Dealmaker: Harry Linklater (pic: Terry Murden)
Interview: Harry Linklater, corporate finance director
Harry Linklater has been through the startup and growth phase a few times, first with the so-called ‘young turks’ at Rutherford Manson Dowds which, twenty-odd years ago, promised to shake-up the accountancy and corporate finance market, and latterly with his corporate finance business, the first office outside Ireland for the Belfast firm HNH.
RMD became something of a by-word for young and rebellious anti-traditionalism that is nowadays more likely to be found in the tech and creative sectors.
“There was something refreshing about what they did, and how they tried to project an image of a fast-moving, more modern image around the sector,” says Linklater who was a trainee at the firm and took note of how the principals caught the imagination of the Scottish corporate world.
As it turned out, the ‘revolution’ against the dominance of the Big Four was short-lived and RMD fell under the wing of Deloitte, where Linklater continued to learn his trade.
Fast forward a couple decades and he teamed up with two partners – Neal Allen and Bruce Walker – to promote a new boutique corporate finance practice. They were brought together by a third party who saw an opportunity in the SME market.
“It didn’t quite chime with them, and felt more of a franchise model which wasn’t right for us,” he says, explaining why that arrangement didn’t take off.
Instead they were introduced to HNH, a deal-focused outfit doing big things in Northern Ireland that was seeking a presence in Scotland.
“As soon as I walked in it felt like RMD. It was a natural fit,” says Linklater, noting the firm’s policy on things such as no minimum fee thresholds, and the type of deals and advisory work they would be targeting.
That was back in 2019 when an immediate surge in enquiries looked like making 2020 a busy year. We all know what happened next.
“We had nine or ten mandates bubbling away but activity just ceased. We did some bits and pieces of work but it was difficult. It was not until February 2021 that we had a reasonable deal flow to work on. After that we had a good run of nine deals to put us back on track.”
Linklater studied law, but never practised as a lawyer, opting instead to become a chartered accountant. After RMD he spent time with RBS, Springfords and French Duncan and did a bit of work for himself before the HNH opportunity came up.
The firm, which operates from offices in Charlotte Square, currently has 17 active assignments and another 10 proposals are on the table. The partners are looking to add a couple more to the headcount as they turn attention to different types of work.
“When we launched we thought we would spend most of our time buying and selling mature businesses,.” says Linklater. “In fact, it’s also broader focused on fundraising, strategic advice on restructuring and valuations, that sort of thing.”
It’s also seeing much more activity around technology, and related areas such as agritech which seems to be a growth area.
HNH is working with companies earlier in their life cycle than many competitors, typically looking to raise between £1m and £2m and beyond, and is able to draw on specialist support from colleagues in Belfast.
Linklater says this is fertile territory as Scotland is populated with companies on this scale, many of which will require external funding support to expand their horizons and ability to scale up. Despite constant calls from the entrepreneurial eco-system for businesses to think globally, he says many will be acquired by those with deeper pockets and greater resources.
“Many Scottish SMEs are very good but are operating in a small market. Therefore they struggle to get investment,” he says. “In a bigger market you can get to the desired level of EBITDA more quickly.”
He says this is creating the ‘gap in the market’ that brought the partners together in the first place.
“Business owners often have unrealistic expectations, including around the value of the companies. Our job is to provide the support that works best for them.”
More information: HNH Group
Education: George Heriot’s; Dundee University (Law)
Career highlights: RMD and Deloitte (trainee); RBS (commercial property); Springfords (corporate finance); French Duncan (director and partner)
What frustrates you?
Political uncertainty. We seem to live in a permanently unsettled state.
Do you carry cash?
Season ticket holder at Edinburgh Rugby; Golf at Gullane; Leith Theatre trustee
Edinburgh, Deeside and Italy
Any claim to fame?
I met Mohammed Ali when he came to sign a book in Buchanan Street.
If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner who would you choose?
Mohammed Ali, the former world boxing champion
Shane Warne, late Australian cricketer
Vanessa Paradis, French singer, model, and actress.