Grant Thornton’s new Midlands leader commits to driving growth and inclusivity

Matt Buckingham

After taking the reins as leading business and financial adviser, Grant Thornton’s new practice lead for the Midlands Matt Buckingham, discussed his appointment with and his plans for the region.

With almost three decades of experience, Buckingham has embraced the challenge of expanding the firm’s footprint whilst nurturing local businesses throughout the region — a role he describes as “incredibly rewarding”.

Buckingham outlined his commitment to community engagement and staff involvement beyond office walls and hopes to foster an even more inclusive environment for Grant Thornton’s 600 staff in the Birmingham and Leicester offices.

Grant Thornton’s Birmingham team are based in the landmark 103 Colmore Row

He spoke with West Midlands Editor Anna Cooper during his first quarter in post about the optimism in the market, plans for the offices and the ever-growing topic of ESG.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to work closely with local businesses to help them grow and solve their issues,” said Buckingham.

He believes there’s been a turning point in business confidence since November, despite how challenging macroeconomic conditions have been.

“Whilst, yes, there has been a technical recession and things have been tough – our conversations with local firms show the tide is turning.

“Grant Thornton’s Business Outlook Tracker – which surveyed 100 Midlands mid-sized businesses in early February showed that 65% of businesses now expect profits to rise over the next 12 months and 73% of business leaders are optimistic about the outlook of the UK economy. These figures are a big jump from November, demonstrating that confidence is starting to build in the market.”

While they remain high, the steadying of interest rates over the last few months has also reaffirmed growing confidence, says Buckingham, and with that confidence “you start seeing an increase in investment”.

“We’re seeing this optimism reflected in conversations with businesses and also through our survey where 54% expect to increase their investment in skills and 37% are focused on investing further in technology”.

The firm itself is “cautiously optimistic” about the market during this period where businesses are grappling with unstable trading conditions, ESG challenges, recruitment difficulties, skill set demand and changing corporate reporting and tax landscapes.

“We’ve also got a general election coming up and on one hand that presents some uncertainty as to what’s going to happen after polling day.

“But from a deals perspective, we’ve seen a desire to get agreements over the line before a potential change in government”.

93% of lenders surveyed by Grant Thornton are also expecting ESG-based mid-market lending to increase, with 85% of them considering the ESG status of a potential borrower as a credit score factor.

“Sustainable finance has changed within debt capital markets and it’s clearly important to lenders, suppliers, customers and therefore to business leaders.

“Over half of businesses are committed to doing something positive around ESG and have a board member now dedicated to making that change happen. Now, the challenge that we’re seeing and hearing from the firms we work with is: we know we should be doing something about ESG but what are the real pitfalls or challenges?

“A recurring issue for many businesses is that they are really struggling to recruit the right people that can help deliver ESG plans,” says Buckingham.

Taking on a Midlands patch with 600 staff, Buckingham is committed to making sure people thrive at work.

“A big focus of mine is creating an inclusive environment within the office to make sure that no matter what background, belief or culture, people thrive in the office.

“We’re also driving forward with our focus on volunteering but we’d like to do more. We’ll be getting out into the communities and playing our part through initiatives such as the school enterprise programme and RISE”.

Operating across two regions which have “brilliant identities in their own right” Buckingham says there’s a lot to be positive about.

“There’s been a lot of inward investment into the Midlands that draws and retains talent and might help with the skills shortages that we’re seeing”.

Buckingham concludes that leaders based in the Midlands have, “access to the right people, the right skills, the right experience” that will inevitably help to fuel growth in the region.