In the three years since Abu Ali and Phil Williams launched WilliamsAli, it’s fair to say they’ve shaken up the North East corporate finance scene. With their fresh approach to the deals sector, WilliamsAli is now well known for providing its own unique brand of financial advice to business owners and entrepreneurs throughout the region, from their prestigious offices at The Pearl, in Newcastle. From a standing start, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, the corporate finance boutique has grown rapidly, reinforcing the firm’s status as one of the only independent, specialist M&A boutiques operating in the North East. Fast forward to today and the team has more than doubled in size, with ambitious plans to expand in 2022, having successfully delivered a host of high-profile deals, with more in the pipeline. Here, they share their story behind the creation of WilliamsAli, the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur, their ambitious expansion plans and their outlook for the North East deals market in 2022.
MARKET RIPE FOR DISRUPTION
With combined experience of 25-plus years in dealmaking, Abu Ali explains why the time was right to set up an independent boutique model not yet seen in the North East.
He says: “In other regional hubs like Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester, there’s a plethora of established independent corporate finance boutiques.
“Yet in the North East, they just didn’t exist apart from isolated exceptions.
“North East business owners were telling us they wanted credible, independent alternatives to the ‘Big Four’ and other regional accountancy firms.
“They were crying out for more choice, and it was our goal to offer them that choice.
“There was a huge gap that needed filling and that’s the main reason we decided to be bold and set up WilliamsAli.”
Solely offering corporate finance as a service is proving to be a real differentiator for the business, which they pride as giving them true independence – something many of their ‘multi-service’ competitors are unable to achieve.
As Phil Williams explains: “We offer corporate finance advice and that’s it.
“Ultimately, we do one thing very well and the fact that our single biggest source of referrals is from other accountancy firms, proves the trust and value our peers place in our services.
“We are proud to have some great friends within many of the North East’s finance, legal and accountancy firms.
“The business community has been incredibly supportive, and we’ve responded in kind by showing we can deliver a high quality and serious service with a great outcome.”
THE WILLIAMSALI BRAND
Launching a new brand at the start of the pandemic has proven to be both an exciting but equally terrifying leap of faith for Abu and Phil.
But with fortune favouring the brave and time spent developing their strategy, investing in marketing, and getting out to meet businesses, it has certainly paid dividends for WilliamsAli.
Phil says: “We had the understanding, energy and confidence in the region to know there was a demand for our services, and opening an office in the heart of Newcastle was a real statement of intent.
“We know the area well and we understand the challenges and opportunities facing the region’s businesses.
“That puts us in a strong position to help and we believe now is the right time to be investing in the North East.
“You only need to look around to see the buzz in the region.”
CORPORATE FINANCE EXPERTISE
Born and raised in Jesmond, Abu comes from a family of entrepreneurs.
After graduating from the University of Newcastle, he joined a Teesside firm of Chartered accountants to study for his ACA, his plans being to secure his accountancy qualification and then join the family business.
However, a serendipitous meeting with then colleague and now business partner Phil, saw a change in direction.
It’s here Abu approached Phil to help in the corporate finance team, setting off a real spark for dealmaking.
Abu then had a decade of successful lead- advisory experience before co-founding WilliamsAli, building significant experience advising on company sales, management buyouts and fundraising, including several high- profile deals.
Testament to that success, Abu was named as the North East’s emerging dealmaker of the year in 2018, in recognition of his work and commitment to client service.
Phil also hails from the North East, having grown up in Darlington before moving north and starting a family in Sunderland. During his career, Phil has worked in both practice and industry in a number of senior roles, including several years as in-house head of corporate finance at Hargreaves Services, and as finance director of a fast-growing energy business.
Having been involved in a number of major deals on a regional and national basis, he is highly respected for his work, having also won North East young dealmaker of the year at the NE Insider Dealmaker Awards in 2011.
STANDING SHOULDER-TO-SHOULDER WITH CLIENTS
Hard work certainly pays off and WilliamsAli are proud to have built up a highly impressive client list over recent years, working closely with the owner-managers, founders, and families behind some of the North East’s most well-known firms.
Abu says: “The transactions we advise on are often the most important and significant moments of someone’s business lifetime, and they can’t afford to get it wrong.
“It’s the biggest deal of their lives and it’s only right that they have a true specialist standing by their side.
“It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be given the opportunity to advise on these deals and we treat each and every one with the gravitas it deserves.
“We’re big enough to handle anything, small enough to care and to us, every transaction, regardless of size, gets the full WilliamsAli treatment.
“We’re in it for the long-term. Unlike many of our competitors, we’ve got the freedom to choose to invest time in long-term relationships.
“And it’s certainly an exciting time to be doing business, with the Government’s investment into Treasury North at Darlington, the Teesside freeport and the Saudi investment into Newcastle United putting the North East firmly on the radar and creating a wave of optimism for the new year.”
WilliamsAli works with a variety of companies across many sectors, reflecting the diversity of the North East.
On their journey to date, they’ve advised large, listed businesses, relatively early-stage startups and everything in between.
“The main thing that unites our clients is their passion,” adds Phil.
“We want to work with ambitious business owners.
“We apply a quality filter to everything we take on and work with business owners with the same ethos and values as us.”
Now the founders are business owners themselves, they’re experiencing some of the same challenges as their clients.
Abu says: “We get their pains and frustrations.
“Whether its growing pains, scaling up, recruiting talent, or simply dealing with the administration and bureaucracy of running your own business, it’s definitely made us more empathetic.
“We also feel success and failures more keenly but it’s a great sense of freedom and a liberation to back ourselves.”
CREATING A GREAT PLACE TO WORK
Going forward, the team have ambitious plans for WilliamsAli and are looking for talented people with a passion for making things happen, their goal being to build both a diverse and dynamic team that encourages everyone to fulfil their potential.
Phil says: “One thing that unites our current team is that they have got amazing talent and energy, big ambitious personalities and a drive to succeed.
“We don’t necessarily recruit from traditional backgrounds; we recruit people who are brilliant or have the potential to be brilliant.
“What people are telling us they want is a great place to work with variety, challenge and support, which is exactly the culture we have created here at WilliamsAli.
“They’re attracted to a workplace with no limitations, no glass ceilings, a place where we can all constantly learn from each other and have the opportunity to work with some of the most exciting and dynamic companies in the North East.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
Given the events of the last 18 months and a lingering sense of ‘business owner fatigue’, some may have thought it difficult to be optimistic.
Yet, ironically, after a period of uncertainty, WilliamsAli are seeing a real appetite from business owners ready to extract value in a buoyant deals market, management teams looking to step up, and companies wanting to raise funds to grow.
Abu says: “Our outlook is very optimistic; our initial predictions have been proven correct about the appetite in the region for a new independent corporate finance firm and other professional advisors have responded well.
“We’ve got every reason to be confident and now occupy a key and permanent place in the North East corporate finance market.”
And, as the market builds momentum and with a strong pipeline for 2022 secured, the future for WilliamsAli certainly looks bright. It is a brand that’s big enough to deliver and small enough to listen, paving a new path and creating an indelible mark on deal advisory.
Article source: North East Times