100 years strong

In an exclusive interview with South East Business, Carpenter Box‘s managing partner Alan Edwards discusses the firm’s phenomenal century-long journey and ambitious growth strategies for the future

Last year marked a truly momentous occasion for Carpenter Box, an award-winning firm of chartered accountants, chartered tax advisers, business consultants and independent financial advisers, as it celebrated its centenary – an extraordinary 100 years in business! This remarkable milestone is one that few companies have the privilege to reach. What, then, is the secret behind Carpenter Box’s enduring success?

Established in 1923 by Robert Carpenter and Harold Box in Worthing, Carpenter Box began as a traditional small accountancy firm. For the initial six decades, its operations resembled those of its humble beginnings, hardly differing from its inception in the 20s. However, the winds of change swept through the firm in the 1980s, initiating a significant phase of modernisation. This transformative journey continued through the 2000s, during which Carpenter Box managed to preserve its family feel while experiencing substantial growth.

Alan Edwards, managing partner of Carpenter Box, reflects on the past two decades as a testament to the firm’s innovative and forward-thinking ethos. He explains: “We were eager to adopt new technologies, recruit fresh talent externally, cultivate our homegrown talent, modernise our branding, and create dedicated departments and sectors to better cater to our clients’ needs. This new structural approach not only facilitated the expansion of our team but also provided them with opportunities to develop their skills and broaden their knowledge.”

With a team comprising 18 partners and over 250 staff spread across offices in Worthing, Crawley, Brighton, Chichester, Hampshire and London, Carpenter Box provides a full range of accounting, tax and advisory services to help clients successfully develop their businesses and navigate the constantly changing commercial landscape. Alan emphasises: “At Carpenter Box, we offer better levels of technical experience than many of our larger national competitors, while our breadth and depth of expertise give us more to offer than other independent regional firms. Our partner-led and sector-focused service sets us apart, enabling us to provide added value beyond traditional compliance work. We believe we offer real value for money from a specialist team who truly care about their clients and the local community.”

Carpenter Box has served as the cornerstone of Alan’s career, marking his entry into the accounting world as a trainee in the 1990s. “I became a little disillusioned with my A-level choices after my first year and decided to switch to a professional qualification, enrolling in AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians,” he shares. I became aware of a trainee position at Carpenter Box through my college and applied for the position. Thankfully, I was successful and became a trainee by the end of my first year at the firm.”

Upon completing his AAT exams, Alan advanced to the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), achieving qualification in 1998. Despite tempting offers to venture into industry after amassing five years of invaluable experience, Alan’s allegiance remained steadfast with Carpenter Box, driven by his passion for practice, and in 2006, he became partner.

Throughout his tenure, Alan has worked with a diverse portfolio of SME clients, with a specialism in the healthcare sector. The highlight, he says, was assuming the role of managing partner in 2015. Since then, Alan has helped to lead Carpenter Box through a period that has seen significant change in the industry.

Carpenter Box at the British Accountancy Awards

Within the Carpenter Box board, there is a strong ethos centred on mutual support and collaboration. As managing partner, Alan endeavours to embody this in his leadership approach. “I would say my management style is about focusing on teamwork, openness and making sure everyone is on board for the journey. I firmly believe that effective business leadership involves being empathetic and adaptable, especially with a team of over 250 people. It’s essential to have a clear vision for where we’re headed as a business.”

In his role, Alan prioritises inclusivity, striving to unite individuals and ensure that all voices are heard – a task, he asserts, that is made more complex by the diverse composition of the 18-partner board. “I strive to strike a delicate balance between fostering democratic participation and making decisive decisions, and that can be a challenge. Ultimately, my aim is to create an environment of collaboration, building trust and achieving success together as a team.”

Despite facing numerous challenges in recent years, like many other UK businesses, Alan attributes Carpenter Box’s continued growth and success to its steadfast commitment to client-centred service and its incredible team. Reflecting on the tumultuous impact of Covid-19 and Brexit, he acknowledges the significant hardships endured by clients and the local business community. “To overcome these challenges, we focused on what we do best: supporting our clients and staff through tough times, while also stepping up as a supportive resource within the community. We set up information hubs, ran regular webinars and events, offered guidance and made sure to look after our staff, including their emotional wellbeing. By adapting swiftly and leveraging our expertise, we navigated through these setbacks.”

Transitioning into the post-Covid landscape, recruitment posed another challenge for professional service businesses like Carpenter Box. This prompted a thorough review of the firm’s employer brand and a concerted effort to redefine how it showcases accountancy as a career choice. Carpenter Box also took further steps to support staffing, including developing an internal communications strategy and further integrating its HR and marketing teams. The business has been successful in continuing to grow its headcount, year on year, despite the challenges within the industry, and recently saw its Employer Net Promoter Score increase by 40%.

Carpenter Box has experienced remarkable growth over the past decade, and Alan, along with his fellow partners, is determined to sustain this momentum – a commitment underscored by the company’s recent decision to align with accountancy and professional services group Sumer. “The most important decision for me was ensuring we joined an organisation that shared our vision and values, so we could continue to operate and run Carpenter Box in a way that has been successful for the past 100 years.”

Alan Edwards and senior partner John Billings

With exciting strategic initiatives on the horizon spanning Sussex, Hampshire and beyond, Carpenter Box is devoted to nurturing its team, particularly the emerging generation of partners. Through partnering with the Sumer Group, the firm aims to amplify its growth and expand its presence across the South East, thereby providing unparalleled opportunities for both its people and clients.

The past year has been nothing short of exhilarating for Carpenter Box. Culminating its centenary celebrations, the business embarked on a westward expansion through a merger with local firm Jones Avens, establishing new offices in Chichester and Portsmouth. Alan highlights the strategic alignment between the firms, emphasising their shared commitment to excellence in customer service and the opportunity to enhance service offerings within the region.

Continuing to strengthen its international presence, Carpenter Box remains dedicated to assisting businesses in navigating complex global landscapes, supported by its membership in PrimeGlobal, a leading association of independent accounting firms and business advisers worldwide. Moreover, the firm proudly offers a robust Outsource Finance Function service, helping businesses unlock their full potential by outsourcing their back-office tasks and finance functions.

Last but not least, Alan points out, it’s an exciting time for Carpenter Box’s influencer brand StarBox, which caters to a portfolio of rising stars, including online content creators, streamers and gamers, simplifying financial management and empowering these individuals to navigate their careers with ease and confidence.

Looking ahead to the next 100 years, aligned with its forward-thinking ethos, Carpenter Box is fiercely committed to forging a brighter future for clients and team members alike, and has its aspirations set high on becoming the premier accountancy firm in the South East. The focus will be on strategic growth, delivering value-added services and prioritising strong client relationships, and the company plans to invest in its workforce and technology to sustain its growth strategy and remain a trusted advisor for SMEs across the region.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View from the Top

Clean sweep

The English Soap Company, now led by managing director Oliver Butts, is a family-run business that has not only stood the test of time but flourished

Read More
View from the Top

Sowing the seeds

William English CBE, a seasoned veteran and the proprietor of Owen English & Son, is strategically diversifying to ensure the long-term sustainability of his business

Read More
View from the Top

Buy local

Floortje Hoette, CEO of Produced in Kent, is passionate about supporting Kent’s independent food and drink sector and helping it thrive

Read More