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Exclusive Interview: Stuart Atherton, Head of Employment and HR, Peter Lynn and Partners

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Business News Wales has interviewed Stuart Atherton, Head of Employment and HR at Peter Lynn and Partners. He talks about his career history and plans for the future. He also shares his top tips on how to be a success in business and what Wales can do to attract more inward investment.

 Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within (Organisation)?

I moved to South Wales approximately 25 years ago from a position in Hertfordshire. I am originally I joined Peter Lynn and Partners in 2000 and joined as equity partner within 6 months. The business was still embryonic with all the challenges and risks associated with a new enterprise.

I enjoy Scuba diving and most sports and previously held positions as chairman of the assessment panel for young person applicants under the Princes Trust scheme

My role is as a senior partner and head of the employment and HR department which is incorporated as part of the firm’s corporate and individual services. I am also staff partner with all the challenges which that entails.

What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

Peter Lynn and Partners continues to expand and grow and hopefully this will continue throughout the next 5 years. There are economic challenges (including the Brexit issue and the general “sluggishness” of the economy) but at the same time these present opportunities. With the financial sectors being stricter upon their lending criteria (and cashflow being the life blood of any business), it is likely that this will lead to the smaller firms looking to merge and join with larger firms to establish economies of scale (for costs reductions) whilst at the same time becoming a better lending subject for the banks. PL and P have expanded greatly since 1999 and largely through the careful selection of mergers and acquisitions and I would expect this to continue over the next 5 years. Coupled with periods of consolidation, this should lead to a stronger position for the firm

Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently? 

No. I have worked in many different firms from Swindon, Hertford and Cardiff and each has been a different style of practice. I would like to think that I have taken the best from each and applied them into P L and P.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

Most importantly, is to have a sound business plan/ agreement in place from the outset. In my experience, a lot of money, time and heartache could have been saved when business partners/ directors fall in to dispute and there is no formal documentation setting out the process to be adopted in those circumstances. Establish a business plan and keep it under review. The businesses ability to adapt to changing circumstances is also an important quality. The business environment is in a constant state of flux and it is important that a business has the ability to change accordingly whilst still retaining client satisfaction. Finally, the ability to deal sympathetically and promptly with complaints and problems when they arise. A problem dealt with promptly rarely has the opportunity to spiral out of control.

What are your top three tips for success?

  1. Watch the cashflow!
  2. Be adaptable to changes and never say never to an opportunity
  3. Establish an early business plan (with professional advice) and keep it under review regularly

Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?

A tendency to seek specialist advice early and to reduce everything to writing. If a project has the potential to go wrong, plan for that eventuality.

Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?

A risk that there will become a “two tier” economy between the M4 corridor and the remainder of Wales. The lack of an effective transport link between the North and the South, together with a lacklustre broadband/ internet link, is likely to lead to the business centres of South and North Wales becoming increasingly distance.

Brexit is likely to cause confusion and uncertainty. Unless the UK government and Welsh assembly start to disseminate information as to the environment for businesses post Brexit, this will continue to the detriment of the Welsh economy. 

Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?

The applicable laws of England and Wales are largely originated from the EU and this is especially relevant for employment law. With the repealing of the enacting legislation , there will be a need for laws to be re-enacted into domestic legislation. This is leading , in turn, to uncertainty as to if any changes are likely to be made to the existing laws. Businesses generally, do not like uncertainty and this effects every sector not just the legal sector. This may lead to businesses withholding decisions relating to investment and expansion plans until Brexit plans are more defined. In my opinion, the greater amount of information that can be given at this stage , the better for business.

What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

Strengths

Availability of an attractive work/ life balance.

Recognised strong academic expertise within the university sectors.

Dedicated and loyal workforce.

Weaknesses:

Poor infrastructure both between Swansea, Cardiff and Newport, and between the North and the South. Under use of Cardiff airport and poor transport links thereto.

Poor internet and mobile network coverage nationwide.

What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

By ensuring that any regulatory requirements are streamlined, clear and non-obstructive. Whilst financial incentives are attractive, the recipient business needs to remain longer term to ensure that there is a return to the Welsh economy arising from such incentives. Businesses require secure, reliable and fast IT, mobile and internet infrastructure as an irreducible minimum and Wales need to ensure that it can meet (and surpass) these expectations. This needs to applicable nationwide and not just concentrated on the South Wales M4 corridor.

What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?

Prior to higher education and apprenticeship, concentration on the provision of subjects which are relevant to a modern business world, is essential.

The business environment is becoming increasingly computer and internet driven with online and cloud solutions. Appropriate skills need to be taught in preparation for this to ensure that the next generation are well equipped to operate efficiently within this environment.

How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?

Extremely important. Wales (and Welsh academic establishments) have an enviable reputation for general and business specific research and solutions. A strong integration between business and higher education not only ensures that the contents of courses and teaching remains relevant but also provides a valuable link for students to receive relevant work experience and “on-job” training, which will usually be transferrable to other positions and work opportunities.