Entrepreneurial approach to growth

Formed as a small start-up company in 2007, Spark Energy was launched to fill a gap in the utility market, meeting the needs of letting agents, landlords and tenants.

The company now has a turnover of £125m and over 350 staff based at offices in Selkirk and aims to top 250,000 live customers by the end of their next financial year.

“For us, it’s all about the flexibility of having a firm that offers tailored solutions and different approaches in both audit and external advisory”, says Spark Energy’s Chief Finance Officer, Hamish Osborn.

“If you go to a Big Four firm, you get a standard approach to tackling audit and advisory that doesn’t fit with a company like ours which is changing its processes and systems and is growing more and more each year.

Every year Spark has a different system and way of doing things; Johnston Carmichael are able to adapt and change processes in response to that. That’s really important because it would cause immense frustration if we had a ‘one size fits all’ approach to audit and advisory.

Hamish Osborn

Chief Finance Officer, Spark Energy

“I came from a Big Four firm - KPMG- so I know what it’s like being on both sides of the fence but also adopting a larger company mentality. We’re very different to other PLCs I’ve worked for; we’re constantly changing and there’s a very entrepreneurial approach to things. If you go in with a Big Four firm mentality, the audit will be a lot longer, more protracted and might miss some areas it needs to cover.”

JC’s service to Spark has included a secondment by Audit Manager, Lesley Clark, which saw her carry out an internal audit and implement new reporting methods.

“Everyone is focused on driving the company forward but you can’t always dedicate time and resource across the business. What you find is when you need a particular skillset, they are already engaged in core strategic business within the company and can’t dedicate the necessary time so sacrifices need to be made if you’re constantly growing at the speed we are.

“Lesley provided the bandwidth that said ‘OK, we can keep our core guys doing what they’re doing and bring in similar expertise that knows our business to help us’. That meant we didn’t have to make any staff sacrifices, could still improve our systems and keep our eyes on the day to day and continue to grow.”

Over the past 10 years, as that growth has continued, JC has adjusted its approach to supporting the firm accordingly.

“It’s about flexibility. When I first joined over three years ago, the heavily substantive audit helped give me comfort that the basic systems and controls were in place. As we’ve grown, that has helped some of our systems become more sophisticated so JC have adapted with us.

It’s that ‘not one size fits all’ approach that’s been important to us and also having the ability to call on skilled staff who can help us to grow outside of a regular audit.

Access to specialist advice has been a key part of the success of the relationship with JC.

“Advisory firms who do an audit often take the attitude that it’s just a ‘tick in the box’ exercise.

“With JC, we can pick up the phone and say ‘is this right, is this what would be expected, are the levels of control right?’. That’s what you want from an adviser - other people in our company don’t necessarily have that skill set so for me the benefit of JC is much wider than just providing an audit.”

JC’s ability to work across a range of services has also been important.

It’s a brave FD who says they understand tax inside and out and I’m certainly not brave! So for that sort of advice we have relied quite heavily on JC.

Hamish Osborn

Chief Finance Officer, Spark Energy

A commitment to giving something back to the communities in which they operate is something which Spark shares with JC.

“We feel quite passionately about ‘giving back’ not just to our local community but to our employees as well.

“We have a bi-monthly newsletter to inform all our staff about what’s going on in the business. As well as regular training sessions we have improvement initiatives which we believe give value not just to Spark but to staff should they decide to move on.

“We feel quite passionate about engagement internally but externally we have numerous programmes running with local colleges and universities, partly to recruit but also to let them know that we’re here.

“Every year we select a local charity which is important to the local community and, therefore, to us. We have very little staff turnover and we seem to be well received in the community.”

Spark sees real potential for its relationship with JC to develop further.

“The biggest challenge any company faces going forward is improving your operational framework while, at the same time, trying to load as much as possible into that framework.

“When you’re our size, you’re in an area where you don’t necessarily have access to a full pool of talent so relationships like that with Johnston Carmichael become very important.

“Advisory firms, if they don’t already have that pool of talent to provide those services to us, they know exactly where that talent can come from. For me that’s where the benefit lies.”

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