The art of growing a family run professional services firm

Growing any business is rarely a walk in the park, but coming in as an outsider to grow a 35-year old, family-run legal services firm is even harder still.

Peter Petyt, CEO of Kain Knight, shares his thoughts on how he is setting about his task of taking over a family-fund firm, and suggests that the odd eggshell might need to be broken in the process.

Growing a family-owned professional services firm is the challenge I took on in April when I became the CEO of Kain Knight, one of the country’s largest firms of specialist costs lawyers.

Kain Knight is a profitable firm in a very interesting market, with around 100 staff working out of three offices in the south of England, and a client base that includes many of the leading UK law firms.

In appointing me, the business is casting its eye firmly on the future. The Kain family, several of whom work in the business, saw the need to plan for the eventual retirement and exit of the founder Michael Kain, and recognised that this would involve bringing in new external investors to buy some of his stake and help fund the future growth of the business

This growth can be achieved in several ways. The costs market is highly fragmented and there are definite benefits in consolidation. I am therefore already in discussions with a number of parties about creating the largest costs group in the UK, which will have real critical mass and benefit from economies of scale. 

We are also targeting a number of new sources of business from the large list of legal contacts which I and the two non-executive directors (recommended and appointed by me) have accumulated over the years, and additionally we are looking to diversify our offering with new synergistic services. 

All of this means that a great deal of change needs to take place in the business but fortunately the Kain family are excited by what they see happening. Nonetheless, I have to navigate a careful path between maintaining stability and driving transformation. Having been involved in my own family’s graphics business in the 90’s, I am fortunately very aware of the problems that can arise between family and non-family members of the business, especially at senior level.

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So far, my ride has been as smooth as I could have hoped. I have made good communication a top priority in helping keep everyone on side. I know that if I don’t clearly communicate the new direction of the firm, the rumour mill will take over, and we could risk losing good staff to competitors and damaging morale. And so I have made it a priority to brief all the senior figures in the business and to encourage them to share their opinions on how best to grow Kain Knight.

I am trying to spend as much time as I can with the staff, via team and office lunches, away days, social events etc, so that everyone knows about the new direction of the firm and understands the need for change.

Some of the changes which were required were relatively straightforward, for example improving the style and content of presentation material. Other changes, including some major upgrades to the firm’s IT, will take time and will need a proper project management approach. Perhaps the biggest internal change will be the way in which the performance of our senior fee earners is measured, as I believe we need to move towards a professional services model such as that which is used by the more sophisticated firms of lawyers and accountants. We will no doubt have to turn to advisors and external consultants for help in these matters as our journey develops.

As CEO, it’s my role to bring in change and I must focus on targets and results. There’s only so much avoiding treading on eggshells I can do if Kain Knight is to become a larger, more diverse, more profitable firm.

And let’s be frank, in order to be attractive to an external investor, our key mission has to be to evolve into a modern and innovative professional services firm.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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