Malcolm Wright CA: what matters when you’re building a business

Boston
Andrea Murad By Andrea Murad, CA Today

4 December 2018

ICAS speaks with Malcolm Wright CA, Managing Director & COO, Alvarez & Marsal Valuation Services, about private equity, building a team and engaging employees.

What interested you in accounting?

I graduated with a business degree with a focus on economics from what is now Robert Gordon University; I wasn’t able to find a corporate job as the economy was in a deep recession but was offered an apprenticeship with Williamson & Dunn in Aberdeen with the help of my former accounting professor, John Kellock CA.

I was in London during the aftermath of the ‘big bang’ in financial services deregulation, and the crash of 1987.

I found I liked accounting and was reasonably good at it. We had a wide range of clients: small businesses, public companies, and local authorities. When I qualified, I was advised to move to London so I accepted an offer with Peat Marwick’s London office in 1985. I was there during the aftermath of the ‘big bang’ in financial services deregulation, and the crash of 1987.

I gained a lot of experience very quickly and worked on some high-profile clients in aerospace and shipbuilding. I was accepted into their international rotation program where you could go abroad for two years, and after three years in London, I moved to Boston.

Malcolm Wright CAWhat was your experience working in the states?

I enjoyed working in the States - it was a good change of pace from London; the people were welcoming and Boston is a great city in which to live. Although the auditing wasn’t very interesting I was able to get a good amount of deal work as there was little M&A experience in the Boston office.

I worked on a lot of cross-border deals, domestic deals and gained exposure to the US capital markets through public company auditing and debt and securities offerings.

My stay kept getting extended because of the volume of deal work, and eventually, I said I wanted to stay permanently.

How did you transition into private equity work?

I was primarily an auditor who did due diligence as a sideline with a few others in the firm, and we were lucky enough to get in on the early growth of the private equity industry. We had one of the bigger private equity funds in Boston as a client, and we did their deal work all over the country.

After eight years, I only had one or two audit clients and 80% of my time was doing M&A due diligence work both for this fund, several spin-out funds, and some new funds who had heard of our expertise in this area.

Eventually, KPMG started a separate M&A due diligence group and I transferred out of audit permanently. I made partner in 1997, and we added another two partners and grew the Boston team to about 15 people servicing private equity and corporate clients.

We grew a successful team of about 300 people and had revenue of just over $100 million in 2007.

As KPMG’s national M&A group came together, we were struggling in NYC, and after speaking with my boss about how to fix it, they gave me a role.

I still ran the Boston team and commuted three days a week from Boston to New York on the shuttle. In 2001, my wife and I had our first daughter and it became obvious that due to growth in New York it made sense to move there otherwise I wouldn’t be home much!

We grew a successful team of about 300 people and had revenue of just over $100 million in 2007 when I moved to be a Global Client Service Partner for some of our larger fund clients until I retired in 2009.

What did you do next?

I knew some partners at Alvarez and Marsal and joined them at the end of 2009. I started in the transaction services group but when the firm was looking to get into the valuation business, they asked if I could help them scope out the opportunity.

Once we did that, we spent a year trying to recruit someone to run it and because of my background in practice management they asked me to be the COO. I’ve been doing this for nearly seven years – now, we’ve 80 people and nine offices including three in Europe.

What tips can you give someone who wants to work in the next big industry?

It’s hard to know what the next big thing will be but each of us are faced with opportunities that come our way and it’s our choice whether to take the chance or not. My experience tells me that if you’re waiting for guaranteed success to present itself to you it will be a long wait!

You’ve focused much of your career on developing businesses. What matters when you’re building a business?

Whatever the size of your business, your brand is important. Most of the time when you walk in the door, they’ll let you in because you or your company are qualified to do what you do, but people want to work with people they’re comfortable with.

Win the work based on giving a better product for the money.

It’s about having a good demeanour and communicating in an open and honest way. Always try to bring more value than the competition and win the work based on giving a better product for the money while knowing that your company’s brand got you in the door.

Building the right team is a challenge for any leader. What do you look for when you’re starting up?

It’s really hard, but very important. You have to find people ready for the challenge – you’re appealing to the individual who sees the opportunity of joining a nimble start up. Sometimes, you have to persuade people who view jobs as gigs to make this a longer-term career.

Often, we find people with strong technical skills, but they’re not well rounded because they focused more on finance and accounting in college than liberal arts. Once they’re employed, one of the challenges is teaching them how to communicate with a boss, manager or client in a clear and concise manner.

We struggle to find people with good written and oral communication skills because they’ve focused on the numbers – some effort to improve communication skills is vital.

Whatever the size of your business, your brand is important.

How do you manage your team to keep people engaged and to make sure you’re staffed for the work you have?

Whatever the size of your business, your brand is important. Most of the time when you walk in the door, they’ll let you in because you or your company are qualified to do what you do, but people want to work with people they’re comfortable with.

It’s about having a good demeanour and communicating in an open and honest way. Always try to bring more value than the competition and win the work based on giving a better product for the money while knowing that your company’s brand got you in the door.

How has ICAS helped you in your career?

ICAS gave me a really good technical foundation, and the ICAS brand allowed me to get good opportunities and give me some standing in the business world. There are not many jobs out there now where you can say that a professional qualification is the basis for my career. Even in this modern flexible world, having something like that really does help.


About the author

Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.comFOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.

Topics

  • CA life
  • Business
  • North America

Previous Page