A pragmatic approach

Nurturing steady, organic growth is top of the agenda for Thomson Snell & Passmore CEO Sarah Henwood

Most SME owners across the South East will be familiar with Thomson Snell & Passmore. This award-winning law firm, headquartered in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, has built a solid reputation for providing a wide range of high-quality legal advice and services to businesses and individuals.

As the oldest law firm in operation in the world, Thomson Snell & Passmore prides itself on its unique lineage, which dates back to the late sixteenth century, and a pragmatic approach is central to the organisation’s ethos. “We are committed to providing exceptional service to our clients, being an active and responsible member of our communities, and fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for our people,” explains CEO Sarah Henwood.

Sarah became CEO of Thomson Snell & Passmore in September 2018. With over 30 years of business experience under her belt, she has spent the majority of her working life specialising in the professional services sector, both for accountancy and law firms. “I have the unusual combination of having lived and worked in the US and Asia, as well as the UK, which has given me an appreciation of multiple cultures and also the different approaches of American, Australian, Asian and British companies,” says Sarah. “I also have significant commercial experience, including holding Board level positions of PLCs and working as CEO of a major royal charity.”

In her current leadership role at Thomson Snell & Passmore, Sarah’s principal focus is on top-line growth and bottom-line performance, covering everything from driving business planning to transforming the business to be as efficient and effective as possible. “I have a particular passion for understanding client needs and ensuring excellent client service lies at the heart of what we do,” explains Sarah. “Equally important is listening to our staff to understand what we’re getting right, what we need to put more focus on and what new things are happening in the market.”

On top of being CEO, Sarah is a member of Thomson Snell & Passmore’s management board and senior management team. She also serves on the Risk & Compliance Committee and the IS steering group, and is director of Law South, a group of like-minded law firms, and governor of North Kent College. This inspiring businesswoman does it all!

Sarah explains that Thomson Snell & Passmore has had a really interesting year so far, which has seen the fruition of some key projects. This includes launching a new website and a new intranet, both of which will help the team communicate more effectively with clients and staff. “We’re always looking for ways to improve our client service and we have also recently carried out a client journey mapping project to help us identify areas where we can continue to improve. As part of this, we have implemented new technology to help drive efficiencies across the firm.”

2023 has also seen some key hires for the company as it continues its growth trajectory. “Interestingly, we have welcomed back members of staff who previously worked at the firm and have now re-joined, which I think is testament to the culture that we work really hard to cultivate,” says Sarah. “We also appointed a new firm charity partner, Demelza, last year and we have been carrying out various fundraising events and volunteering days to help support the vital work it carries out to help children with serious and life-limiting illnesses and their families.”

I ask Sarah the secret to her success in her role as CEO and she pinpoints: “I try to be open, supportive, authentic, approachable and empathetic.” Sarah elaborates: “I think it is very hard to be an effective leader if you don’t listen to and try to understand the people you are trying to lead! I believe that if people feel heard, supported and trusted, then it makes working as a team towards a common goal much easier.”

Sarah recognises that she doesn’t have all the answers and she doesn’t always know best –an admirable quality in a leader. “I am always learning and looking to improve and I am also open to input from everyone around me. I place a huge emphasis on communication. This relates to how I communicate a clear vision for the future of the firm, as well as in actively listening to the ideas, wants and needs of everyone who works here.”

So, what does the future look like for Thomson Snell & Passmore? Sarah and the team will be focused on sustaining the firm’s steady and organic growth. Central to achieving this is continuing to ensure they offer a great place to work, where people can be part of a fantastic culture but also know that they are going to be able to do interesting work and develop their skillsets and career.

Sarah adds: “As the marketplace is much more mobile and fluid, in part due to the lasting impact of Covid, we’re also increasingly reaching beyond our traditional heartlands of Kent and the South East and into Surrey, Essex and London. Many of our clients appreciate our ‘London quality’ service, combined with regional pricing. We will also continue to invest in new technology where it makes commercial sense and can have a direct impact on the level of service we offer to our clients.”

It is set to be an exciting year for Thomson Snell & Passmore, and under Sarah’s leadership, we’re confident that the firm will continue to thrive. “Be authentic, have integrity and listen to what your clients and staff are telling you” is Sarah’s top advice to fellow business owners. She goes on to explain: “Never underestimate the power of culture – it is the one thing that can really set you apart from your competition. It is also something that you have to consistently invest in to ensure it is the best it can be. As a CEO, you are the barometer of your organisation’s culture.”

Sarah’s final words of wisdom are: “Always try and look forward. Thomson Snell & Passmore may be the oldest law firm in operation, but we have only survived this long because we have been able to adapt to change.”

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