David Williams: Why I retired from Hazlewoods and what I plan to do now

David Williams, one of the most respected faces on the Gloucestershire business scene, and an architect of one of its best-known firms, Hazlewoods, has retired. Aged just 52, SoGlos asked him why, and what he’s doing next...

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published

David Williams started at Hazlewoods in 1988 aged 19 and has been with the firm ever since, helping steer its fortunes – and that of the many Gloucestershire businesses he became a trusted advisor to as well.

Those able in mathematics, albeit at a more rudimentary level than Hazlewoods’ staff are familiar with, will have worked out this is an early retirement. He is 52.

His departure leaves many questions… why, arguably at the peak of power, move on? How does he reflect on his time at the firm? How is Gloucestershire as it emerges from the pandemic? What next?

SoGlos found out more…

Hazlewoods’ reputation goes before it. It is challenging, exciting work. You are in your early fifties. Why retire now?

‘I always said I wanted to do something different in my fifties. It would be very easy to stay doing what I am doing until I’m 60. This will force me to do something quite different.

Your family background was no silver-spooned journey. Was there one thing that changed your direction?

‘I left school with one A-Level. My world had fallen apart. I thought ‘what will I do?’. There was a HND in business and finance at a college. It was a course running parallel to a degree course in accounting and finance.

‘A lot of the course modules were the same as the degree course. A teacher took me to one side and said ‘you are outperforming a lot of the undergraduates – you might just have a talent for this’. I think it was at that point I thought ‘accounting could be for me’.

‘I always thought I worked quite hard, but when I got onto some of the accountancy courses through Hazlewoods I realised that the reason others were getting better grades was because they worked really hard.

‘I knew if I worked as hard – or harder than them – this was my chance to make something of myself.’

What was it about Hazlewoods that attracted you – and made you stay?

‘When I joined Hazlewoods in 1988 the business was a lot smaller – probably doing a £3 to £4 million turnover, I am guessing. When I became a partner in 2000 we turned over £6.4 million, and we have now passed £32 million. That’s good growth. The firm has always been entrepreneurial.

‘What really gave the firm dynamic growth was the advent of specialisms – health care, legal, veterinary, health, farms and estates, manufacturing, property… this moved it away from being about general practice.

‘It has also always had exceptional partners, charismatic and exceptionally technically competent. It has always been good at developing people. It has always had a healthy competitive tension and a great bunch of positive people who care.’

Where do you think your strengths lay, and what will you miss?

‘Personally, my client base has come via personal recommendation. And if I went for a competitive pitch, I won nine out of 10 of them.

‘There are a multitude of companies I have been with all the way through since they were small and it has been exciting. My work has included restructuring companies as well to make sure they were set up commercially.

‘Many of those I have also helped go on to sell, where the owners have become very wealthy and it was good to help facilitate that – to play my small part in their stories.

‘I have enjoyed working with the entrepreneurs immensely – those who put everything into driving their companies forward.’

There has been the small matter of a pandemic to navigate of late. How has that been?

‘In the last 12 months especially there has been a lot of firms diving deeper into their businesses than ever before and analysing costs to make sure the businesses are fit for purpose going forward.

‘I always say to clients if they want to cut costs, they can always go deeper than they think they can. There has been some of that. But what I have also seen in the last 12 months is cash has not been in as short supply as it was in the financial crisis of 2008/9.

‘The cash-flow cycle seems to be relatively robust. A lot of businesses applied for Covid business loans, but a lot of my clients banked the money as a reserve. When the cash-pinch will come is when firms start growing again.’

What does the immediate economic future look to you?

‘I always tend to look at these things through rose-tinted spectacles. I do think there will be a lot of opportunity. I tend to turn things on their head and think that this is a chance to grow a business. I am positive about the future.

‘I think the successful people are those who have made sure they benefitted from the last 12 months with the longer term in mind.

‘I have not had a single business failure on my client list and I don’t expect there to be any.’
What will they do without you?

I have been telling all of my clients over the last 12 months that I am leaving Hazlewoods. There are some who have been indifferent, but a lot that were disappointed.

I have made sure they all know that the people I have chosen to take over the relationships from me are very good operators. I have even told some of them they are ‘getting an upgrade’.

But, a lot of my clients have become personal friends, so I am sure we will continue to keep in touch.
So, what’s next?

‘It has to be something that really stimulates me. The financial reward will not necessarily be the most important factor – it will be about what I can contribute to help take the business forward.

‘Some people have been approaching me already – which is flattering. There are a few roles people have asked me to consider. One thing is for sure, it will not be with a competitor to Hazlewoods.’

By Andrew Merrell

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