My Story by Jeff Lermer,
Founder & CEO of JLA
At 6 decided I wanted to be an accountant. Whilst other children wanted to be football players and train drivers, I loved numbers. I always felt comfortable with numbers, and thought that my Dad's accountant was glamorous… well he had a great car and smoked cigars, all very enticing for a 6 year old.
I fully intended to study for a one year course at a polytechnic and then get a four year training contract. I even had a couple of job offers from local firms, but my mother persuaded me to go to University and I spent 3 years in Southampton reading Business Economics and Accountancy, between 1982 and 1985.
I qualified with a 2-1, missing a first by 1 mark - I wish I did not know that!
I developed a love of tax at Stoy Hayward, where I qualified, but I was the only person ever to do tax articles which was a bit strange. I passed Professional Exam 1 in the November sitting, and was seconded to the tax department for three months. I loved it, so they agreed I could stay, except for 2 months out on the RAC audit, to ensure I had the right amount of audit experience.
Stoy's was a brilliant place to be, it was one of their best times; business was exciting, we were winning loads of new work, and working on some very interesting projects for great clients.
I passed all my professional exams first time, due entirely to rote learning and hard graft. The exams are not particularly hard, but there is an enormous amount to learn.
As soon as I was out of my training contract I joined Hays Allan (now called Hays MacIntyre) who were a medium sized firm, with fantastic client service which I liked, but we were in recession times, so there was no chance of me getting partnership.
I left to join a 10 partner firm, Bellman Messik, and got partnership at 29, in 1993. In 1995 the firm split, and the Pinner and Barnet Partners formed Sobell Rhodes, and I joined as a salaried partner, and bought equity in 1996 . Very exciting times where I learned an enormous amount from Andrew and Melvyn, for which I am eternally grateful.
The start of JLA
At 38, I found myself sitting on something of a fence in terms of my career. While I was happy and comfortable in partnership, earning a good income, I felt I could do much more for clients, and felt restricted in the partnership format I was in. With this in mind, I left and set up on my own.
While I was encouraged to set up on my own by several clients, Geoff Thomas in particular acted as a great mentor, and was always very supportive. This, coupled with a large gift from my uncle, was enough for me to make the move. I spent months planning, and I still have my original business plan which I pored over for hours, leaving no part uncertain as I set out on my own.
There was originally only me, my semi senior Andy Evangelou (who I regard as a good friend) and my secretary Viki (who later became my brother-in-law’s wife) working two days a week.
In May 2004, I bought a practice, Conroy and Co, which now trades as Lermer and Conroy. That was a brilliant decision to make. Paul Berlyn, who still coaches me, was very encouraging about the move.
In 2006 I joined the Tax Committee of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. In 2008 and 2009 I was one of the speakers at the ACCA budget breakfast. I do some public speaking with my own style, and it’s something I’m relatively confident with, but speaking in front of 120 accountants is about the hardest gig you can get.
By March of 2007, we had outgrown our first office by Oakwood tube station (1 Oakwood Parade) and so moved to New Barnet.
Fortunately, the practice grew and today we have 22 of us; 13 qualified accountants – five qualifying by experience and four administrators.
What we stand for
We strive to be a great small firm. As Chris Davis says, “stay small”. We give the sort of service that people want, and we genuinely care about what we do.
We have a brilliant team, and we all respect our own talents, as well as some of our foibles!
In November 2013, we won Accountancy Age’s “Small Firm of the Year”; something I was very proud of achieving, not for me, but for our team. We really strive to give the best service, and we are really good at what we do. We were finalists again in 2017 and 2018.
I have stepped back a little now, letting the amazing team we have grown develop in their own ways. They give phenomenal advice and really care about helping our wonderful clients. Life is good because I am surrounded by some amazing people, which I am grateful for every day.
- Jeff Lermer