This month (September 2019) Charter Tax celebrates its tenth anniversary, so we thought we’d talk to the firm’s founder and Principal, Janet Pierce.
Back in 2009, Janet had been a partner in a mid-size accountancy firm for a number of years but the usual partnership politics left her feeling there must be more to life. At a chance catch-up with a long-standing contact, Mike Cordwell, an interesting opportunity presented itself.
“He asked if I had considered setting up my own business and, being somebody who had built a trust company in the past, he said he’d be prepared to invest in a new venture, if I was prepared to run it,” says Janet. “I was flattered and while it felt a little risky to be leaving partnership life behind, his investment meant there would be money to cover set-up costs such as IT and a website, as well as provide initial working capital.”
“I knew what I could offer was fairly niche and that I also had a good network of people who would refer work to me,” she explains. “I also came to an agreement with my previous firm to take an agreed list of clients with me, so I had a starting point in terms of creating a business.”
While we all assume that budding accountants have their noses in maths textbooks while still at school, Janet admits that it was not her favourite subject.
“I really wanted to be a vet but, as an animal lover, I knew I’d struggle emotionally seeing them suffer,” says Janet. “I enjoyed English and problem solving, so did seriously consider becoming a lawyer.”
While studying for her ‘A’ levels, Janet got a part-time job helping out at a small accountancy firm, putting together accounts and completing tax returns, which gave her an insight into that world.
Janet was accepted onto a degree course at University College London (UCL), reading psychology but due to personal issues, deferred it for a year. During this time, she saw a job advert with a two-partner firm of accountants in south London; they were looking for a qualified accountant to join the team.
“Looking back, it was quite brazen of me, but I sent in my CV and put together a case for them taking on a trainee accountant instead,” says Janet. “They were persuaded and I ended up doing my training there.”
Although small, the firm had a focus on high value international tax work, which is where Janet began to learn about that side of accountancy.
“The senior partner wasn’t that easy to work for but he was a great mentor and his technical expertise was second-to-none,” she says. “His favourite saying was ‘until you are a House of Lords judge, I don’t care about your opinion - show me where it is in legislation’ and this is a mantra to me until this day.”
Janet continues: “In many ways, tax is closer to law than accountancy, as after all it is very much about reading tax law, so I was able to use that part of my brain that wanted to be a lawyer. I’ve also been able to lean on my interest in psychology in my working life; my husband is a counsellor, so I have learnt a lot from him over the years. For example, if I am working with a family partnership which is in dispute, then applying some counselling skills really helps.”
After qualifying with the south London firm, Janet spent six years working in Tunbridge Wells, before making the move to set up Charter Tax.
Like so many small businesses, Janet started out on her dining room table but always had plans to grow the firm. From the start, she also took an office in London, which proved invaluable for client meetings, and for presentation generally.
“In those early days, my (now) husband was studying to retrain as a counsellor, so he had flexibility to help out with some of the admin and IT, which meant I could focus on client work, which was invaluable to me at the time,” she says. “From the start, I continued mainly working with non-domiciliaries and on fairly complicated international tax work.”
She continues: “At the same time, some of my clients were asking for me to also provide them with an outsourced FD service and so we quickly spread out into a more broad base of work, which is something we continue to offer clients to this day.”
The expansion into the outsource FD work meant that the workload had grown enough to take on David Page after only a matter of months. Dave, now also a director at Charter Tax, was then able to handle some of Janet’s accountancy and FD work, leaving her to focus on tax.
The accounts workload continued to grow, so Janet and Dave were soon joined by Chris Page, now an associate director with the firm. The growth rate was rapid and very quickly, the dining room (and indeed another reception room!) was getting fairly cramped, so the decision was made to take on premises in Goudhurst, which is Charter Tax’s Kent office to this day.
In 2015, the business had grown to a level where Janet felt it would benefit from the addition of another partner, so approached Mark Howard. They had worked together previously and he was, at that stage, also running his own small firm, and as such, the ‘business marriage’ was a happy one. With his focus on providing advice to families, farms, trusts and estates, Charter Tax has seen its local client base and members of staff grow. Today the firm numbers 32 people.
“When I established Charter Tax, I certainly intended it to grow but I’m not sure that I imagined from the outset that it would be quite as big as it is,” says Janet. “Looking ahead to the next decade, I think we’ve still got room to grow. I strongly believe that a business can never stand still and I am always looking to build the next generation of partners, which I believe we have in sight.”
She adds: “We’ve got some really bright people here and I want them to see that there’s an opportunity to grow their careers with Charter Tax. We are very proactive regarding training. Of course, the tax world moves quickly, so we always need to keep learning.”
Janet says that the ethos at Charter Tax is to offer excellent service to its clients but also to provide a fair place to work.
“If somebody here has a problem, whatever that might be, I want them to feel they can come to us about it,” says Janet. “Also, I have a rule in the office that: messing up is not the worst thing that can happen. Messing up and not telling me is the worst thing.”
While she didn’t end up becoming a vet, Janet spends her spare time with horses and is accomplished in the sport of eventing.
“It’s a world which involves a huge amount of training and there’s nothing more satisfying than starting at the beginning with a foal and training them up,” she explains. “It’s a long process and there will be blips along the way but you have to take a long-term view. To be honest, it’s very much like that with building a business, and a team of people to work in that business; taking a long-term view is always the key and you can’t take the occasional blip too personally.”