Why joining a firm that’s reported poor results can be a good thing

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Financial figures for 2013/14 are rolling in. As ever, there are ups and downs. There’s distinct cheering from some quarters as the economic uplift seems to be having its effect, with many more positive turnover figures emerging.

But elsewhere, some leadership teams will be blubbering over their coffees (discussing options), Apprentice-style.

These figures must seem like a fairly easy guide for deciding a next career-move. Spot the firms on the up and seize the day to get in there. You can expect such a firm to be growing rapidly and to be willing to offer you a salary and benefits commensurate with its success.

And you may be right. But there’s something – maybe a lot – to be said for taking a punt on a firm with a poorer showing.

Torrid is horrid

Take Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP). It has had a pretty torrid time of it over the past year. A redundancy drive in May 2013 suggested that not all was well, which was confirmed when figures released in September revealed a 38 percent drop in net profit.

At the same time the firm was leaking partners – no less than 18 over the course of the year to March 2014.

This is a firm that had previously published year-on-year record results: the kind that attracted talent. It is little wonder that as many as 40 laterals hooked up with the firm between 2010 and mid-2012 alone.

But some say that BLP suffered precisely because of too many poorly integrated and expensive recruits.

In other words, be wary of the unblemished record. It might just be one that’s ready for smearing.

The firm has just launched far more positive figures, including a PEP rise of 35.2 percent – to £542,000. This may be well short of its 2010/11 record of £712,000 but it suggests a firm that is bouncing back.

Proof perhaps that BLP – and other firms – can be better off after an annus horribilis. There’s nothing like a shock to the system to force a firm to refocus its energies on where it really needs to be.

OC gets VG

In fact, this is just what the success story of this year did. Osborne Clarke has  posted a turnover hike of 25.9 percent, with net profit rising by an impressive 32 percent in 2013/14.

This is quite a turnaround from 2008/09, when it published a worrying 11.9 percent fall in revenue.

But it seems that its time in the doldrums was just what it needed to inject something of a crusading zeal into the firm. It has since tripled its number of international offices from six to 18, and increased its partner headcount from 121 to 180.

No doubt there were some who questioned the decision of those who joined the firm shortly after those 2009 figures came out. Wouldn’t it be better to join a firm with a stronger set of figures? Well, clearly not.

And what an exciting ride these past few years must have been for those who have played a part in the turnaround.

Of course, this isn’t to say that job searches should be predicated on bad financials. But solid figures don’t always tell the whole story. Or even if they do, it may not be long before the firm starts resting on its laurels, and making mistakes.

More disappointing figures can give you an insight into potential problems and lead you to ask questions, and make a judgement call, on the specific strategy for recovery and the leadership team’s ability to deliver it.

Joining a firm that has published poor financials takes some courage. But ensure that it’s a calculated move and there’s one big career advantage: you might actually get a chance to really make a difference.  CP

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