When Dale Watler began his career in accountancy, he was working with pounds, shillings and pence, VAT hadn’t been introduced and the digital revolution was so far in the future that calculators weren’t even in common use.
As he retires after nearly 43 years at Harrogate firm Lithgow Perkinsand 49 years in the accountancy profession, Dale, 68, says the biggest change by far during his career has been the advent of computers and the effect of IT on the way businesses operate.
But he says one thing that hasn’t changed has been Lithgow Perkins’ focus on building lasting relationships with clients and providing a highly personal service.
Dale Watler said:
The joy of the job for me has always been looking after my clients and helping them thrive and prosper.
This approach has always been at the forefront of the Lithgow Perkins ethos. And it also played a part in a defining decision made by the firm 30 years ago.
Dale Watler added:
We decided not to open other Lithgow Perkins offices throughout Yorkshire.
We wanted to remain very much a part of the local business community. So Lithgow Perkins has remained as a one-office practice based in Harrogate. That was the right decision because we kept all our expertise under one roof.
So many of our competitors sold out to national organisations and, before you knew it, their Harrogate offices were being closed and everything was centralised in Leeds. We didn’t want to go down that route. We wanted to ensure our clients had a very personal service and always retained the ability to contact a partner at the firm.
We insisted that every client was allocated to one of the partners so one of us was always responsible for, and in control of, the affairs of each of our clients.
This personal touch was – and still is – highly valued by Lithgow Perkins’ clients, many of whom have remained with the company for decades. Some of the clients at Dale’s retirement celebrations have been with the firm as long as he has.
Dale arrived at accountancy by chance but says it’s been his true calling: “I responded to a job ad in the local newspaper when I was 18. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. In those days, accountancy was very number-orientated, and I seemed to have this ability to play with numbers.”
He began working for Lithgow Perkins in 1973 after moving north from an accountancy firm in Hertfordshire. Initially joining as partner designate, he became a partner in April 1975. When he joined, founder John Perkins was working as a sole practitioner and the firm was growing, with about 15 staff.
One of the great joys of working as a chartered accountant is that you see how other businesses operate, and you learn so much from this.
The advent of computerisation has brought about an overriding shift in working practices during his working life, and has brought its own challenges for the accountancy sector with it.
Computers and IT have transformed the world but they also transformed life in the office of a chartered accountant.
The world – and the financial world – has become a great deal more complicated. The work that we do now is so different from what we used to do. Clients are now able to take their affairs much further forward because of their access to computers. This means the work accountants do has become more top-end.
Another shift in the business world generally, he says, has been the way employees view the company they work for.
Staff are now so much more switched on to how their firm operates and what it has to achieve to be successful in the marketplace.
Certainly in small firms, staff are well aware that if they don’t do their job properly, then the firm will suffer and they will not have a job, so it’s in their interests to do their bit. Forty years ago, I don’t think staff had that overall view. They just went to work, did their job and went home. Employees respond to what they have to do much better now than they ever used to.
Dale who is also chairman of Langdale, an upmarket lake district hotel and leisure plc resort, plans to continue with his hill walking and other outdoor activities in retirement after being office-based throughout his career.
I’ll miss my clients but I retire knowing that Lithgow Perkins is in capable hands and ready to go forward to the next era.