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James Cowper Kreston’s Mike Bath urges businesses to plan ahead

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Mike Bath’s motivation for joining James Cowper Kreston (JCK) in January 2022 as an Audit and Accounts Partner at its Southampton office is obvious the moment you speak with him.

“This is the right firm for me in terms of never compromising on quality, its standards and very strong vision,” he said. “JCK brings the credibility of its own 100 years of success to its SME client base.”

He has always specialised in supporting mid-market businesses, typically owner-managed companies and those with venture capital or private equity backing.

“No day is the same as any other,” he said. “Typically, I talk with multiple clients each day but don’t always know who it will be. It certainly keeps you on your toes and illustrates JCK’s ‘open door’ policy for clients to reach us.”

Supporting a diverse range of clients across different industry sectors is another motivation. “The core focus of my role is helping clients get where they want to be,” he said.

Business focus

Offering sound business advice to accompany the number crunching is central to JCK’s approach. Mike urges businesses to maximise how they use their financial statements, describing them as dashboards for “telling you where you are, which direction you’re going in and at what speed”.

However, a dashboard alone is only part of the solution; businesses also need a roadmap to plot the direction they want to head in.

“For many business owners, the lifecycle of their company has significant points, such as decisions to sell, retire, a management buy-out or bringing in equity finance. Without the dashboard and roadmap, you can’t plot the course you want to go in,” said Mike.

He adds that as a business adviser, it’s important for him to pick up on the emotional attachment between individuals and their businesses.

“Often the business is their lifeblood and might have been for earlier generations of their family as well. There are strong emotional connections that as accountants and business advisers we need to appreciate,” he said.

Share your plans

A recurring piece of advice he gives to business leaders is to share their plans. He noted:

“Business owners usually have plenty of aspirational vision but it’s sometimes surprising how many find it hard to articulate their plans."

Keeping everyone in the loop is essential, he continued: “Once you have a plan and have decided on your destination, it’s important to make sure all key stakeholders understand it and are on board with it.”

Setting milestones is a useful way to structure business thinking. “A lack of effective communications can be a stumbling block. For example, if you have a succession plan, don’t keep it too close to your chest – share it with the people whose own contribution will be crucial to the plan’s success.”

People focus

For Mike, client relationships aren’t just about checking the numbers once a year. “What I enjoy most are the human relationships. To understand any business, you have to understand the people who own it, run it and work for it, as well as anyone who influences its direction,” he said.

Since January, much of his time has been spent getting to know JCK’s clients and his new colleagues.

“The support I’ve had so far has been superb,” he said. “My priority is to continue extending and deepening our client relationships, learning about clients’ ambitions and their business strategies.

“What I enjoy most about JCK is being surrounded by a great bunch of really skilled people.”

He sees one of JCK’s core strengths as its cross-discipline abilities. “We have experts in most financial disciplines, particularly corporate and personal tax, VAT, mergers and acquisitions and advising on business turnarounds and restructuring.”

On the run

Mike began his accountancy career qualifying at the Southampton office of ‘big four’ accountancy firm KPMG. He also holds an ICAEW Diploma in charity accounting and works with numerous academy schools and the wider not-for-profit sector.

His degree in chemistry armed him with skills he found readily transferrable to accountancy. “Numeracy, analysis, developing methodologies, testing propositions – it’s all there in our profession,” he said.

He’s an enthusiastic triathlete who fits training around work, entering local competitions, mainly in Hampshire and Dorset. His preferred events are sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.

“I’m looking to participate rather than to be genuinely competitive: I’m happy being a relatively fit guy with a desk job,” he modestly asserts.

Always keen to draw parallels between life and work, Mike says triathlon disciplines have a lot in common with his job role.

“For a triathlon, I have a plan to achieve and measure my progress in meeting it. I have key coaches and training partners alongside me, whose input is crucial to keeping me on the right path. I have to accept that progress isn’t always going to be how I expect so I have to be adaptable.”

Since arriving at JCK, he has discovered no shortage of accomplished swimmers, runners and cyclists. “We’d make a very competitive triathlon relay team!” he said.

Advice you’d give to businesses

“The financial numbers alone are not the business – all companies are fundamentally about people – owners, managers, employees, customers and suppliers. Understand the human dynamic in your business and the financial results will show if you are getting it right.”

Best advice you’ve received

“The path to success is often non-linear. Accept this and be ready to re-assess your position if you aren’t getting to where you want to be. Also, it’s always valuable having others alongside you, to share their knowledge and experience with you.”

About JCK

James Cowper Kreston provides audit, accounting and tax work along with a range of business advisory services, from offices in Newbury, Oxford, Reading, Southampton and London.

For information about JCK’s audit and accounts service email Mike Bath.