ROBERT Holland’s journey to become managing partner at one of the country’s largest firms of accountants and business advisors started in a London fire station, 55 years ago.
The keen rower and runner, who took the top job at Newbury-based James Cowper Kreston in May last year, says: “Between the ages of three and 17 I lived in fire stations and was mainly brought up in Croydon.
“I passed my 11+ and was lucky that Croydon paid for a certain number of boys to go to private school each year, so I went to Dulwich College.”
After leaving the school, where UKIP leader Nigel Farage was also a pupil, Robert went to University College London (UCL) to read Economics.
Although he admits to not remembering Nigel Farage at all, the student Robert did meet others who also entered the political stage, including the new secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale.
After leaving university Robert joined PriceWaterhouse and spent six years in the City, before he decided to see what life in industry was like. He moved to Wellcome Plc, where he was responsible for all of the US filing, as well as being the accountant for the pension scheme.
“But industry just wasn’t for me,” he says. “Up to this day, I still like working with a complete range of businesses and people.
“I left there and jumped straight back into practice, going to work for the technical department of a company called Grant Thornton.
“I ended up in Cardiff and my family spent the next nine years there.
“I was living in Cardiff in the 1990s, which was a great time to be there, but I always knew I would be coming back to the south of England.”
The move that would bring Robert and his family back to England was the one to Newbury – 15 years ago – when he joined James Cowper Kreston. In May 2014 he was elected managing partner, while also remaining as audit and assurance partner.
His leading role sees him assume responsibility for the strategic direction and development of the company, while he also continues to advise a range of clients.
He has also maintained his technical background by sitting on the board of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, where he is able to ‘look out for the interests of firms like ours and the firms that are our clients’.
Comparing the work he does today to his time in other parts of the country, Robert describes West Berkshire as having a ‘much richer palette of businesses’.
“Proportionally there are far more owner-managed businesses in Newbury compared to other parts of the country,” he adds. “Taken as a whole, central southern England also did quite well in the recession compared to some parts of the country.”
Robert says the thing that drives him on is making a difference to the companies he works with.
“When you work for a large firm you are just the insurance policy,” he adds. “They have all the internal capability to answer the questions themselves.
“But there is a real difference you can make to people here. “Our core business is owner/manager-run firms in our own area and we aim to do everything those companies could require of an accountant. “We have experts in each individual corporate tax and firms can outsource some or all of their accounts to us.”
James Cowper Kreston, which has 78 people working from Newbury and 180 employees across all of its five offices, is the 28th largest auditor in the country.
Last year saw the firm nominated for 10 industry awards.
“We can deal with more complexity than people may think for a firm of our size and scale,” Robert adds. “We have become more modern in terms of how we use technology and how we approach things, in the time that I have been with the company.
“We are quite cutting edge in how we adopt software, but it is an ever-changing, and fast-changing, world and we have to adapt into that and work with it. “We face regulatory challenges now with changes to audit and tax.
“We have a very complex tax system that people have to navigate their way through and it will only get more so.
“As a firm we have never actively promoted or dealt with any tax avoidance schemes and I think the world is shifting back towards us.”
So what does the future hold for a company that was founded in Newbury more than 90 years ago?
“We are committed to Newbury; we are not going anywhere,” says Robert. “While we do intend to grow, our growth is more important in terms of what we can do.
“We take opportunities quickly as they become available to us, but at the moment we are concentrating on building on what we have and where we have it.”
In his spare time Robert, who lives in Compton with his wife Joanna and daughters Florence and Victoria, is a keen runner and has taken part in the London Marathon, as well as half marathons across Europe, including in Vienna and Munich.
He also plays the drums and enjoys rowing, and took part in the spectacular Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in 2012.