Firm profile: Manby & Steward

Manby & Steward has just had a record-breaking year. The firm’s corporate deal list, which includes the management buyouts of QA Ironbridge and Circus Technologies, is its best ever.

Based in the Midlands and Shropshire, Manbys is best known for commercial property and corporate services. It represents a number of large companies in the region and, with its future plans to expand and recent efforts to raise awareness both locally and nationally, chief executive Valerie Bowles is determined to position the firm as “the obvious choice west of Birmingham”.

Bowles left Reynolds Porter Chamberlain last year, where she was practice director, to become Manbys’ first chief executive. “The West Midlands is an evolving area,” she says, “and working here is both refreshing and rewarding. Our clients tend to be very commercially aware of their situation. You become a part of the local community, conducting business in the morning and then bumping into one another in the supermarket later that evening. It’s a much more real world for me.”

Bowles’ appointment has seen a change in the way the firm is managed. Instead of having to divide time between fee-earning and managing the firm, the partners can instead concentrate on their practices, while Bowles devotes her time to running the business.

“It’s a tough but rewarding role,” she says. “Lawyers are naturally inquisitive, and are doubly so when it’s their practice that’s in yours hands.”

Manbys has strong commercial property teams in all four of its offices. Ten of its senior lawyers specialise in property, and one lawyer, Niall Blackie, has a national reputation for town and country planning.

The property teams engage in all aspects of the industry and are often asked to advise on agricultural matters for private clients with large property interests in the area.

Indeed, the firm acts for a number of renowned private clients. “The region is historically recognised for its industrial heritage, and many of the families who’ve become household names still maintain ties in the area,” explains Bowles.

The firm carries out ecclesiastical work and represents the diocese of Lichfield as well as the Crown Estate. “A large proportion of this work is advising on property-related issues, such as change of use and agricultural matters,” adds Bowles. “I feel particularly proud that the firm represents organisations that have been a part of our society for such a long period of time.”

With an annual turnover of just under £5m, the firm has seen a steady increase in profits over the last two years and has expanded considerably. The appointment of David Hughes in November 2002 as a consultant was a significant addition to corporate, while a new corporate partner, Andrew Wynne, is due to join in January 2004.

“The unusually large range of services we offer within this field constantly surprises our clients,” says Bowles. “I feel that this is one of the reasons why we as a firm are expanding over and above many of our competitors.”

Manby & Steward
Chief executive Valerie Bowles
Turnover Approximately £5m
Number of equity partners 13
Total number of partners 18
Total number of lawyers 12, plus two consultants
Main practice areas Corporate, property and private client
Key clients Crown Estate, Ferro (Great Britain), Lichfield Diocesan Board of Finance, Lichfield Diocesan Trust, QA (Ironbridge), Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries
Number of offices Four
Location Bridgnorth, Telford and two in Wolverhampton