Professional advisory specialist launches with ambitious growth targets

From left: James Groot, John Hughes, Nicola Merritt
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New professional services team, Cortus Advisory Group, is drawing on a wealth of experience to target post-pandemic opportunities throughout the region.

Led by Nicola Merritt, the independent business advisory team will provide transaction services and corporate advisory services to corporates, PE Houses, financial institutions and entrepreneurs.

Nicola has launched the team alongside founding members James Groot and John Hughes and has also been joined by transaction services partner, Jenny Kirkham, with the team having previously worked together as senior members of KPMG’s deal advisory team.

Preston-based Cortus Advisory Group will primarily focus on supporting management teams and investors to gain control, visibility and direction of an organisation’s financial footprint by leveraging collective deal advisory experience gained over 300+ engagements.

Cortus is already a team of 11 based across the North West and North East. The group has grown rapidly and aims to expand the team to 25 professionals over the next 18 months with further regional and service lines anticipated in the future.

Since inception in late 2020, the team has already provided financial due diligence services on seven buy side acquisitions and is currently working across a wide breadth of projects including assisting clients with non-core disposals, private equity sale processes, MBOs, business modelling and data analytics.

Cortus’s client base includes several Top Track 100 UK corporates and it has a strong pipeline of work ahead.

Nicola, who was a senior member of KPMG’s transaction services team before joining as a partner at Dow Schofield Watts in 2014, said: “Speaking with the local business community, I believe there is a gap in the market for a truly independent team that is able to be agile and act at pace without the constraints of big firm conflicts and regulatory pressures.

“We are all highly experienced in our own fields and have been able to attract some extremely well respected and talented individuals to join us. We have made a fantastic start and are growing the team to match the demand for our services.”

She added: “We expect the upturn we have seen in deal activity in the first half of the year to continue as acquisitive businesses refocus on their growth plans, private equity investors seek to deploy unspent funds and sellers look to realise value.

“The North has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and we have seen many businesses invest rapidly in technology and innovation during the pandemic which has helped them increase in scale and quality and will lead to attractive M&A opportunities.”

James Groot, a former KPMG restructuring director who has been working on an independent basis since 2018, advising a wide variety of clients from large utilities and retail organisations through to SMEs, will lead the corporate advisory team focused on supporting businesses and their management teams through a transaction, restructuring or major change.

James said: “Unprecedented is a well-used word at present, but that is exactly what government support for UK businesses has been throughout the last 14 months.

“It has created stability and with it some degree of certainty, but at some point, that support will come to an end.

“The key differentiator between those businesses that will subsequently thrive and those that do not is the management teams and their readiness for change.

“Our solutions-focused approach tailors our support to our clients’ needs as we work side by side with management and their stakeholders.”

John Hughes, previously a senior KPMG partner and more recently the former executive chairman at Yodel Logistics, will join the business as chairman and will also lead on board room support and business transformation.

He joins the business after four years in industry and said: “Having had the opportunity to be both an advisor and principal it was apparent to me that often the existing approach to giving M&A advice does not tend to take account of deeper business fundamentals, such as people behaviours, culture and values.

“There is a clear demand for real opinion that goes beyond a set of numbers, and this is something that Cortus will focus on.”

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