JUST EIGHT months after listing on the Australian Stock Exchange, Integrated Legal Holdings (ILH) has announced that Graeme Fowler will take over from Thomas Henn as the company’s CEO and managing director.
ILH operates as an umbrella company for law firms and related legal services businesses. So far, the company has acquired five businesses in total, four law firms as well as Law Central, an online business that provides legal documentation.
Fowler was previously the CEO of listed accounting and financial services consolidator WHK Group Ltd and has spent over 15 years in senior management positions with the BT Financial Group. His predecessor at ILH, Thomas Henn, will take up a position as a principal of one of ILH’s wholly-owned subsidiaries, Brett Davies Lawyers.
Although ILH is a Perth-based company, Fowler will be based in Sydney, which according to company secretary Brett Davies was a significant strategic move for the firm.
“We’re currently in negotiations with a number of law firms [regarding potential acquisitions] and the bulk of them are in Sydney,” Davies said. “The fact is, the bulk of lawyers and law firms are in Sydney, and we want to be there.”
Fowler is clear about the direction in which he intends to steer ILH, telling Lawyers Weekly that the company is now actively looking to acquire small- to medium-sized stand-alone firms in cities and large regional centres across Australia.
“We’re targeting stand-alone firms of at least $4 million to $5 million dollars in revenue; well-managed businesses with good prospects for growth, so the small- to medium- enterprise market and high net worth individuals,” he said. “We see these firms as being able to double their revenues probably over a three or four year period as part of the larger ILH group.”
When asked whether he had a specific target, Fowler said that he hoped the company would be able to acquire two or three stand-alone firms in the next 12 months, and between 20 and 30 firms over the longer term. He also aims for the company to acquire a number of smaller firms that can be merged into the larger units.
Selecting the right people is key to the company’s strategy, Fowler said: “It’s important in these sorts of professional services groups to build a strong culture so we do want like-minded people who are committed to growth and the improvement of their businesses and being part of ILH as a larger listed company.”
About ILH’s less-than-impressive share price performance to date, Fowler is pragmatic. From an initial public offer price of 50 cents, the share price nosedived to 38 cents after the first day of trading as the ASX suffered its biggest slump in seven years. At the time of writing it sat just under 15 cents.
“ILH has had a tough time since it listed, and the general market conditions haven’t helped,” Fowler said, “but in my view, you don’t develop a plan to improve a share price. You develop a good strategy and execute it well, which I know we can do, and you’ve got a good chance of share price appreciation. Integrated Legal Holdings has got good profitability and good prospects for both dividend and earnings per share growth, and all of these are fundamental for good share price performance over the medium to long term.”
Fowler believes that developing the right business model will be the key to the company’s success: “We want to retain the best parts of the partnership model, but also gain access to the listed company environment,” he said.
“The key things there, are access to capital for growth and the ability to offer share schemes for employees, to enable firms to attract and retain good talent.”