Alumni interview: Returning home

Caroline Evans and Jenni Lawrence share some of the highlights from their first stint at the firm and explain why they came back

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Caroline Evans first worked with us from 1986 to 2001, and Jenni Lawrence followed between 2001 and 2006.  Both have since returned, which gives them a unique perspective on how the firm has changed over the past few decades.  

Q. Tell us about your first stint at the firm.

Caroline: I joined Brewers as an audit trainee straight out of university in the mid-1980s.  After qualifying, I moved to the Business Services team, which at the time provided a range of audit, tax and outsourced services to smaller clients.  This was before the introduction of the smaller company exemption, so all companies had to be audited.  The team was small when I started but grew significantly – both organically and as a result of our merger with Cooper Lancaster, which created Cooper Lancaster Brewers (CLB) – to comprise around 10-15 people by the time I left.  In that same period, I went from being the new girl to a Senior Manager and head of the team.

Jenni: I joined CLB a few weeks after Caroline left, so we just missed each other.  I’d come from a start-up financed by a US bank, but the funding had dried up after 9/11.  I was interviewed by Eric Hindson, who is still at the firm now, and became the practice manager, looking after marketing and HR issues for the firm as a whole.  When CLB merged with Littlejohn Frazer in 2005, I was part of the integration team.  However, my role started to disappear as the combined firm had its own marketing and HR teams.  At around the same time, I started a family so decided to give up the job and move back to South Africa.

Q. What did you do after that?

J: I was a stay at home mum for my first couple of years in South Africa and then got a job at a company that audited company initiatives focused on post-Apartheid integration in the economy.  I made my way through the ranks, eventually becoming MD, before heading back to the UK in 2020.

C: I went into industry and worked for a couple of interesting companies.  One was a record distribution and import/export business, which also owned a vinyl pressing plant.  The company was a former client and I joined to help out on a short term basis, but ended up staying for almost eight years.  The company collapsed after the 2007/8 financial crisis – Woolworths had been a major customer, so its closure hit us hard – and I worked with the administrators for about 18 months to help with the winding down.  After that, I joined an AIM-listed tech start-up at its London HQ.  We had offices in Barcelona and Casablanca, so I got to travel to these wonderful cities as part of my role.  That business folded too – I’m hoping I’m not a jinx! – and I then took some contract roles.

Q. And how did you end up back at PKF?

C: I’d stayed in touch with Claire Palmer, who had by this time become a partner at PKF Littlejohn, and met up with her to discuss my plans to return to work following a period of ill health.  That was in the summer of 2018.  Claire invited me back, initially to do some file reviews, and this eventually  turned into a full time role.  I’m now a Senior Manager in the Not for Profit team and split my time between being one of the engagement leads for the SAAA team (which provides limited assurance services to thousands of local authorities across England) and working in our Institutional Donor Audit team on some of our international framework contracts.

J: I also re-joined following some conversations with a former colleague with whom I’d stayed in touch over the years.  I found out about a vacancy for an operations director in the Tax team, and joined in March 2020, the day before we were all advised by the government to start working from home.

Q. Are there any other people still here from your first stint?

C: A few are still here – which is surprising given that I left almost 20 years ago.

J: As well as Claire and Eric, I remember working with Mark Ling, Dominic Roberts, Tim Herbert, Matt Golding, Kerry Cutting and Clare Giltrow.

Q. How has the firm changed since you first joined?

C: When I first started, there weren’t any female partners – or even female managers, for that matter – so things have improved on that front over the past couple of decades.  The firm was a lot smaller then, too – I got to know just about everybody during my first stint, which is obviously a lot trickier to do now that there’s over 300 of us in London.

J: I think the firm feels more dynamic now, although the culture is more relaxed: when I joined for the first time, senior people were still addressed as ‘sir’ or ‘Mr so-and-so’.  I also remember that one particular partner refused to use a computer – he had one on his desk but it just gathered dust as he preferred to amass mountains of paper.  That doesn’t happen any more!

Q. How have you been affected by the lockdown?

J: I joined the day before we were all told by the Prime Minister to work from home, so I’ve only been in the office a few times since I started!  I didn’t think I’d enjoy working from home as much as I do, and it’s been particularly helpful in terms of enabling me and my family to settle in and integrate into the local community.  Once the lockdown restrictions are eased, I hope that we can move to a hybrid model that enables us to work in the office for some of the week.

C: I agree.  I didn’t enjoy working from home at first but have got used to it now.  I live reasonably close to the office, so my commute was never a huge chore – in fact, it was pleasant to walk home along the river in the summer.  I’d also be keen to see a hybrid solution in the future, although we’ll have to think carefully about how we make sure that those who aren’t in the office don’t feel excluded from the action.

Q. And, finally, on the subject of lockdown easing, where would you like to go once restrictions end?

C: I’m looking forward to staying in the UK this year.  I had to cancel several holidays last year because of lockdown, so just getting away will be a real treat.
J: We were supposed to go back to South Africa last Christmas to visit family, but that didn’t happen.  We’ll try again this year…

This article appeared in our Alumni newsletter in April 2021.