Scotsman Monday Interview with Eileen Blackburn
09 November 2015
Through the bay windows at 56 Palmerston Place, it’s just possible to catch a glimpse of Edinburgh’s Bonham Hotel, which was sold earlier this year as part of the Town House Collection brand.
Gazing down at it from the west end offices of French Duncan, Eileen Blackburn notes that the deal marked the end of a long working relationship between her firm and Town House, formerly owned by veteran hotelier Peter Taylor.
Despite that, the hospitality sector remains a big earner for the east coast arm of French Duncan, the Scottish accountancy firm that dates its roots back to 1902.
Its network of offices, which also covers Glasgow, Hamilton and Stirling, employs nearly 200 people generating annual fee income of more than £10 million. Although a significant player in the west, French Duncan’s presence and profile is decidedly more limited in the capital. Blackburn’s job as newly-promoted principal partner is to expand the Edinburgh operation and restore some balance.
“We would like to become more of a force in the east,” she says. “We are looking for potential mergers, and also perhaps some lateral hires.”
While continuing to build upon the hospitality team led by Barry Laurie, Blackburn also sees potential for expansion in the food and drink, healthcare and construction sectors – areas where the extended French Duncan network has particular expertise. Raising brand awareness is also crucial.
“It’s about getting out and being a bit evangelical,” she says.
Though it might not immediately seem evident, Blackburn’s background in corporate insolvency has prepared her well for the task ahead. In addition to leading the Edinburgh office, she continues as head of French Duncan’s recovery and insolvency division.
“Getting new business is something our department has been good about, because we don’t tend to have repeat customers,” she explains. “Every time we finish with a client we have to find another one to replace them.”
Blackburn started her career on a training contract with a small firm in Glasgow before joining what was then PKF in 1989. With an interest in the legal side of accountancy and a passion for problem-solving, she was quickly drawn into insolvency. She went on to work with Kidsons Impey, which would later become Baker Tilly, before joining French Duncan in 2003. All together, she spent 25 years working in Glasgow before the 2008 acquisition of McCabes by French Duncan led to a transfer to Edinburgh.
During her career Blackburn has also been a member of the Scottish Technical Committee of R3, the trade body for insolvency practitioners set up in 1995, and has worked closely with the Accountant in Bankruptcy to develop personal insolvency legislation. She gave evidence to the Scottish Government during the Bankruptcy and Protected Deed Trust consultations in 2013, and is currently involved in the overhaul of the Scottish Corporate Insolvency Rules.