20 Questions The managing director of BookCheck Ltd takes on The Raikes Journal’s 20 Questions

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 27 July 2020 8:00

It seems fitting that a man who is an MCC umpire and cricket fan is also a safe pair of hands with the books of any business. 

Like many lovers of cricket he has an eye for the detail and like the very best Test match commentator can deliver a turn of phrase to encapsulate a moment verging on poetry. 

He still gets a thrill out of his firm’s own quiet delivery being recognised and praised by its clients. His own advice to those starting out now in business is equally perfectly pitched and worth every syllable, as are his observations on lockdown, which smack of serious common sense. 

In the very best British way his words are weightier for the wit hovering close at hand. 

Like his wife’s trifle and homemade sponge (which sound divine) his answers are to be enjoyed, savoured even. 

This week Anthony Pilkington, managing director of BookCheck Ltd, takes on The Raikes Journal’s 20 Questions.

Question: What is your favourite film or series? 

Answer: Poirot. The quality of everything is perfection. I’m also a great fan of Art Deco so I just lap up the buildings, sets and costumes. There are 100 episodes so that will keep me going. 

Q: You’re hosting a dinner party and can invite any three guests from any time in history. Who would they be and why? 

A: Ted Dexter (the old school), Michael Vaughan (the provocateur) and Joe Root (the current), all England (cricket) captains. This would be a lively conversation and even more fascinating if private, though I’m not sure I could rely on Michael. As an MCC umpire I’m sure I’d have some friendly flak. 

Q: What is the best bit of your job? 

A: Personally, pitching to prospects, I enjoy the cut & thrust of the conversation, I’m always looking to identify problems which we can nearly always solve. As MD, working with a great team who never blow their own trumpet, it’s just laid-back professionalism to a very high standard. What we do is not always obvious, often it’s quite invisible, but when a client recognises our achievements it gives us a great sense of satisfaction. 

Q: What is the worst part of your job? 

A: Losing a client that we could have saved – fortunately a very rare event. Some I think of many years afterwards as it still hurts.  

Q: Who was your childhood hero or the person you looked up to? 

A: Jimmy Armfield, Blackpool Football Club and England. In my youth Blackpool were in the top division. As a BBC Radio Five Live summariser Jimmy was superb. He was quick, knowledgeable, informative, humorous, entertaining and never wasted a word - perfection. Jimmy is such a great name too. 

Q: Where is your favourite place in Gloucestershire? 

A: Because Gloucestershire is so varied, I reckon I’m allowed three answers here. First the magnificent River Severn, such as on the ‘sea walls’ by Arwe – magical, with the sun shining and wonderful clouds across the river over the Cotswolds. You can see from Sharpness to Saul via Frampton. Next, near home, Ashmeads valley between Chalford and Frampton Mansell – it’s so special. Then somewhere ‘on the top’ like Salperton. 

Q: What advice would you give to anyone starting out now? 

A: Ensure you have sufficient funding – this will save a lot of pain and wasted time. Measure your performance, set targets so you can track improvements. By all means try new areas but research as thoroughly as possible, rather than just charging in. Contact literally everybody you know, including aunties - ask them if they can help/pass the word/refer you etc.. You should have at least 200. You just never know who knows who. Charge enough – if in doubt put the price up, aim high, top quality, make profits not sales. Don’t hesitate to employ people. 

Q: Was there a mistake or piece of bad luck which changed things for the better? 

A: No one big event but if we ever underperform and lose a client we try hard to learn as much as possible from the experience. We have a formal procedure for handling this, from the smallest issues. This is a key part of our ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System. 

Q: What is your favourite piece of music? 

A: Schubert’s string quartet Death and the Maiden, the 2nd movement is sublime. Elgar‘s Piano Quintet – heavenly and not well known. I was lucky enough to discover music aged 21, through an appreciation class of eight. We studied a piece in depth and then heard it played live, professionallySomehow, I fell for string quartets from the word go, my favourite music - it’s intimate and emotional. 

Q: What qualities do you look for in a new member of staff? 

A: We have 26 years experience of trying to choose the right ones. With book-keepers, foremost we want a dedicated and natural reconciler - at least one or two levels above the average, as our clients expect such. Accuracy and reliability are essential attributes - add to that top PAYE skills for our payroll staff. Really good communications – as we are mostly offsite. Professionalism in everything. 

Q: What is your favourite pudding?  

A: Marmalade upside down steamed pudding, with my wife’s totally unbeatable own production - nothing else comes close. It’s so good that I’ve placed an export ban on it to protect supplies. My wife’s trifle is also a tour de force with home-made sponge. 

Q: Has the coronavirus pandemic changed how you see the world? 

A: Before the virus we were about 90 per cent offsite working but it’s forced changes for the others. Interestingly, as we start to consider returning, some are clearly better back onsite. Businesses are shaping to protect as far as possible against any further effects. I’ve always thought it bonkers to be commuting so much to cities, especially London, for a whole load of reasons. 

As it’s now been demonstrated clearly that secure work can be handled perfectly well offsite, the rules can be changed and will be. Employees will be in a strong position to change, almost dictate, where the work is performed. This will affect the whole recruitment and retention process. There is no going back on this which is a great breakthrough.  

Q: If it was in the name of pleasure – would it be car, bicycle, walk, run, swim? 

A: Walking, as it’s the most flexible and beneficial choice. I’ve started building in a walk to work when I can – up to maybe 5 miles in a day. I’ve bought the Ordnance Survey app and I’m starting to explore unknown footpaths, great fun. 

Q: What is the best thing about living/working in Gloucestershire? 

A: The fabulous countryside with its variety, the Severn and of course the Cotswolds. What a great combination. A good epicentre for travelling. Also the business community, it’s so supportive. We use local suppliers wherever we can and I think this is important, now more than ever. 

Q: If you could wave a magic wand to achieve what you wanted to at work, what would it be? 

A: A predictable, controllable, sufficient supply of new clients…….and staff to go with them. 

Q: What’s your biggest frustration? 

A: Waiting for full fibre broadband. We have a good service now but I want the best. 

Q: If you could start again and had to do something else, what would it be? 

A: Well I wouldn’t want anything else but if forced it would involve transport systems development with the accent on electric and hydrogen - such an exciting future. 

Q: Cheltenham Festival, any of the town’s other festivals, Giffords Circus, Stroud Fringe, Gloucester Rugby v Bath, Three Choirs Festival, Cirencester food Festival, evensong at Tewkesbury Abbey, or Newent Onion Fayre? And why? 

Gifford’s is a favourite – suitable for all ages, charming, great entertainment 

Cheltenham Cricket Festival - I’m an MCC umpire and member. Such a wonderful setting and the most pleasant way to spend a day, with a perfect choice of hospitality to hand. 

I like evensong and what better place than Tewkesbury Abbey. 

Q: If you had to recommend a pub or restaurant in Gloucestershire, what would it be and why?  

A: The Woolpack at Slad. It’ssort of tiny, but full of character and atmosphere. Great beer and food. Superb setting. What more could you want. We also hold meetings at The Bell at Sapperton in a private room and they are hard to beat. 

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? 

A: Just possibly retired! 

Q: What would you like to be remembered for? 

A: Starting BookCheck 26 years ago and developing it into a very successful business. 

Anthony Pilkington is the managing director of BookCheck Ltd. 

First published July 24 2020

Every week The Raikes Journal champions an individual from the Gloucestershire business community through the '20 questions' feature.

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