NOT many chartered accountants ride a Harley Davidson or wind-down after a busy day playing Rachmaninov and Beethoven on the piano.
But then, Amanda Vigar, managing partner of Holmfirth-based V&A Bell Brown LLP and owner of the V&A Group, is not your typical accountant.
Born in Plymouth, the daughter of a Royal Navy submariner, she grew up in Peterborough, where her mother worked in the post office and her father, following his time in the forces, worked for British Telecom.
“I was very lucky because they were very supportive parents,” says Amanda. “I did not have a privileged upbringing, but they made sure I could do the extras such as music lessons and ballet classes.”
Amanda studied law at Reading University, aiming to be a barrister specialising in tax matters, and went to Bar School before completing her pupillage.
She says: “At the time, Margaret Thatcher’s Government was reforming the legal profession, which meant accountants might be given direct access to the courts on tax matters. Given that the accountants were going to ‘rule the world’ and having always been good at maths, I decided to train in accountancy to make sure I would be a winner whichever way the reforms went.
“Having taken that decision, I was with Coopers for six years and qualified there before doing five years at Robson Rhodes and the best part of six at Ernst & Young with quite a bit of time spent in London.”, she says. “But I was made redundant shortly after 9/11. I had been doing a lot of work with US investment companies and after the attack those projects just disappeared.
“I joined a mid-tier firm in Northampton, but was made redundant again after just three months. So, I decided that I wasn’t going to have it happen to me a third time! As I have always been good at pulling in work, it struck me that, in that great Yorkshire phrase, I should be doing it ‘for missen’.
“My first step was to apply to the Professional Contractors Group to become one of their accredited accountants. I took a number of interim roles in industry, in accountancy departments doing mainstream work, partly to pay the mortgage but also to gain hands-on experience of working in industry while my own business was building.”
When the Bell Brown practice in Holmfirth came on the market, Amanda wondered whether Yorkshire was a move too far. But she adds: “My co-director said “If you are not going to buy it, I will!” So, that decided it.”
Says Amanda: “The practice dealt with clients ranging from small jobbing builders to multi-million pound businesses which accountants of our size would not normally win. Not only that, but what better place in the world to live and work than West Yorkshire?”
Through acquisition and collaboration, the V&A Group that Amanda heads now has locations in Peterborough and Ely as well as Holmfirth and will be opening another office in Darlington shortly.
Amanda has put her stamp on the group. “There are a lot of businesses out there that cannot afford an in-house accountant,“ she explains. “But these are exactly the firms who need the support most because they have real potential to grow and go places. Our whole ethos is to look after a business throughout the year, not just ‘do the books’ or talk to them at the year-end.”
In place of turgid letters or just monthly numbers, V&A Group clients are supplied with reports complete with graphs and illustrations making it easier for businessmen to see how they are doing. There is also a monthly newsletter which aims to be informative and, as Amanda puts it, “a fun read.”
As well day to day accounting and tax, V&A Bell Brown LLP helps with mergers, acquisitions and disposals. It is authorised to help businesses raise cash as debt (not just from banks), equity finance or venture capital, through its corporate finance practice headed by Henry Fairpo, who is also a director of V&A Group.
Among its high-profile deals, in February this year Amanda and Henry’s team helped long-time client Andrew Glover, who owns West Yorkshire Windows, to buy Super League club Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
V&A Group also gets involved in turning around struggling firms and advising on sales. When needed V&A Bell Brown LLP calls on experts in areas from law and intellectual property to financial PR thanks to Amanda’s wide ranging contacts from her time working in big firms.
“We are a local, friendly accountancy firm, but we definitely punch above our weight in terms of the range of services we can deliver,” she says. “We have a team that really pulls together for our clients helped by working in a pleasant and fun environment.
“ Whilst head office is here in Yorkshire, we have clients as far away as Devon and Scotland and even one in Australia. I try to see clients in their own premises whenever possible, as there are things you can pick up on as you walk around a factory or offices that really help to get under the skin of the business and give you a feel for how well it is actually performing. Sadly I’ve not managed the Australian visit – yet!”
Amanda jokes that her idea of relaxing is studying. Certainly, she has an impressive list of professional qualifications. As well as being a barrister, she is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales and a chartered tax adviser with the Chartered Institute of Taxation. She recently became a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. In addition to being a qualified lawyer, she also has a marketing qualification with the Chartered Institute of Marketing. What next? Who knows?
What might surprise some people is that Amanda is the proud owner of a Harley Davidson. She says: “Both my grandfathers rode motorbikes and when I was a youngster I always seemed to have boyfriends with bikes.
“In my mid-20s I had a bad car accident and underwent major back surgery. That was touch and go because I had a very bad reaction to the anaesthetic. I decided that life’s too short, so I ought to get on with it and learn to ride.”
With her grandfather’s encouragement, she passed her test. “I didn’t know what kind of bike to go for, but told him that I’d always loved Harleys,” she says. “Eventually, I put an order in for a brand new Harley for delivery on August 1, but my grandfather died a few days before it arrived. Two of the great sadnesses of my life are that I hadn’t told him I’d ordered it and that he never got to see it. That still brings a lump to my throat.”
One item on Amanda’s agenda at the moment is to organise a charity bike ride. “A surprising number of our clients are bikers and we’re also lucky enough to have Bradford Motorcycles as a clients, so I’m sure we’ll make a go of it.”
Her other interests include photography and music. “One of the real joys of being based in West Yorkshire is the chance to get out into the countryside with my camera and spend the day enjoying the scenery and taking pictures,” she says.
“I had a very musical upbringing and still like listening to music, but my tastes are rather eclectic so it could be anything from grand opera to electronic trance and Goth through to heavy metal depending on how the day has gone.
“I am a great believer in music as therapy. When I was in Peterborough, I was chairman of governors at a school for emotionally disturbed children. A lot of their behavioural problems were due to frustration at not being able to communicate. With music, they could express themselves – it provides a tremendous release.”