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How is the M&A market?

It is probably worth clarifying that the term M&A is used here to cover a multitude of commercial dealings, growth and sale of businesses in  the SME market here in Surrey and, as such whilst Brexit means many businesses are adopting a wait and see policy, for many more it is business as usual  and the cyclical nature of business life continues. Young companies are growing, struggling companies are being sold or folded, family businesses are passing to the next generation or to third party managers and or investors, successful companies are buying or being bought, and the big fish continue to hunt out the best deals. 

The current market reminds me of a survey we commissioned about seven years ago to explore how Surrey businesses were feeling about the economic climate after the recession. One businessperson came out with a great quote as to how to cope successfully with the changing economic climate, which I think is still appropriate today: “Don’t shelter from the rain, learn to dance in it.” and I think most businesses are in some form or another following this mantra.

Do you see any trends in the market?

We have had a very busy last 18 months as clients wanted to complete
their transactions in good time  before Brexit but, that said, as mentioned earlier, I do not think Brexit has been a major block on deals.

We have noticed that there is an increasing reluctance for buyers to pay for anything with their own money (a business strategy we would endorse when acting for a buyer!) and funding obtained based on security provided by the acquired business and financed by the acquired business post sale is common place. The banks and private equity houses continue to offer funding, but they remain risk averse and lending is often on terms which although to be expected, remain out of acceptable reach of many potential borrowers.

Can you describe how Hart Brown’s Commercial team operates?

We offer a partner-led service with excellent support from our experienced
team. We are part of a sizeable corporate division which includes commercial property, commercial dispute resolution and employment so we can deal with most of what is thrown at us. If we can’t deal with it we know someone who we trust who can. This extends to an excellent referrer network of likeminded professional firms we work with on a regular basis and are delighted to refer to our clients.

We look to get things done within the time frames and cost estimates provided and very much look to provide a commercial approach to our legal service. Unless there is a requirement for it, we will avoid long complicated documents and as we have seen most types of transactions relevant to the UK SME market and worked in an extremely wide variety of sectors, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just work off what we know already works.

You have grown rapidly - will this continue?

You are either a big dog in London, a niche boutique company who can be based anywhere, or you are a full service national or regional law firm which is big enough to look after itself. We of course fall into the latter category and with a strong commercial team, with a hundred years under our belt, an excellent and ever expanding client base and a first class set of lawyers we are expecting to continue to flourish and grow. The ones who I think will struggle are the ones who present themselves as all-rounders but don’t have specialist knowledge or infrastructure and back-up.

As a firm you have always focused on Surrey - why is this a good place to do business?

We are at the heart of a thriving business community here in Guildford which positions itself, rightly in my opinion, as a viable alternative to London firms. We are located close to two major airports,  - the A3 / M3 / M4 corridors, we have an office in the thriving hub of Woking and we pride ourselves on being linked closely with Surrey Hills Enterprises and in supporting local businesses in the areas we cover. 

That said our commercial offering  is not really restricted by location and our clients and transactions extend from London to the south coast, so you could say we cover “London, Surrey, and the South”. 

What business sectors will be strong in the future?

Big question. I expect there will be further developments in preserving our water supplies and in energy (natural and renewable) and then there is the pace of growth in technological advancement and particularly in AI which will impact us all including in professional services such as legal firms. Lots to think about – but mainly by people far cleverer than me – I think we will stick to our day job and in making sure that the legal structures are in place to assist these businesses once those new ideas, systems and developments come to life.

To contact James or a member of his team, please email or call 01483 887766

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