Turnaround, performance improvement, profit enhancement, value creation… they’re all part of the fabric of working life for an 80-strong specialist team at KPMG across the island of Ireland. “Turnaround and Performance improvement is a vitally important area for us as a firm,” says James Neill, who joined KPMG back in April of this year as a Deal Advisory partner in Belfast and one of three partners leading the all-island Turnaround & Restructuring practice.

“KPMG has always been strong in restructuring and insolvency, but more recently we’ve placed a stronger focus on strategic turnaround and performance improvement.
“The terms themselves have been re-defined,” he adds. “For restructuring, it’s historically been focused on value preservation. When it comes to turnaround and performance improvement, we are very much focussed on value creation and enhancement. To achieve this we utilise a variety of bespoke tools and methodologies such as our proprietary Elevate system which delivers rapid EBITDA improvement using a data driven approach to identify, quantify and implement opportunities.”
James came to KPMG in Belfast from one of NI’s leading independent advisory firms, where he was a founder and remained for 11 years, with a strong reputation as one of Northern Ireland’s top operators in the deal advisory space.
“I view KPMG in Ireland as having a very unique position in a deal advisory context.
“Firstly, it’s an all-island practice so we have genuine 32 county coverage which, coupled with international reach, is very powerful in terms of delivering value for clients. We also have an incredible range of talent and experts in key deal advisory specialisms ranging from M&A, transaction services, strategy, sustainability advisory, modelling, infrastructure, forensics etc so we have the depth of service to deal with all eventualities. Lastly and in many ways the most vital, we have commercially astute, emotionally intelligent professionals who understand what it takes to be a good advisor.”
James is quick to pinpoint a differentiator he sees as crucial to the KPMG deal advisory offering. “There’s an emotional intelligence required in our roles and that’s something our team keeps in mind at all times, through whatever the process might be and however long it takes.
“A company sale, a major turnaround, a piece of significant restructuring, buying a business, an insolvency event…any of these will be a major event in the life of the business leaders involved. That’s something many professional advisors don’t recognise. One can provide hard technical and commercial advice but sometimes business owners or leaders require more nuanced support as they progress on a journey and whilst they come to us for technical expertise, specialisms and experience they in many instances need us to have empathy and provide emotional support.”
The KPMG Deal Advisory team works on a wide variety of transactions on behalf of its clients, some relatively small, some much larger, but the principles of good advice don’t change regardless of the client.
The transaction market, says James Neill, is holding up well despite the obvious challenges presented by the wider economy at the moment. “The market maybe doesn’t quite have the urgency that it had two years ago in terms of execution, but it’s steady, it’s solid and company valuations are holding up. That’s not bad, considering that the cost of debt has gone up and the overall macro economy is not without its challenges.
“We’re seeing balance sheets remain strong across the board and there are no real signs of distress in the market as things stand. Yes, there are headwinds, but it won’t be anything like it was 10 years ago when we had a property led tsunami that resulted in all sorts of problems with very few solutions available. The current environment is very different. At the moment, for those with capital and an entrepreneurial growth mindset, opportunities are presenting themselves and there will be more to come. If we do see any stress in the market, it’s likely opportunistic M&A will emerge as a theme, as the many cash-rich companies seek to take advantage of opportunities.
“I think that we’ll be seeing more of what we term ‘accelerated M&A’ presenting itself ie where there is a catalyst or an event leading to the sales process but the core business is profitable and sound. There is certainly going to be a narrowing of the gap between corporate finance and M&A activity and insolvencies. That’s inevitable in certain climates.”
In addition to his business advisory lead role, James Neill is also one of Northern Ireland’s relatively small band of licenced insolvency practitioners, so he’s well placed to advise on any issues around insolvency or the possibility of insolvency. “On the other side of the coin, we’ll also see more wind ups as business owners look more closely at their options and deal with legacy debt positions. It’s understandable that the challenges of the last three or four years haven’t necessarily left all business owners in a positive balance sheet position and some will want to move on from those positions.”
Looking to the future, he notes that KPMG in Ireland has always been the one of the leading advisors in the market and it’s that history and market depth that attracted him to the role. “I’m a bit nostalgic when it comes to turnaround and restructuring, so it means a lot to me to help maintain the strong position KPMG has in the all-island market. We also have an incredibly experienced and rounded team full of quality advisors and we are focussed on helping our clients in whatever way we can. Dealmaking isn’t always easy and it isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes a lot of effort has to be put in. And that’s where we come in.”
James Neill is also an optimist when it comes to surveying the wider local economy and business market. “There’s always a danger that we can underplay the quality of the Northern Ireland market or the opportunities that lie ahead for it. Yes, it has some legacy challenges, but in terms of quality of people, leadership and professionalism, it’s second to none.
“What we also tend to forget is the fact that we’ve come a heck of a long way in the past 15 years or so. Our horizons now look very different to what they did back then. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what has been achieved in these six counties and for the journey we have been on. It’s sometimes better thinking, if we have achieved so much in the past 15 years, what could be achieved in the next 15.”


Dankse Bank MPU

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