Director at Douglas Home & Co, Mike Johnston CA, reveals the origin story and future ambitions of the firm
Douglas Home & Co has continued to thrive since the retirement of its founder. Director Mike Johnston CA gives us a tour of the business
Once a first-class cricketer lauded for his medium-paced bowling, Andrew Douglas-Home is now better known as a conservationist. Based in the Scottish Borders, and a nephew of former British Prime Minister Alec Douglas–Home, he was awarded an OBE for his services to fishing and heritage in 2013. But Douglas-Home is also a CA and, after seeking a change from life in London with Deloitte in the 1980s, he returned to his family home in Coldstream and established an accountancy practice in Kelso. It’s been many years since Douglas-Home stepped down from the firm he founded, but his name lives on in Douglas Home & Co, a thriving practice, spreading beyond its Borders heartlands.
Director Mike Johnston CA picks up the story: “I joined in 1998, when there were around 20 of us, and became a partner in 2003, together with Darren Thomson (Managing Director) and Caroline Tice (Director),” he says. “The three of us were at school together in Hawick and knew each other well, so when Andrew decided it was time to step out of the business, we were keen to take it on.”
Johnston, Thomson and Tice (also a CA) remain directors today, creating a strong sense of continuity, while the recruitment of additional directors and colleagues keeps the mindset fresh. “In all honesty, we were pretty wet behind the ears when we were promoted,” smiles Johnston. “But we threw ourselves into the deep end by acquiring several small practices, and that was a good process for us, learning how to manage people and shape the business.”
Johnston didn’t always intend to be an accountant. “I was one of those sad ones at school that loved numbers, annoying all my friends with stats,” he says. “But I actually left school to become a PE teacher. That didn’t go to plan though, and I came back to Hawick to work in a knitwear factory for a few years and think things through. That’s when I figured ‘you’re good at numbers so why don’t you go away and do an accountancy degree?’”
With the new management finding its feet, Johnston left in 2011 and spent three years in Australia. Back in Scotland, he rejoined the firm – initially as an employee, soon after as a partner – which was on the cusp of taking over a practice in Melrose. That was followed by the acquisition of Stark Main & Co in Selkirk, taking staff numbers to around 65.
“While I was away, both the firm and I became more ambitious,” Johnston says. “It was a great experience for me working as an accountant in Brisbane, and I feel I returned with more drive and enthusiasm.”
The business today has around 80 staff across seven offices in the north of England, Borders and Lothians. One month before the outbreak of the pandemic, the practice opened its first Edinburgh office. “As for many people running companies, the first three months of the crisis felt strange and were really just about adapting to the circumstances,” says Johnston. “But from July 2020, we saw businesses start to push forward again, looking for ways to improve, expand and find fresh opportunities, and that’s been good for us. We’ve been very busy ever since.”
The client base at Douglas Home & Co has been highly varied since the beginning, when its founder picked up work from large estates and small local firms – and it covers all the bases today, from sole traders to businesses turning over several million pounds. The practice has a rapidly growing advisory department and handles all the core accountancy disciplines, while the in-house IT team also supports clients with their accounts technology.
“Our priority today is to focus on the quality of service that we’re providing our clients with, rather than growth for growth’s sake,” says Johnston. “That’s not to say that further acquisitions are off the table – we are keen to expand in Edinburgh – but we are in a sweet spot right now. We’re a mid-sized business with a wealth of talent and resources, but we also retain many of the qualities of a small business, with the other directors and I having directly built up strong relationships with our clients. We think that’s a pretty strong balance.”