On 1 February 1984, Pearse Trust was founded in Dublin, Ireland by our current Managing Director, Joseph A. Hickey, as a sole practitioner. In the intervening years, Pearse Trust has established further offices in Ireland, the UK, the USA, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. To mark the 30th anniversary, Mr Hickey agreed to give a short, personal interview.
Why Did You Start Pearse Trust?
Back in the midst of time, when I was working for what was then the new Ernst & Whinney in Ireland, which is now Ernst & Young, I got the task, when I was 24, of re-organising, or perhaps more correctly, establishing, the company secretarial department.
When the department was running to my satisfaction and, more importantly, to the satisfaction of the Firm, I wanted to market the service to other accountancy Firms. I made this proposal to the Partners, but they decided that they did not want to do that. They wanted me to stay focused on the existing clients of the Firm.
I was 26 by then and wanted to develop my career. Touche Ross, which is now Deloittes, had just established in Ireland following a merger of 4 smaller Irish firms, and was advertising for a manager for their new company secretarial department.
I arrived in the first day and got a desk, a chair and a phone and they said please organise us! Over the next 2 years I did that, having recruited a number of staff. I asked the Firm if I could expand the service to offer it to other professional firms, but they said no, which was a repeat of my E&W(Y) experience.
Around that time, a Touche Ross partner and 3 managers decided to form their own practice and invited me to join them as an equal partner responsible for the company secretarial practice. Given my frustrated ambitions with the 2 previous Big 4 Firms, this was attractive to me.
However, whilst there were many Firms who would have been happy for me to undertake their company secretarial work, they were not so keen to work with me when my other partners were an accountancy partner, a tax partner, an audit partner and an insolvency partner.
They considered, probably rightly so in hindsight, that if I did a good job for their clients, there would be an assumption that my other partners would deliver a similar service and they would lose their clients!
So, within a very short space of time, I left the partnership and set up a completely independent company secretarial practice, called Pearse Trust. The intention was to provide a company secretarial service to firms of accountants and, to a lesser extent, solicitors, who were not large enough to have their own company secretarial staff.
How Has Pearse Trust Changed Since 1984?
In 1984, the focus was on domestic company secretarial practice and company formations, and also providing a management service to trade associations. Given my background in the management of Irish table tennis that was an easy add-on to our services and over the next couple of years we developed several clients in that area. We continued with that type of work up until the mid-90s.
The big change for Pearse Trust was when we started dealing with overseas clients, which happened in 1989. That came about because of a change in UK legislation, where they announced the abolition of the widely used UK non-resident company. Ireland still had the non-resident company so we targeted professional firms overseas, who had previously worked with UK non-resident companies, to see if they were interested in Irish non-resident companies.
This gave us our entrée into European clients. In fact, we originally started in the Channel Islands and moved on from there into Switzerland and elsewhere. As we developed those relationships, opportunities came about to provide other services, other than just Irish services, to the same clients and that has continued over the years. Indeed, if you look at the client base, there are international Firms who first became clients of ours in 1989 and 1990, who are still clients today.
Having gone into international markets in 1989 just providing company formation and secretarial services, as the relationships and the range of countries that we covered expanded, rather than subcontracting out the accounting and tax work, we built our own internal departments, and we now have an accounting department in London, and tax departments in London and Dublin.
Where Does The Name Pearse Trust Come From?
I always thought that it was very restrictive for solicitors and accountants who set up businesses, calling it after themselves. If you start off with one person, after a certain period there might be a second partner, so they would like to have their name as part of the business, and then a third and maybe a fourth, and then at that stage you might decide 3 or 4 names are enough. When additional new partners come along there are issues because they are not part of the name of the practice. So I decided to pick a neutral name.
At the time, the tradition in Dublin was that the company secretarial departments in accountancy practices were called after well-known streets in Dublin; Merrion, Stephen and Clare were all in use. Pearse was available and it also had the advantage that Padraig Pearse was a great Irish historical figure.
How Has The Recent Economic Crisis Affected Pearse Trust? Or Has It?
There is no doubt that if we look at the figures, our existing clients who were doing a certain amount of business in say 2006 and compare their figures right through to 2012, the number of new cases from existing clients has declined. Fortunately, because we have spent a lot of time and effort in developing new services and new clients, the reduction in demand from existing clients has been eased by new business from new clients.
Would You Change Anything You Have Done Over The Years?
It is easy to look back from the comfort of where Pearse Trust is today and say “well if I had known that we were going to be successful” we might have done things differently, either by expanding our services or our locations, or indeed our personnel, at a faster pace.
However, I have always taken the view that you can only “call it as you see it” with the information then available to you, and against that background, I am not sure that Pearse Trust should have progressed any differently. Probably, the one other area that we should have pushed much earlier on was our language skills.
I suppose the approach to everything has been conservative. It is very easy as the MD (of a professional services business) to say “let’s expand”, “let’s recruit more staff” and “let’s do x, y and z” and, if it does not work, then there is a great deal of suffering for the organisation as you have to prune back and make redundancies. We prefer to try something, to experiment, to see if it works and, if it does, do more of it. If it is not working, then we will move to reduce our involvement in that area.
There has been a lot of this over the years, but it has happened in such a subtle way that people are probably not really aware that it is happening. So it has been more of a steady, almost creeping, upward development approach, rather than a very big step forward, sudden stop, perhaps into reverse, and then forward again. Perhaps the tortoise and the hare come to mind.
And What Do You See For Pearse Trust In 2014, And Beyond?
We will continue to promote our core values of quality of service and expertise, to clients and prospects, so in that sense that will not change.
In the last couple of years, we have expanded into Canada, New Zealand and Mexico City, so 2014 will see a consolidation of those newer operations.
We will also see a push to develop a broader business development approach. By that I mean historically business development was the responsibility of a small number of people. Moving forward we are going to expand the number of people involved in the client management and business development area.
We are going to ask our existing technical people in the various groups to expand their function beyond just doing the work for clients, but actually taking the responsibility for managing that client and seeing how we can better service, or indeed expand our service, with that client.
To Conclude, Are You Glad You Started Pearse Trust?
That is an interesting question. I think the answer has to be yes. However, if I had known in advance the challenges that would have to be faced, the tremendously long hours, the set backs and disappointments and other such adventures along the way, I might not have had the courage to make that “leap of faith” 30 years ago. Of course, I am delighted now and I look forward with confidence to working with my colleagues here in Pearse Trust for a great many more years!