Circa 1980... John Clark and Fordham Williams & Co
Chris Alp sat in front of John in 1980 hoping to be chosen as the little firm’s 1981 graduate. Having completed Bachelors of Arts and Commerce, like most eager graduates, he figured he knew everything. It took a while to work out that this was some way from reality.
The firm was then called Fordham Williams & Co, based in Toorak in Melbourne and had been established by Bruce Fordham in 1961. A few years later, the firm moved to the city and became the Horwath representative for Melbourne.
The firm had many business owner clients plus a range of specialist services necessary to be part of an international brand. These included Insolvency and importantly, Audit.
In 1988 Andrea McNamara also sat in from of John. He immediately recognised the potential and abilities from the tall red head. She joined the growing team as a graduate too. Staff numbers had now grown to nearly 70.
By the end of the 80’s, the unhappy coincidence of an audit client suffering a huge fraud (they always seem to blame the auditors), the onset of the recession (that we had to have), the loss of numerous clients (that they probably should never have been acting for in the first place) and a contraction in revenue had the firm in dire straights. Chris was a partner by now.
Everyone looked to John for the answer. He led the partners through this mess by planning. They collectively worked out what needed to be done in what priority and by whom. They also understood what they were good at and agreed to stick to it. These were great lessons that formed the foundation for their tools of trade in later years.
Although not an instant fix, progressively they turned the corner, changed alliances from Horwath to Grant Thornton and rebuilt the firm around a more consulting orientation based purely on the owners of private businesses. They grew stronger and more successful every year.
The firm learned so much from John. Vision, strategy, focus and the importance of planning. They passed this on to every client. That built their reputation and referrals. Their well known mantra was “have fun, make money, be respected”.
The Golden Years
The 2000’s were great years for the firm. They built up a fabulous service offering and referrals were never ending. Thanks to an alliance with a major bank, Mark Cummings (now the Managing Partner) and Chris Alp had probably become the most experienced Succession Planners in the country.
The firm had moved to the Rialto and had grown to a substantial firm with nearly 250 people. An integrated investment advisory and management practice underpinned the services offered to clients.
The partners eventually decided that in order to focus more on what their clients wanted, valued and needed, they took the unheard-of step to split their Audit and Insolvency teams off as a separate business. Eventually, the remaining firm completely left the Grant Thornton network and reinstated their old name, Fordham. That left them with 120 very focused people.
Now alone and without the support of a well-known brand, it was scary. The future was uncertain. A couple of nervous partners decided to leave. The remaining partners knew they had to stand by their convictions to the Private Business Owner and build that specialist and pure consulting practice that simply did not exist on this scale elsewhere in Australia.
Naturally, it all worked. Very well. The firm became known as the place to be for business owners. The holistic service approach covered the client’s business, investments, family and personal lives, from now until the very end. And beyond. It was truly unique.
The firm was approached in 2009 by Perpetual Ltd and asked if it would join Perpetual to use the bigger company’s support to roll out the boutique Fordham model around Australia.
The partners sold the practice to Perpetual in 2010 but within 5 years, Directors John Clark, Paul Ashworth (John and Paul now have their own firm, Cameron Harrison), Mark Cummings (who now rides his bike), Andrea McNamara and Chris Alp (now partners together at Alp McNamara) had all left.
Alp McNamara... the logical outcome
When Chris left Fordham in 2014, he thought about retiring. For perhaps about ten minutes. He thought about writing self-help articles for business owners and perhaps a book. He set up Business Owner Central with that in mind.
But the phone kept ringing. Old clients, colleagues and referrers continued to want his help. He found that it was not just flattering but genuinely fun. It was great to get involved in complex problems and help people find a strategy that made a big difference in their lives.
So when Andrea asked Chris to join her again, it was an easy decision. They had been in the same team for many years anyway. Her clients were eager to follow her (100% of them joined too) and they were able to find great people who had all previously worked for them to again join their team.
So here they all are.
They all still love the great things in life and enjoy their travel and flexible working lives (thanks to modern technology). They are very excited about rebuilding their little group to help their special clients, many who have now sold their businesses and are also really enjoying their lives.
It is great to see these clients and their families continue to proposer and especially to see their next generation building their own businesses, lives, families and wealth.
So, the directors of Alp McNamara continue to help their clients and their own people also “have fun, make money, and be respected”!