The SME – small and medium sized enterprise – a powerful group of beings, often underestimated, and often disputed by definition; the SME is in fact the livelihood of Leicester, according to Jason Hathaway.
In 2016, there were 5.5 million businesses in the UK. Over 99% of these were small or medium sized businesses, employing 0-249 people, as reported in House of Commons Library Business Statistics briefing paper. Leicester nurtures over 30,000 of these SMEs (Nomisweb 2016) and local solicitor Jason Hathaway, Senior Partner of Edward Hands & Lewis Commercial Law (EHL), focusses his teams services to supporting these companies that are imperative to the local and national economy.
A family business themselves, EHL fill a gap in Leicester’s market by offering valuable assistance to family-run and owner-managed SMEs. There are firm’s that are too small to be able to provide the level of service that EHL can and large firms are often too expensive, leaving SMEs few options when they are in need of legal and commercial aid. EHL are also concerned by the approach many firms take towards their clients and are aware of the stuffy attitude associated with the industry.
Jason, who appeared in the Leicester Mercury's 'Most Influential' list, said: “A lot of law firms cater for large businesses that are already established but very few focus on the SME market. Our typical client turns over £2 or £3million and is family-run or owner-managed. They make up the bread and butter of Leicester but there are very few companies to support them.
“We want to be the lawyer for ordinary folk. We don’t want them to walk out of our offices feeling like they don’t understand something. We want them to walk out feeling that we’re on their side, and they understand the advantages and pitfalls of their case and what the law means to them.”
This intimate service ultimately boils down to who EHL choose to employ. In a nutshell, the company will not employ those who may be considered self-important who risk the clients comfort and confidence.
“We like to employ people with personality and a bit of a story. Rather than someone who’s taken a very structured path in their career, we perhaps prefer someone with a few flaws – maybe things didn’t quite go to plan for them or they decided to take a year out.”
When Jason took over EHL in 2007, the company was made up of just six people and one office in Loughborough. Ten years later and the firm have 14 offices around the UK, over 150 staff and two other businesses, CoLaw and CPA, in the EHL group. In all areas of the business, Jason and his wife Leanne; a chartered tax advisor, along with the other partners Paul Stubbs, Emma Fuller and Andrew Robinson, treat their employees as they would their family.
“A lot of staff have seen us grow and been a big part of that success, and it’s about being a positive influence in their success too. As important as going to work is, I believe there needs to be a ‘why?’ For me it’s my family and it could be something completely different for anyone else here but we’ve created a culture that understands that balance needs to be achieved.”
His employee’s happiness is imperative to the businesses success as he says ‘people buy from people after all,’ which is why Jason has an employee engagement committee to organise staff parties, ‘wow awards’, employees of the month, and huge benefits.
It took a lot to get the business and employees where they are today though. When the family-man took over, the business was a very small traditional practise with no IT systems or email – ‘even though it was 2007!’ The home-grown entity was built from very little through a period of economic turmoil. But with confidence in his own capability, Jason left his previous partnership to take on the firm making his own decisions and mistakes at his own risk.
“The previous owners were good people and I liked how it’d been run. My timing, however, wasn’t the best. I took over in August ’07 and in September people were queuing up outside Northern Rock,” Jason admitted. “Things were very different 10 years ago with the financial banking crisis.”
Looking back, times have changed significantly for EHL and now the group is even looking to expand their offices to the Middle East and Ireland. “With Brexit, clients are looking more outwardly. They’re thinking, ‘should I have a subsidiary abroad?’ because as a country we’re on our own now and we’re looking for a more outward reach to connect with the rest of the world.”
But as far away as Jason takes EHL, the roots of the company will remain firmly in Leicester. Making themselves always accessible to their clients, the company’s offices will only ever be found in towns or on the outskirts of city centres.
Local, family-like service for the modest hero that is the SME is at the core of EHL. Jason, Leanne, Paul, Emma, Andrew and the rest of team will continue to serve them.
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