Tim Lincoln on France, exports and EU
BLM met with Grant Thornton South West’s Head of Office Tim Lincoln, to find out more about the firm’s plans for the future.
Can you tell readers about your background?
“I have been at Grant Thornton for twenty years and joined the firm straight after becoming qualified. I have worked in various locations for Grant Thornton such as our Thames Valley, Belfast, Paris and Leeds offices.
“I studied in France and am a Francophile so really enjoyed my time there. It also coincided with the 1998 World Cup in France.
“I moved to Bristol to become Head of Office just over a year ago. I am an audit partner by trade.”
How do France and England compare, as a place to start a business?
“France is very bureaucratic and it’s hard even to open a bank account there, let alone a business.
“In many ways the UK is a very straightforward place to open and operate a business. We do grumble about regulation but it is nothing compared to France.
“People often think you can come over to France and work in the same way, but it’s not the case. You have to follow different procedures and formulas. It is only twenty miles away via the channel; but there are lots of differences.”
What is your vision for Grant Thornton?
“The overriding Grant Thornton vision is to become the go to firm for growth. Whether it is around service lines or sectors, our objective as a team is to be seen by UK corporates as the go to firm for supporting them with their growth ambitions; whether that is around mergers and acquisitions, organic progress or retention.
“Furthermore, our mission as a team isn’t to just work as auditors, or corporate finance people, but to nurture relationships and support them with their ambitions.”
By virtue of your wide client base you will be a good barometer for business. What are the main gripes businesses have?
“Until recently it’s been around raising finance. But now you have the situation where businesses and corporates have more confidence, but the banks have been more cautious.
“There is also a challenge about going international and making the first steps to exporting. You often have companies that can have a turnover of say £200 million and on the face of it look very sophisticated; but may not know about how to export and understand the nitty gritty of going international.”
So what more needs to be done to get businesses exporting?
“We produce a national agents of growth survey, which also has a regional focus and it is partly about exports. If the UK is finding it tough to export then the South West is at the sharp end; and weaker than many other locations.
“A lot of people put it down to culture and confidence because if you’re sat in Belgium all you’ve known is cross-borders.
“It’s very much a mind-set and it should be no different for us than anybody else. There needs to be a real drive to give people the confidence to get on the plane and realise things are different but not insurmountable.
“Half the battle is raising awareness and a role for us is to act as a go-between and speed up discussions.”
Where do you stand on the upcoming EU referendum?
“I think it would be pretty disastrous personally, on so many different levels, if we left the EU. I do believe though that the good that’s come out of it, is a chance to reform the arrangement we have the EU and look at how it works best for us.
“Framing the decision as part of a referendum may not get the best outcome though, as we’re often voting for a different reason and it can become emotive – rather than about what is best for the economic and social future of the UK.”
Do you believe the UK economy is picking up?
“There is no question it is. I have only been here a year so haven’t seen the ups and downs, but from firms we’re talking to, it is definitely getting better.
“There is more activity and more confidence and the conversation is now about how can we grow; how can we employ and how can we take money out? We are having less difficult conversations with clients now.
“And it appears to be sustainable for the time being – but there will always be economic cycles. The one thing that worries me is whether we’ll ever learn; and I’m sure we’ll all over-gear again on housing but it is difficult, because you do need to take risks to get the rewards.”