Chartered accountancy and IT firm Mullen Stoker marked 10 years in business in 2020. And while celebrations were understandably muted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company did achieve significant growth, with new clients secured and workforce expansion.

Here founding directors Neil Mullen and Gary Stoker, along with third company director Stephen Green, share with us their thoughts on successfully operating during a global crisis and what the future holds for Mullen Stoker.

It’s fair to say 2020 was a year like no other. Although in January it was very much business as usual for us all, by March the picture was very different.

For companies like Durham-based chartered accountancy and IT firm Mullen Stoker, the coronavirus pandemic and initial three-month national lockdown seemed to put plans for growth on hold.

The world was facing completely unprecedented circumstances as the virus took hold, and with a ‘work from home’ policy in place for companies whose staff didn’t have to be on site, Mullen Stoker was forced to build on an already flexible working policy to switch to entirely remote operations.

The Northern Echo: Neil MullenNeil Mullen

However, the company – which celebrated its 10th birthday in 2020 – refused to panic. Instead they did everything they could to ensure day-to-day working and client support was unaffected, particularly when it came to payroll which was an essential service to so many of its clients.

Neil Mullen said: “When we were plunged into the first of three national lockdowns, it was such a strange time for everyone. We’d never experienced anything like it, certainly not in our generation, and many companies were forced to shut shop.

“However, for a business like ours, where flexible working was already in place to a certain degree, the transition to remote operations was much simpler.

“And of course, by the very nature of our business, we found that we were busier than ever.

“Things like the furlough scheme affected so many of our clients, who relied on our support more than ever to ensure they were fully compliant and keeping their accounts in order.

“We knew many businesses and individuals were struggling to get their heads around the financial implications of the pandemic – and to a certain extent so were we - so we took a proactive approach in sending out relevant updates and information, particularly regarding the loans and grants which were available. We knew would be helpful.

“This was a critical time for the business and I do believe this approach was integral to us winning new clients and ending the year in such a strong position.”

Mullen Stoker’s IT division also experienced rapid growth in 2020, again in large part due to the changes in working arrangements which many businesses had introduced.

The Northern Echo: Gary StokerGary Stoker

Gary Stoker, who heads up the firm’s IT operations, added: “Whilst some clients were already set up for remote and flexible working, for others it was completely new and that meant having systems put in place which would allow for off-site working in the same safe and secure way as they would if they were in the office.

“Naturally this led to a rise in demand for our IT services, with many businesses requesting the introduction of bespoke software solutions to ensure they could continue to service their own clients with as little disruption as possible.

“By the end of 2020, our IT division had grown rapidly and is now a priority area of growth and investment and we move through 2021.”

This year has seen Mullen Stoker invest in new personnel, including the appointment of two vastly experience accountancy and compliance professionals.

Cathy Eales has joined the company as an accountant, having worked in the sector for over 30 years.

The Northern Echo: Cathy Eales and Steve HuttonCathy Eales and Steve Hutton

She has been recruited to drive Mullen Stoker’s growth in Northumberland, specifically within the rural and farming industries which is her specialism.

Meanwhile Steve Hutton has been appointed to bolster the company’s auditing and compliance capabilities.

Director Stephen Green said: “From day one, Mullen Stoker has prided itself on attracting and retaining the best people in the industry, people who share our ambition to grow.

“We know it’s our people that are key to our success – our working environment is relaxed and enjoyable, which means our staff want to come to work every day. The importance of that cannot be underestimated – we’re like a family here and all work together, supporting one another to constantly develop and improve.

“It’s also a factor in our ability to attract people of Cathy and Steve’s calibre – both had worked with us in their previous roles and had no hesitation in joining the business when the opportunity came up.

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“And as we move through 2021, the expansion of our team is continuing. We are currently in the process of recruiting a further three people to join our team and there’s a good chance additional appointments will be sought before the end of the year.

“These additions to our team are key to ensuring we’re in the strongest possible position to achieve our ambitious plans for regional growth.”

Mullen Stoker, which is based at Mandale Business Park in Durham, now employs 15 people.

Having enjoyed organic growth in its first ten years of business, the company is now proactively investing in an ambitious marketing and communications strategy, supported with investment through the NBSL North East Business Support Fund.

Gary added: “As a business we have identified a number of areas for growth, including our client footprint across the North East, potentially expanding nationally and of course, further investment in our IT division.

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“However, we appreciate that whilst our position to date has been achieved through organic growth, if we want to take the business to the next level, we have to invest in our profile and show our target market who we are and why they should use us.

“We know from feedback that the way we worked was part of the reason we attracted so many new clients – so now is the time to be shouting about that and putting ourselves in front of a more diverse and geographically larger audience.

“It’s an exciting time for Mullen Stoker. We see the next six to 12 months as being a critical time for us in building the perfect platform from which to achieve the growth plans we have put in place, which is likely to see us taking on additional office space across the region.”

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