On 13th August 1993, I for the first time travelled the short distance to my new workplace of Aspen House in Wembdon Road from Waite Towers, then at Rubis House.
Being on my own was not something I had planned and ironically I had turned down an offer to fund me in my own practise only 8 months earlier.
If you had told me that 25 years on Aspen Waite would be booming with representation across the country, I’m not sure I would have believed you.
They were difficult times and I spent many an early morning walking around Kings Square fearing for the future and even whether there would be a future.
At work I did what I had to do: I seemed to function on “Auto Pilot” during the day and alcohol during the evenings.
It’s funny what the mind and body does when in survival mode.
Although as Aspen Waite I was on my own, I was surrounded by the team in the Aspen Group. Richard Adams was especially supportive in those early days.
I assimilated fairly quickly into Bridgwater business and formed some good alliances, notably Perkins Slade Insurance Brokers.
In the early days I thought that effective working meant staying in my office (or a client’s) for as long as possible, so there was no initial sport.
I remember missing playing hockey on Sundays. I had taken to hockey quite late on in life (30) but had become pretty good. I played cricket for a local Wanderers type team, where I enjoyed keeping wicket, although not good for my knees.
I also played a reasonable amount of golf with various business contacts who kept faith in me.
My biggest external client was Ford Civil Engineering and I drove to their Head Office near Ringwood regularly. They had invested in a Gosport based business, Nationwide Services, and this turned out to be a superstar client. (this is how I met Michelle)
Through these clients I started to pick up some nice work in Hampshire and along the South Coast.
I had an excellent bank manager in David Aldington (Barclays) and we started doing a lot of business together. My first year’s budget was a mere £45,000 but I managed to exceed £90,000 for the 14½ months to October 1994.
It took 10 years to grow the turnover to over £500,000 but I had some nice clients, notably First Group and an exciting new start up in TJ Transport, which went on to be our best client.
Learning to Adapt
At the end of 1998 we moved from Aspen House to Rubis House and I liked the thought of owning two properties. I did not plan to start Aspen Waite but I certainly learned to adapt to the life of an entrepreneur quite quickly.
Even after 10 years of Aspen Waite life I was far from the finished article: naïve, too soft and not process driven.
Life was far from dull in those days and even included a run in with real-life gangsters.
I also got to travel, including trips to Bulgaria, France, Bahamas, USA, Poland, Hungary and Austria.
A Career within a Career
Forming Aspen Waite allowed me to develop a career within a career. I was a frustrated accountant and thought of myself as something else.
What I did prove was that I was capable of working to the highest level in non-financial disciplines, most notably at First Group where I became European Managing Consultant.
I had also proven early on in my Aspen Waite life that I could not only deal with extreme pressure but stay smart and make good decisions, architecting an international agreement with BTG plc being the high point. This allowed me to cut my teeth at the highest level in the field of innovation. I have been involved in innovation ever since and, of course, it is now a huge part of what Aspen Waite is all about.
Through David Aldington I was introduced to Mark Lovell (at the time UK Motor Rally Champion). Mark lived fairly locally to me and I knew a few of his associates.
We got on from the first second and I enjoyed working with Mark tremendously. He had tremendous vision and an eye for an opportunity. Gladiator is perhaps my favourite film, so I was tremendously honoured when he decided to call me “Maximus”.
“Hey, Maximus”, he would say, “I am on the way to the office”. No warning other than that. He would turn up full of energy and recount the latest plan. That was pretty much the end of Mark’s part and he trusted me to put whatever it was in place.
I respond very well to this way of working and we were a great team. Like all great and driven people Mark could be a bit odd sometimes. He would have bouts of real intensity and it was best to leave him to himself. He also had a great sense of humour and really knew how to motivate me.
His death at the Oregon Rally on 12th July 2003 devastated me.
I often think of what would have happened if he had retired in one piece as he very much had wanted to.
How would he have reacted to the recession and the downturn in the imported cars market?
Losing Mark led me to being even more involved with Lovell Group and for a couple of years it was especially rewarding. We turned Mark’s vision into a reality and achieved group turnover of over £100m.
Returning to Aspen Waite
Returning to Aspen Waite in 2008 left me wandering around like a little boy lost. The period up to 2012 was especially difficult; gearing got to critical levels and free cashflow was insufficient given our overall financial structure.
A few people who were integral to our effort let me down and the only person who emerged with unusual credit at the time was Chris Coulter, who could easily have left.
2010 saw me cycle from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 8 days. I trained extremely hard and my reward was a tremendous performance. I loved doing it and the beautiful simplicity of it. It gave me a lot of self-respect and helped to exorcise a few demons. A further lesson in the art of positive thinking and what one can achieve if one turns one’s mind to it.
The Difficult Years
Over the difficult years Carl and Tina came into their own and we may well not have survived if it was not for their support. Tina is very much part of our Business Development team now and their place in Aspen Waite history is assured.
My decision to start doing R&D tax credits for our clients back in 2006 and then rebrand us as a professional services organisation in 2012 are the best business decisions of my life.
We have shown we have the resourcefulness, skill and professionalism to exploit these good decisions and slowly but surely we have built and built.
It has been a relatively slow journey but one building momentum, with no sign of slackening off. As we go we continue to attract some great talent.
It's all about people
Aspen Waite operates as a meritocracy and this is borne out by our management team structure.
Of our Senior Managers 6 have been with us for less than one year and another 3 have served less than 2 years.
If anything, the quality of both our new clients and new staff continues to rise.
My 25 years have taught me that business is all about people. Find great people, nurture them, communicate and invest in them (in all respects).
This is also true of clients, suppliers and business associates.
I have found myself, what I stand for and what my focus is. Aspen Waite brings quality business and tax advice and services to all businesses.
This marks us out; our humanity and our ability to get the best out of and for people.
We have been short-listed for Best Independent Firm in the Accountancy Awards for the third time in 4 years and I think this time we deserve to win. Next year our turnover will be too big to enter that category so we will be in the mid-tier category.
The way we are going I would not back against us entering the Top 50 firms.
I plan to make at least 3 acquisitions in the future in the South Wales, Leeds and Oxford areas so that will help.
I would like to thank everyone that has worked for and with me (well nearly everyone!). Also, my family who have had to put up with weak Paul and strong Paul alike but always a driven man. All these nights away and times when it was hard to cope.
I am proud that as a man I stand for something and I truly believe in the words of the song “We’ve only just begun”.