Rob Ashley - PricewaterhouseCoopers
Member of TEC 23, Chaired by Ray Fisher
Every leader needs advice and support to be sure they are growing their company in the right way. But what if your profession is to help other business owners?
For Rob Ashley, this dual role has played a major part in his career, first through his own partnership and then as an advisory principal with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) working with mid-market clients. Across each of these roles, Rob has experienced many of the same issues that he regularly advises clients on as they think about the future of their firms.
● Providing consistent and effective business advice to clients
● Transitioning through every stage of the business lifecycle
● Finding the right new opportunities
Transitioning through different roles
Over the last 20 years, Rob's role has evolved considerably. From starting his own business partnership and seeing it grow over 16 years, Rob then made the decision to merge the company with PwC, bringing across his client base and employees.
"We were approached in 2010 by PwC and one of the other Big Four about a potential merger. At the time, my advisory firm worked mostly in the entrepreneurial space. I've spent my entire career helping businesses to get fit, get big, get funding and get out," stated Rob.
While Rob's own work and the services he offers to clients has remained consistent, his own role has measurably changed. From the independence of running his own small business, it was a big shift to become one part of a much larger organisation.
"The big changes for me were around decision making. At first it was a fear that they would come in and try to run the place, while the size of PwC means that decisions take longer than they did in a smaller operation."
To address this, Rob undertook a comprehensive planning process, covering both an internal focus on staff and a client engagement strategy.
Undertaking a strategy to keep staff and employees engaged
When approaching the potential merger with PwC, the most important issue for Rob personally was to make sure the two companies were compatible and would be successful after the merger occurred.
"One of the first things I wanted to know is: What's your strategy? What's the culture of your organisation and how do you define it? Is there an alignment between these organisations and is the chemistry right?" said Rob.
"We also had a welcoming party for clients so there was an opportunity to meet the new owners of the business."
While the change from independent company through to merging with PwC was a major shift, Rob pursued a comprehensive engagement strategy to build support across both staff members and his client base.
"We've had a very good retention rate for clients. At the beginning of the process I asked them: This is my approach, what do you think? What are your concerns? We posed the same question to staff to ensure there was a feedback loop where both staff and clients feel valued," said Rob.
Maintaining consistent client service
Among the single largest benefit that Rob has seen come out of the acquisition was the greater range of services that staff now have access to, thanks to working with a much larger organisation.
"[The acquisition was] challenging but interesting - the benefits that came from having greater bandwidth around service line offerings and a talent pool were significant," said Rob. "From a core purpose point of view, there was an alignment with the services we were then able to offer and the objectives of our clients."
Perhaps most importantly, Rob's own experience as a business owner and now as an advisory principal has informed his work with other companies that are facing the same challenges.
For the last 16 years, Rob has also been a TEC member, and has seen the impact of this membership both on his own work and in his time as a business leader himself.
"My personal purpose in life is to enhance people's lives, through either their business performance or their personal situation," said Rob.
"To do that, you have to maintain fitness and energy, manage mood, you need to lead and you have to be someone with an appetite for continuous learning. That is why I have been in TEC for as long as I have - because I have a passion for learning and to remain relevant to the market I am advising."
Part of this value specifically for Rob comes from the focus on personal skills that TEC speakers provide. From Emotional Intelligence to credibility and trust, the topics covered through TEC span many of the same areas that Rob sees affecting the businesses he works with.
Navigating the lifecycle of a business - the get fit, get big, get funding and get out - can be a challenge even for those offering professional corporate development advice. However, Rob's experience proves that, with the right approach, it is possible to maintain an organisation's core focus and values, even through times of significant change.