Neil Lloyd officially began his new role as Managing Director of award-winning Midlands law firm FBC Manby Bowdler on April 1 – just days after the country was placed into lockdown. Here, Neil explains how he responded to the challenges the coronavirus pandemic has set and how he has kept faith in some tried-and-tested leadership principles
It was always going to be a challenge. But I had no idea of just what a baptism of fire I was letting myself in for when I was asked to take the reins as Managing Director of FBC Manby Bowdler. Don’t get me wrong, I was taking over as head of a great law firm and the appointment was one of the proudest days of my life.
But little did I know when I accepted the offer at the end of 2019 that my official start date would coincide with the onset of the greatest challenge to this country’s business community since the Second World War.
I’d been lucky to join the firm more than four years earlier as sales director – something which speaks volumes for the foresight of the partnership in recognising the need to take an alternative approach to growing the business. For proof of just how innovative the move was, just see how many other law firms you can find with a sales director.
Working with the Partners and wider leadership team I set about putting in place various strategies that had served me well over the years and as the role grew, I was asked to lead teams across HR and Conveyancing.
Our brilliant managing partner Kim Carr decided to step down after ten years to focus on leading the Private Client team and I was hugely honoured to be appointed as Managing Director, lead the Operations Board and become part of the Executive Board.
It’s fair to say that on January 1 this year, the future looked about as rosy as it could be. But on March 23 – just a week before I was due to ‘take office’, came the lockdown announcement. And business life would never be the same again.
Instantly, all the plans we had drawn up for the business during the handover period were overtaken by events.
Despite our best efforts, leading through a crisis is a trait we can never be fully prepared for, But then why should leading in a crisis be any different to leading in normal times? I firmly believe that if you look after your team, they will look after your clients, which in turn leads to growth, and so on it goes.
So, rather than look for any magical new formula for leading in this unprecedented time, I stuck to the principles which I believe have served me and my colleagues so well up until now.
In short, these are fairness, honesty, openness, transparency and clarity.
From the get go I took the time to ensure that we communicated to the wider team so everyone knew what our plans were. Good internal communications is an essential part of any business which wants to take their staff with them and build the sort of powerful team ethic which can overcome even the toughest of challenges.
“We’d invested in cutting-edge technology the previous year and this would serve us well. We were able to send our staff home from where they could set up their systems and continue to work as usual.”
As the full scale and implications of the lockdown started to become clear, we again needed to respond. Working with the wider leadership, I had to look at which of the team would be furloughed, ensure those individuals understood the reasons why and also set about re-forecasting our financial plans and communicating them.
Again, the leadership principles we followed through this process were those which had stood us in good stead during more favourable times. We talked to all the staff involved, involved them where we could in the process, explained the reasons for the decisions we were taking and treated everyone in exactly the same manner.
Throughout the lockdown period I have continued to be transparent with everyone. We’ve issued all staff with weekly financial performance communications, quarterly leadership calls that cover a wider range of measures such as client satisfaction, debtor position and what other actions we’ve taken to protect cash flow, and ultimately communicated our thoughts about the long term future of the firm.
Where some companies might seek to keep such information close to their chests, we believe our people are the reason for our success and should be informed about, and involved in, decisions which will map out all our futures.
“So, when we started to consider opening up our offices on June 1, the final decision was left with the team.”
They had to feel comfortable that all the measures we’d put in place for them and our clients made them feel safe and that they were happy to return. They backed our judgement and we have seen clear results from being one of the first firms to get back into our offices.
This is supported by our inclusion in the Legal 500 top 20 law firms for customer service in the Midlands and our position at the beginning of July on reviewsolicitors.com as the number 1 law firm for client service across every discipline.
I read once that resilient leaders are genuinely, sincerely empathetic, walking compassionately in the shoes of employees, customers, and their broader ecosystems. But also resilient leaders must simultaneously take a hard, rational line to protect financial performance from the invariable softness that accompanies such disruptions. I couldn’t agree more.
“That’s why throughout this crisis we have had to keep an eye on the long term.”
The firm has an excellent leadership team, fantastically client focused employees and is financially stable. Whilst we have been forced to take some tough decisions during the last four months, we also have our focus firmly on making the most of the exciting opportunities that lay ahead.
Because whatever the coming months and years bring, we want everyone at FBC Manby Bowdler to be a part of an ongoing success story.