Liverpool Daily Post: One man and his dog see cause for optimism amid the gloom
Tony McDonough meets Peter Taaffe, Managing Partner of BWMacfarlane
Two things you don’t expect when you walk into a city centre accountancy office – a silver disc of a pop classic on display, and an enthusiastic greeting from a dog.
Both are on offer when you arrive at the sixth-floor base of BWMacfarlane, a firm formed in February last year from two existing Liverpool practices.
The silver disc is of All Together Now – a hit for Merseyside band, The Farm – and the dog is a beautiful three-year-old “labradoodle” by the name of Emer.
Emer is the regular workplace companion of BWMacfarlane managing partner, Peter Taaffe.
Taaffe, a youthful 54, heads up the firm which was formed from the merger of the practice he formerly headed – Bresnan Walsh – and Macfarlane + Co.
The enlarged business employs 40 people and is run by seven partners, including Taaffe. It is based in Castle Chambers.
“There were a couple of reasons for the merger,” he said.
“Firstly, I knew the people at Macfarlane well, having worked for them about 20 years ago when they were part of Deliotte.
“Secondly, both firms were very similar – a similar style of working and a similar client base.
“We both believed that a merger would give us more opportunities to grow and to look after larger clients.
“Everyone gets on very well. The approaches of the two previous businesses were also very similar – very much the feel of family firms.
“That is particularly true in the way we treat our staff and in how we deal with our clients.
“When clients come in, they find it relaxed and informal while still being professional.
“It has been a very easy merger.”
Charities make up around 30% of the firm’s client base – there are around 140 on the books, ranging from religious organisations to those involved in medical research.
Small and medium-sized firms also make up a significant percentage of the client base and the firm also represents a number of wealthy individuals.
Taaffe added: “The charity connection goes back to the 1930s when one of the founders of Bresnan Walsh, Eddie Bresnan, did a lot of work for the Catholic Church. Once you get a good reputation for working in a particular sector – which we have – then more work tends to flow from that.
“I would say that, because of our link with the charities, we do tend to encourage our staff to get involved in fundraising activities on a voluntary basis.”
Despite the gloom-laden economic environment, Taaffe is pretty upbeat about the prospects for the firm’s clients and the wider Merseyside economy.
“Having a diverse client base makes the job more interesting, and it also gives us a wider outlook on what is happening out there,” he said. “No-one is immune from the downturn and our client base in the main comprises well-run organisations, and many of them are hunkering down for the storm.
“I think the economic situation is really weird at the moment. Sectors like construction have obviously been hit, but for the rest it seems to be business as usual.
“The froth has obviously been blown off the lending market. In the past, many banks were lending money and were not assessing as they might have been.
“However, we are finding that funding is still available for the right proposition.”
Taaffe was born and brought up in Mossley Hill and attended Liverpool College. His original intention was to become a doctor – his father was a GP – but instead he ended up “falling into accountancy”.
He went along to the University of Liverpool to check out the courses and found himself wandering through the commerce department.
He said: “I spoke to one of the people there and I told him I was interested in studying there.
“Then he carried on walking down the corridor and I called after him and said ‘So how do I make an application?’ and he replied ‘You just did’.”
Taaffe successfully completed his accountancy degree at the University of Liverpool before going on to gain a masters in accountancy and finance at Lancaster University.
From then, he went on to spend three years in London with accountancy giant Deloitte, but eventually the love of his home town proved to be too strong a pull.
“I enjoyed being in London but I didn’t really want to live there,” he said. “I loved Liverpool too much and I was always going to come back – I feel privileged to come from here.”
So Taaffe returned to the North West, still working for Deloitte, and a little while later he worked in Manchester for two years.
In 1991, he joined Bresnan Walsh in Liverpool as a partner.
“I always knew I wanted to work for a small firm – it feels more real,” he added. Within a short time, the firm’s two partners retired, leaving Taaffe in charge.
He says he has been overwhelmed by the scale of change in Liverpool in the 20 years since he took over.
He said: “The changes to Liverpool’s landscape over that time have been phenomenal.
“I envy the kinds who will be working here in 20 years – I think by then it will be an even more superb place.
“Confidence here is much greater now. Despite the downturn, there is still building development going ahead in the city.
“And we can see that confidence in the wider economy. People have paused to take stock – and now they are moving forward again.”
Taaffe lives in Formby with his wife, Christine, a district nurse. The couple have three children – Robert, 19, Fay, 17 and Harry, 14.
Keeping fit is high on Taaffe’s agenda. He is a committed runner and has completed the New York, London and Liverpool marathons.
Every couple of weeks, he runs into work in Liverpool from home.
His canine companion, Emer, is also now a regular fixture of the BWMacfarlane office.
“She doesn’t come in every day,” says Taaffe. “It is usually when everyone is out at home and there is no one to look after her.
“She has been coming into the office pretty much from day one. She’ll sit in the office with me while I work and sometimes she’ll go for a wander around.
“There are one or two members of staff who aren’t too keen on dogs, but even they are used to her now.”
Taaffe sees further organic growth for BWMacfarlane in the future, but is keen to maintain its ethos.
He said: “We are not just looking for growth for growth’s sake.
“We want to grow in a planned and sustainable way – providing a personal and quality service for our clients.
“My father worked as a GP in the Scotland Road area of Liverpool.
“He was an old-fashioned GP in that he cared for people and he loved what he did.
“That ethos has ruled my life.”
This article originally appeared on the Liverpool Daily Post