Anthony Hilton: Insolvency work is PR opportunity

The people who most obviously benefit from all the economic gloom are the insolvency specialists - the lawyers, accountants and consultants who specialise in corporate reconstruction - which is code for sorting out the mess when a business fails.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

They have waited a long time for their day in the sun. Indeed, throughout the long boom many insolvency specialists transferred to other work, so thin were the pickings in their core discipline. But they are making up for it now. The business is back with a vengeance.

Intriguingly, though, the person who has captured the limelight and who now crops up frequently on the BBC TV bulletins is Ric Traynor of Begbies Traynor, a firm one can say with confidence almost no-one outside the financial sector had heard of until recently. The firm is a minnow among giants. Although it has grown rapidly since it was founded in 1989, it remains tiny compared with the big four of Deloitte, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young.

So how has Traynor managed to get all the exposure, rather than the much better resourced big firms? There was a clue in last week's Independent on Sunday where he featured in the experts predictions of 2009. Apparently he predicted a surge in insolvencies back in 2007 when he first highlighted the fact that banks were by then lending 'to any rag bag business'.

There is more to it than that, though. Insolvency seems to lend itself to high profile individuals, perhaps because it needs a bit of colour to lighten a gloomy story. Back in the 1970s the man of the hour was Kenneth (later Sir Kenneth) Cork of the firm Cork Gully, who was known as 'the corporate undertaker' but later resented it when he became Lord Mayor.

The real key to Cork's success, and I suspect to Traynor's too, was that the media could get hold of him when they needed to - something that remains rare in a big firm where it is hard to get hold of a partner at very short notice. So Cork and Traynor really score because they follow the Woody Allen maxim: 'Ninety per cent of success is just turning up.'

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