Interview: David James, Baker Tilly Czech Republic

Managing Director, Baker Tilly CZ and International Liaison, Baker Tilly Poland

When David James was a young boy in England, his mother brought out her stamp collection for him to peruse. She asked him, “I started this when I was your age. Maybe you’d also like to collect stamps like I did?” After poring over the foreign letters and words on the stamps with deep fascination, David replied, “You collect the stamps, mother. I’ll collect the words.”

And indeed, David remained true to his words, eventually obtaining a masters in Modern and Medieval languages at Cambridge University, during which time he studied abroad in Russia for one year.

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During the past 15 years of his work as an auditor, Polish, Russian, German and French have figured prominently in his work. But now that David has transitioned from mastering words to mastering numbers, and works as managing director for Baker Tilly Czech Republic and international liaison for Baker Tilly Poland, he is quickly polishing up his Czech language skills as well.

Since joining Baker Tilly in May 2009, David has maintained a travel-intensive schedule, beginning and ending his week in Warsaw, where he works in the Baker Tilly Poland head office, and usually spending two or three days of the work week at the Baker Tilly Czech Republic Prague office.

Baker Tilly Czech Republic, which is an independent member of Baker Tilly International, focuses on auditing, accounting, tax and business advisory services. David’s own area of expertise is in due diligence (he has personally done 60 in 10 different countries) and business modeling (he has worked on over 50 business plans).

“My message to the middle-tier, international businesses that we have designed this firm to serve is for them to think: ‘What is my ideal service provider?’ and ‘Do I need to be competing for attention against the biggest companies in the world by going to a very large accounting/auditing firm?’ If the answer is no, then why not take a mid-tier firm, capable of providing exactly the same services in all the same places and save yourself some money?” David explained.

It was actually David’s time spent in Soviet Russia back in 1986, debating the pros and cons of capitalism with other students, that propelled him toward his current career in accountancy.

It got him thinking about basic economics, asking questions like “’Where does the economy come from? How are people made to work and kept happy? Is there an ideal system?’ Right now, I can talk about nothing useful in 10 different languages. I have to learn something that will show me how the business world really works,” David recalled.

After speaking with economics students at Cambridge who advised him to study economics “because it’s the language of business,” David enrolled in a training contract with a small, high quality firm in Hertfordshire and took the graduate conversion course of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the first step in a long road to qualification.

After becoming certified as an accountant, David moved to Poland in 1991 to work for auditing firm BDO. “We built up the company by training people there and I also trained all over East Europe, including several visits in the Czech Republic, which I always liked. There wasn’t much by way of our profession in East Europe before the changes. Auditors were just state functionaries,” David said. After a change in BDO Poland´s ownership, however, David moved back home to the UK in 2000 for just one year.

“I soon had enough of being back in England. I wasn’t massively happy, I was missing the Slavic soul, so I thought about getting jobs in East Europe again,” David recalled. Incidentally, a position as financial director for a television station in Moscow came up, and David readily agreed. But raising a young family wasn’t so easy in Moscow, and David was already getting called back to Poland by former BDO colleagues who had set up their own firm. He happily answered the call, and remained in Poland from 2003 until his move to Baker Tilly in 2009.

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Now as Managing Director of Baker Tilly Prague, his self-imposed mission is to grow 8 times larger in 10 years.

“I want to take what we’ve got, double it, then double it again, then double it again,” David said of his formidable goal. He explained that he plans to pursue this through offering “first-class quality services at a fair price” and will drive awareness of the Baker Tilly brand (still less known in the Czech Republic than in other countries) by online advertising, free seminars held regularly at the Prague and Brno offices and by establishing long-term relationships with clients and contacts, including tax and business newsletters and updates.
“We´ve already put in the investment we need in accessible offices and great people and systems. Now, as the clients come in, we know we can make them happy,” David added.

David is directing his advertising budget largely toward online advertising, a concept that he is very excited about. Even small additions to the firm’s website are already paying off, including a contact form that is bringing in many inquiries from potential clients as well as employees. David, who has talk radio experience, also plans to add frequent podcasts to the site, as well as videos, with news and information relevant to their market.

“This way paper and time doesn’t get wasted. People don’t have time. I want to be high on the search engine, and already we have gone up nicely,” David said.

As he continues to grow the business, David said that his focus will be more on internationally positioned clients. He explained that for smaller Czech companies that only want statutory services and in Czech only, his firm’s services, which are offered in a host of languages, could seem more expensive than necessary for them.

“We are not necessarily trying to go after purely local firms, because our people, who all speak foreign languages, are naturally more expensive than they probably need,” David said. “I don´t try to compete with smaller and more local firms on price anymore than the big four accounting firms should try to compete with us on price–although we do see some of that while there is a downturn. Therefore, most of our clients will be foreign-based businesses investing or seeking to invest in the Czech Republic.”

However, David also pointed out that Czech firms that would like to go international, but don’t know how, “should of course come to us. I want to really see more Czech businesses going international. It would give me pleasure to put our network of professional advisors in 114 countries at the disposal of Czech entrepreneurs who have great products and services to offer the world,” he concluded.

This article was commissioned by Baker Tilly CZ and published as a courtesy to the community.

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