Rickerby Watterson aims to rival the big regional players
Rickerby Watterson is a very broad-based firm, so much so that some might think it is spread a little thin. The Cheltenham office houses 130 staff, including 17 partners. They are split into 12 areas - agriculture, commercial property, company commercial, education, employment, family law, insolvency, IT and e-commerce, litigation, private client, asset management and residential property. Managing partner Mark Fabian insists that growth is consistent across the board and turnover is up 13 per cent on last year at £6m. Fabian says: "We couldn't say that any one area is doing any better than another. We've recently had a good look at our plans for the future and identified 12 specialist areas, each working on a business plan. We find that different parts of the business feed off each other." Rickerby Watterson's roots can be traced to 1796, when Walter Hylton Jessop founded Jessop & Son. Various mergers, culminating when Rickerby Jessop joined Watterson Todman five years ago, gives the firm its present shape and size. The firm acts for a subsidiary of Whitbread and has recently handled a block disposal of 200 premises as part of its reorganisation. This is the largest deal Rickerby Watterson has handled in the past year. Whitbread and Lloyds TSB have recently reviewed their panels and retained Rickerby Watterson. Other clients include Group 4 for property work, Rapid Racking and Ecclesiastical Insurance. The firm has recently handled a deal for Gloucestershire College of Arts and Technology involving the acquisition of a 7.2-acre site. The firm boasts a strong education practice, counting Cheltenham Ladies College and Clifton College in Bristol as key clients. It also acts for Ucas. On the e-commerce side, the firm also counts the British Internet Development Association among its clients. The partnership seems settled. Partner Paul Youde left in 1999 to become a parish priest, but other than that there has been little movement since a certain amount of fall-out after the merger five years ago. Fabian has recruited from the larger firms, including taking Tim Walker from Norton Rose four years ago. The firm is aiming for 50 per cent growth in three years. Fabian wants to compete more aggressively with the larger Birmingham and Bristol firms, seeking national recognition. It remains to be seen whether a firm with such a broad base will succeed at that. Fabian concedes that he may have to concentrate on particular areas, namely education and e-commerce. Group 4's company secretary James Gordon has nothing but praise for Rickerby Watterson, citing it as prompt, efficient, friendly and cost effective, at nearly half the cost of the main Birmingham and London firms. Gifts of garden gnomes may or may not have influenced his judgement. But another client illustrated perfectly the hurdle faced by nearly all small and medium-sized regional firms - how to retain clients on the bigger deals. He praised the firm for being responsive but said he would still go to his London-based advisers for bigger deals.