Paul and Jeremy talk to Ambition Magazine about founding the firm and the journey so far
With a new brand and a new look, clients can continue to count on Harbinson Mulholland to provide 'uncommonly good business sense', founding partners Jeremy Harbinson and Paul Mulholland tell Adrienne McGill.
Red is a colour most accountants and business advisers would prefer not to see.... but for Harbinson Mulholland itis a vivid hue with championship associations and reflects the vibrancy of the firm which was formed over a decade ago by former Big Four partners Jeremy Harbinson and Paul Mulholland.
The pair, who are also avid Manchester United fans and therefore have a special affinity with red, founded the firm in 1998 after leaving accountancy giant Price Waterhouse at the time of its merger with Coopers and Lybrand.
As partners in the small business team of Price Waterhouse, Jeremy and Paul amassed a wealth of experience in dealing with SMEs and owner managed businesses and felt they wanted to specialise in this area by setting up their own practice. And so from humble beginnings with an initial team of 15, some of whom joined from Price Waterhouse, Harbinson Mulholland was born.
Over the last 17 years, the Belfast-based practice has grown to become one of the leading firms of Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers in Northern Ireland with a team of 50 of whom 9 are partners.
The firm has just undergone a major rebrand. This incorporates a new logo and a catchy strapline ‘Uncommonly good business sense’ with, unsurprisingly, a soft tone of red featuring prominently on the walls and furnishings of its recently opened spacious new offices. These are in the Centrepoint Building on the edge of Ormeau Avenue with a spectacular view of Bedford Street.
Jeremy Harbinson says with economic conditions now looking more positive, it made sense to coincide the rebrand with the upturn in business confidence. “We have gone through seven years of the economy being very flat but over the last year we have noticed far more optimism among our clients and in the economy and we have been reacting to that. There are a lot of exciting new things happening and as part of all that it felt like a good time to refresh the brand. We have been adding new services to our portfolio such as our HM Advantage suite of products to help clients improve and prosper. These computer driven products facilitate meetings with clients which powerfully enable them to gain focus and insights into how to take various aspects of their activities forward. They aim to give Harbinson Mulholland clients ‘The HM Advantage’!
“When we started, we had a business plan and we kept reviewing it. We saw what was happening in the market and listened to the needs of clients – that is how we developed the business. We had ambitions to grow rapidly from the start.”
The firm offers a full range of accountancy and business advisory services including audit and accounts; corporate and personal tax, forensic accounting; strategic business advice; business reorganisation, recovery and insolvency and wealth management.
Paul attributes the firm’s considerable growth over the years to its thorough understanding of owner managed businesses. “Because we are an owner managed business, we fully understand the needs and operations of owner managed firms. One of the things we have in common with many of our clients is that Jeremy and I started, developed and grew our business. A lot of the issues our clients face, we have faced ourselves.Our clients have come through a number of years where business conditions have been difficult. Now, some businesses who want to grow are experiencing difficulty in finding markets to sell into and access to finance is also a serious issue. So there are very real obstacles for firms and we understand them.”
Jeremy highlights a further strength of Harbinson Mulholland which is the ability to provide local businesses with the level of skill and expertise normally associated with the Big Four firms.
“It comes down to the people and the focus that we have. Paul and I and four of the other partners were part of the initial step of launching on our own and we have all played key roles in the growth. It is unique that we have so many entrepreneurs as part of the team. Because of our relatively small size, we feel a closer bond with SME clients as opposed to being part of a big multi partner firm.”
So, with the move to new offices and a new look, the practice is looking forward to continued growth with renewed energy. As if to underline this, a variety of mission statements adorn the walls of the offices such as ‘This is where it all adds up’ and ‘Harbinson Mulholland – where everybody counts.’
“We have revisited our services and provided more options and more ways to add value for clients. We are, after all, a "Premier League practice,” says Paul.
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