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History

Lever Bros & Co was founded in 1920 by Henry Lever. The firm first operated from premises in Finsbury Square in the City of London. Many businesses had suffered as a result of the war and there were numerous business insolvencies. This opened up an opportunity for the firm to diversify and Henry Lever developed a section of the practice giving insolvency and reconstruction advice. In 1960, Stuart Lever became the sole proprietor and he continued to develop the firm. Stanley Serkin began his training with the firm in 1957 and after qualifying joined Stuart Lever in 1964 as a partner along with Ernest Young who was at that time a manager in the firm. It was a matter of great satisfaction to Henry Lever when Stanley Serkin became an insolvency practitioner thus continuing the activity in which Henry had been prominent.

In the 1960’s, the firm quickly re-established itself in its new premises in Southwark Street. In 1980, Stuart’s son Richard Lever, having completed his training with one of the major accountancy firms, became a partner, at which time Ernest Young retired. Stuart Lever retired from the firm in 1995 although he continued for a number of years to be associated with the firm in a consultancy capacity. At the time of Stuart Lever’s retirement, Richard Willis who had been with the firm for many years having trained and qualified with the firm, became a partner and he worked closely with Richard Lever. The partnership between Stanley Serkin, Richard Lever and Richard Willis continued until 2000 when sadly, Richard Lever died at an early age. Stanley Serkin with Richard Willis continued the practice but it became inevitable to make alternative arrangements for continuity of servicing the clients of the late Richard Lever. Negotiations were concluded with a large firm of accountants to transfer these clients to them along with the staff team who had been looking after them. Richard Willis also at that time joined the other firm.

Stanley Serkin as a sole practitioner continued looking after his own loyal clients most of whom have remained with the firm to the present day ably supported by Shakil Raja who had trained with the firm. Shakil became a partner in 2002 and the current partners are Glenn Marrett and Shakil Raja. Several of the clients of the late Richard Lever have returned to the firm as they prefer the more intimate and personal attention that we as a small firm are able to provide.


Lever Bros & Co as recalled in his own words by Stuart Lever Esq

"My father was born in Glasgow where my grandfather had settled as an immigrant from Russia about 1880. Grandfather had built up a reasonable trading business but had a partner who cheated on him and the family moved to London and started again by running a pub in the East End.
My father, by that time, was studying to be an accountant and went up to the attic to study in peace but was often pulled downstairs by the ears by his father to help with the washing of glasses. Dad was articled to Baker Sutton, which was a medium sized firm, and Dad did the audits of Woolworth’s and Johnny Walker whiskey. When he was qualified, he was managing the insolvency department and had good prospects so his father thought him quite crazy when he stated that he was going to start his own firm in 1920.
This he did and his brother qualified and joined him in 1925 so the firm then became Lever Brothers.
We still have I believe our first client, who was Simons Brothers, who was a wholesaler in popular jewellery and souvenirs and one of his customers was my mother’s mother who had a shop in Above Bar, Southampton. My grandfather had his own upholstery workshop and made some of the furniture for the Titanic. My mother at 16 played the violin and was one of the performers giving concerts for the troops in the First World War. My parents married in 1926 and I was born in the following year.
My father’s insolvency experience came very much in demand in the late 20’s and 30’s during the depression period and basically the practice was divided into insolvency, which he ran and audit managed, by my Uncle Edward. They were known as HL and EL respectively and naturally in due course I became SML.
Both partners were over the age for military service but put in their full contribution as ARP wardens and firewatchers in London. In 1941 during the major incendiary air attacks the office was completely burned down and we lost all our records. The only thing salvaged was the petty cash in the safe, a lump of which I still have in the London flat.
My recollections of Lever Brothers as a boy before the was and as a student afterwards was of an extended family because I remember well the two secretaries, Miss French and Miss Drinkwater, who had been there for years and similarly Miss Corbett who later became my secretary and when she left in due course it was after 30 years’ service. Also, the senior audit staff served many years and Tucker, whom I remember from the early 40’s, showed me the ropes when I started and this included lunch time walks in the City pointing out the blue plaques on the walls where famous men and women had lived.
In those days the Institute of Charted Accountants especially forbade any advertising whatsoever so one gained clients be networking and recommendation. My father had always been a very keen Freemason and his involvement was completely sincere but inevitably there were spin-offs since as he climbed the ladder of seniority he became known and liked and friends became clients. I did not think Freemasonry would be my cup of tea but I liked the tradition and ceremony and in due course in 1970, I became a liveryman on The Worshipful Company of Glaziers.
If the business does not grow it will reduce so you cannot stand still and an accounting practice needs customers like any other business. Networking accountancy practice needs customers like any other business. Networking and PR is necessary. This duty was performed by my father because his brother concentrated on managing the practice and led a very quiet life. I have to say he had little imagination with regards to increasing the clientele because, without exaggeration, he saw clients in the office and visited only one client each year in Surbiton. It took me many years to convince him that a car was a necessary practice expense. He pulled his weight in other ways by giving the articled clerks special tuition at the weekends so, as in all families, everyone plays a part.
I became a partner in 1953 and was immediately involved in the new branch of work. This was back duty tax cases where cash, accumulated during the war and shortage years afterwards, were discovered by the Inland Revenue. Schedules were prepared of known income and necessary expenditure but where did the surplus come from for the substantial savings accounts. Of course it was from betting and selling the family silver and jewellery. Sometimes, it was and sometimes there was a legitimate inheritance. We had to endeavour to ensure there was justice and fairness in the final settlement.
I enjoyed all aspects of my work and at that time although the audit staff started at 9.30 instead of the traditional 10 am, pressures were nothing like the present day and I usually got home to hear the Archers.
I became a senior partner in 1960 when both my father and uncle retired and this coincided with a serious move from the City of London, south of the river to Southwark. It was regarded as a crazy decision because the only professional firms there were engineers and there were few taxis or suitable or shops for the staff. In actual fact it was immediately over Blackfriars Bridge within walking distance of Waterloo station (and of course Blackfriars) and I had a 21-year lease at a fraction of the cost of offices in the City. This became a good investment and later Richard went one better by buying the freehold of the building just opposite. Our landlords were Sir Frederick Snow and Partners, through whom I became introduced to The Worshipful Company of Glaziers. Also, Sainsbury’s were neighbours and I worked with Simon Sainsbury on the Trust for the neighbouring alms houses.
I had come into an established practice and was already doing my bit to introduce new clients. However, on my principle of hope for the best but prepare for the worst, but also because I wanted to do something completely on my own, I had started in the late 50’s to build up a local practice in the Guildford area where we lived. This was literally carpet maker, fishmonger, builder and local tradesmen. I saw them in the evenings and they had the benefit of my advice and I also had the satisfaction of helping the smaller men and hopefully watching the business grow. In fact, one example in particular, Alderson, from a print shop in his garage has become of the larger clients of the firm. One or two others also became as substantial as many of the London practice clients. The local practice grew and I had the satisfaction that I could earn my bread and butter from it even without the established clientele. The accounts preparation was done by Carl Hess who worked (sometimes) in the children’s study at home, a close association is always helpful.
Experience taught me that however trusted I was by my clients; they never liked being told what to do. I therefore invented my system of talking around the problem, the answer to which I had quickly ascertained. Feeding them the answer, they would eventually say, “do you not think we should take this course of action?” and my reply would be “What a good idea, you are absolutely correct”. They go away and do it far more quickly than if they had listened to my advice initially. Complementary was to always following a decision however clear at an interview by a letter the following day confirming it. This was always appreciated especially by the more sophisticated clients (and also those slower on the uptake).
Later in the 60’s it was clear that the firm needed more structural management and I made my senior audit clerk for very many years a partner, together with Stanley Serkin who joined the firm at 16 and whom I knew to be reliable.
Our larger client was my uncle, the husband of my mother’s sister, and his partner. There was a close social life between us all. His companies had gone public in 1970 and this provided me with the experience of being involved in a prospectus.
A few years later, uncle Maurits Mulder Canter had a heart attack and was off work for over a year. I was invited to step into the breach and decided to do so as the other partners and staff seemed capable of running the practice. I gained a great deal of commercial hands on experience and which was vital for the consultancy work Lever Brothers was to do later. I was in the office one or two days a week but the time was mostly spent on Hardun’s work.
When after 15 months, Maurits was fit enough to take command of his own ship again, I found myself sitting before and empty desk. The practice had continued but had not developed but what could I do about it in the short term.
Fate took a firm hand because some of our clients, particularly Arthur Messer and B J Friend were manufacturing garments for Marks and Spencer’s. M & S told them what cloth to use, the specific patterns and the price and date they would take delivery. Overheads were not their concern so it was not a question of monthly or even weekly accounts with a percentage. But actual overheads and interestingly night work and extra shifts with additional labour costs were not always the answer to spread overheads. Ernie Young had the necessary expertise and patience to do the job and to ensure that there was either a profit or a good argument with M & S. These ? through the experience in management accounting and providing cash flows before the name was ever really invented were very important.
I had the time to build bonding relationships with the bank managers and knowing about our cash flow experience we were soon asked to undertake investigations for their smaller customers. The larger firms in those days would have charged about £5-6,000 whereas we did it for between £1-1,500. There was always a quicker answer too because within 3 or 4 days, the bank knew whether it was green, yellow or red light and the full report would follow shortly afterwards. Shorter and to the point than the padding of the big boys. When the customers whom we had investigated recognised the finances forthcoming through our efforts they left their old accountants who had left them in a mess and came to us. My desk was full again and I was happy doing this creative work. Peter Clerkson had joined the firm and he was adept at it also and he and Ernie Young gave me the material and I wrote the reports, which was my forte.
Around this time my son, Richard, joined the firm and he was trained and had the experience of the consultancy as well as the basic audit and tax side.
As the practice grew and the taxation legislation became more specialised we employed a full time tax clerk and then two. Previously the audit senior had been responsible for doing the tax computation but it had come the time to have a division of labour.
There then was the Lever Brothers, which had grown in size and status but was still very personal. I prepared for our first PR brochure highlighting the three P’s: personal, progressive, positive and I decided that although I would still wish to know exactly what was going on (otherwise fundamental control was lost)(just look at Rail Track and Marconi current management horrors), I would let Richard who was now a partner, take over full management of the practice. I started easing off in 1986 before I finally retired in 1992.
In that period through a contact at the Institute I was appointed Arbitrator in a number of disputes. I had always had the facility of seeing the crux of a problem and this was essential in arbitration because once this was perceived the pattern of discord could be put in the correct perspective and in many cases the ruling, if not satisfactory to both sides, was not unacceptable.
In all this time there continued the original close family atmosphere. I had always preferred to be overstaffed because of my experience and conviction that the practice would grow. Also, it was absolutely vital that the promises delivery accounts were kept and they were ready earlier rather than later. This meant that although pressures generally had substantially increased, the staff were not overstretched which, incidentally would be counter productive and I feel from partners downwards today’s workload means an intrusion into the objective professional view. My door was always open for staff to discuss professional or personal problems and although we worked hard there was always time for a person word and discussion. It was a way of life through conviction not through modern legislation. Privileges required duties rather than obligations to meet statutory rights.
I do not intend to address the atmosphere change and Richard’s very sad death followed by the sale of the greater part of the practice without reference to me…… I wish every success to Shakil who is working hard to raise the phoenix again from the ashes so that my father and I may be pleased and proud from our respective locations that Lever Bros & Co maintains the family firm traditions."

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