Matt and I set out to do it right. Luckily, I think we did and the practice went from strength to strength, supported by employees and stakeholders alike. Matt proved to be a fantastic business partner, as I knew he would be.
Sadly, we lost Matt in July 2020, which was tragic on both a personal and professional level, not only for his family and colleagues but also the wider business community. Insolvency Practitioners like Matt rarely come along, as many people have testified. The support received from all sectors was immense, as was that from the DDA team.
Whilst I had a real desire to continue as Dunham Dean Advisory it became apparent that running the Insolvency Practice going forward was going to be difficult, both from a compliance and personal perspective, as there were just not enough hours in the day. Sometimes it’s difficult when running a business to know the right time to make a change but it just felt that it was right to do so.
Subsequently, in May this year I joined Cowgills Business Recovery. I was to head up their newly formed Liverpool office, together with my colleague Peter Ainsworth. Peter and first I met at the Official Receivers office in 1984, worked together for 5 years and have kept in touch ever since. Peter was Matt and I’s first employee at Dunham Dean Advisory. Remember what I said about the right stakeholders? They don’t come more important than those that work for and with you.
Ultimately, the decision to join Cowgills was an easy one and the right time for me to make a change. I have known the team there for many years and have worked with some of them previously. They have the same in-depth knowledge, expertise and desire to support both me and the local business community as the previous firms I have worked with. We look forward to continuing to assist, advise and support the local business community for the foreseeable future.
In finishing off this article, and on reflection of my time of the last 40-plus years, my overriding memory is of the many colleagues and personalities that I have worked with, and the friends I have made along the way. As we now move forward to a period where home working becomes the norm rather than the exception, we must do all we can to ensure this connection with other people isn’t lost for the next generation.
John Dean or Peter Ainsworth can be contacted at:
2nd Floor · 20 Chapel Street · Liverpool L3 9AG
Tel: 0151 236 9999.