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Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders 2018: Gervase MacGregor

04 January 2018

BDO are proud to announce that Gervase MacGregor has been ranked as a Thought Leader by leading independent directory, Who’s Who Legal. Who’s Who Legal: Thought Leaders brings together for the first time the insight, expertise and wisdom of some of the world’s foremost lawyers and experts.

As part of his ranking, Gervase took part in a Q&A to share his insights into his career success so far, challenges he has faced and how the profession has changed over recent years:

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.

I joined BDO in 1982, starting off in audit and tax where I worked on everything from small accounting reconstruction jobs – which really taught me the fundamentals of accounting – to flotations and takeovers. I undertook an investigation into an “accounting blackhole” where I found an intriguing fraud which turned into the Caparo case. I was made audit partner in 1991 specialising in hotels and property companies. BDO is a great place for people to develop their own practice lines and a chance letter asking for help in a civil fraud case led to the then biggest expert witness case my firm had done, closely followed by two more. These enabled me to set up the forensic department. We then won a lot of work for the United Nations Compensation Commission assisting the assessment of damages claims against Iraq by panels of commissioners. Over the past 15 years I have worked on a variety of fascinating assignments like MG Rover, large regulatory investigations, numerous arbitrations and have served on BDO’s board and chaired the risk committee of BDO International.

WHAT DISTINGUISHES YOUR PRACTICE FROM THE COMPETITION?

We have a hands-on partner-led practice, running jobs with small groups of highly talented finance professionals, many of whom are extremely loyal and have worked with me for up to two decades. We don’t have the conflicts the Big Four have, but do have all the technical and sector benefits of a large public accounting firm.

HOW IMPORTANT IS PRESENTATION WHEN GIVING EVIDENCE ON QUANTUM?

Quantum can be complex and the reports can be lengthy. There are often many facets to a quantum claim and accountants and valuers often want to fully reference their sources – it is easy to get lost in the detail. The opening presentation – essentially an in chief conducted by the expert – is a valuable and pithy introduction to the key points of the quantum.

IN YOUR OPINION, HOW IMPORTANT IS MODELLING IN QUANTIFICATION CLAIMS?

Excel allows quantum experts to produce those multifaceted claims and, importantly, by identifying the key drivers of value and the major commercial assumptions, to focus on what is important and what changes happen to value when you change the assumptions. As such, modelling has become key in any complex calculation. I have written articles on modelling recently because I despair of situations where models aren’t swapped, or where models are only provided in PDF rather than native. I also support the view, held by a number of my BDO colleagues and at other firms, that there are rules and good practice in model design which should be followed – I think we are going in that direction.

REGULATORY-LED REMEDIATORY INVESTIGATIONS IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR HAVE REPORTEDLY CURTAILED. HOW HAS THIS AFFECTED YOUR PRACTICE?

We had a few such investigations in the UK, but they were relatively modest in size. We have not therefore had to redeploy, or even worse, make redundant lots of staff used on these jobs. I can’t think of anything worse – losing talented staff because you don’t have enough work to give them.

WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING CASE YOU HAVE WORKED ON?

MG Rover – it lasted four years. We had millions of documents to review; investigated the workings not just of a large company, but also government, with the interview of civil servants, special advisers and ministers (including the former prime minister); and produced an 800-page report – all within the public eye. Not many practising chartered accountants get criticised by Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times and Robert Peston on his BBC blog. But equally not many have Peter Mandelson take a decision based on the back of one of their reports. To start with, I had a large team undertaking document review, but as we progressed through the case worked with a small team – most of whom still work with me. The work was extremely interesting – particularly trying to understand how government works – but it was made much easier by having such a focussed and dedicated team. Without them the case would have been challenging in other ways!

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNGER PRACTITIONERS WHO ONE DAY HOPE TO BE IN YOUR POSITION?

Get practical commercial experience – in the case of the large firms that usually means audit, but where else do new graduates get to understand the workings of a finance department or see how business make and lose money? Be interested in finance and commerce – damages claims are not a theoretical academic exercise. You need a great deal of single mindedness, but you also need to enjoy working with other professionals – that’s a tricky balancing act at times.

Tenacity, numeracy and an eye for detail – you need all these obvious ones, but what so many people will tell you is you need a lot of luck. I worked on Caparo because another job I was on had finished unexpectedly early. I was given the part of the investigation where the fraud had started. I did not understand some transactions I was looking at so I phoned up the owner of a business on the other side of one of the transactions who proceeded to tell me what was happening – and how the fraud worked. So there were three lots of luck there!

This content was originally published in Who’s Who Legal: Thought Leaders 2018.