January 12, 2016 by Harry Blum

Part 1: An innovative approach to five-fold growth in revenue - the Collins Barrow Toronto formula

Focusing your business on the clients’ needs first is a traditional business axiom. But, conventional thinking does not fully encompass Collins Barrow Toronto’s mission.

We believe the best way to serve clients is to build a structure that fits the needs of the professionals you want to attract and keep. By internally consolidating our company culture before turning our attention outward, we ensure that our clients receive the extraordinary service they deserve.

As a mid-market competitor, this strategy is advantageous when competing against billion-dollar global firms as well as smaller independent ones.

Collins Barrow Toronto LLP, a member of the Collins Barrow National Cooperative, has grown in five years from a team of 70 to 240. Profitability per partner – already a strong facet dating back to our inception – has increased by 50%, while revenue has grown from $10 million to $50 million. We did this in a world where giant global competitors are treading water, doing their best to maintain existing client relationships, trimming their costs and reducing their partner headcount to artificially maintain their income per partner. Over this same period, we have had no trouble attracting experienced talent from these firms, including from the coveted partner level.

How can you replicate our model? This two-part series will explore the key strategies mid-market firms (sandwiched between smaller independent organizations and larger multi-billion dollar competitors) can employ to expand client base, talent pool and revenues.

Find out what your top talent wants – then give it to them

If you want to attract top talent, the first step is to learn what highly skilled, in-demand professionals’ want on their employment wish list, and then build a package that reflects what they seek.

Make it easy for the best and brightest professionals to join you. For instance, someone joining us at the partner level can buy in at a rate that reflects the net book value of the assets of the firm, without being charged anything for goodwill.

We make sure our team members stay because they want to be here, not because of ‘golden handcuffs’ in the form of a rich pension or an overly oppressive partnership agreement. If professionals want a comfortable retirement, they should build it themselves through saving, not by burdening future members of the firm with heavy pension obligations. 

We have also done away with the non-compete clause for our partners because if someone does not want to be here, we don’t want to stop them from leaving. There is simply nothing worse than unhappy professionals in a professional services organization.

Make employees feel at home, at work 

From the time they arrive at work until the time they leave, make sure that your professionals have a positive work environment; and keep in mind that the little things have a tremendous impact. Our survey of potential employees found that a top wish-list item was having a desk of their own, a seemingly simple request that has fallen by the wayside at many larger competitor firms.

Another unpopular trend embraced by our competitors is “hoteling.” Like an adult version of musical chairs, the losers in the game are expected to work from home, from their clients’ offices, using Wi-Fi at a convenient cafe or wherever else they can find a perch. The hoteling practice exists because of relentless pressure to cut margins – and thus costs – to painful levels. The result is happy cost accountants, but a culture where partners and staff do not feel valued or secure.

We’ve taken the opposite approach by investing in premises that say, “you are valued here.” Everyone gets a desk and partners each have a home (“office”) of their own.

Investment in our downtown Toronto office space also reflects our commitment to providing a positive environment. We found a building that has plenty of floor-to-ceiling windows, offering a wealth of natural light, and invested heavily in state of the art offices.

Additionally, Collins Barrow Place is in the heart of the financial district, so our staff can easily walk to many of their meetings. Streetcars, trains and subways take you directly (or very close) to our location, and the newly refurbished central train station is 10 minutes away, which makes for easier commuting. We are true believers in the saying “if you build it, they will come” and the proof for us is in our numbers.

In Part 2 of this series we will explore the “challenger brand” strategies and innovative management practices, which have lead to our dramatic increase in revenue at Collins Barrow Toronto. Stay tuned!