Business

Top deal-maker leading from the front at PwC in Scotland

HE may have been with Big Four accounting firm PwC for more than three decades. But there has never been a time when Jason Morris has had to search for professional fulfilment.

Mr Morris joined PwC as a “fresh-faced auditor” as part of a graduate intake in September 1991. At the start of this year, he rose to the post of regional market leader, the firm’s chief in Scotland and responsible for a team of more than 1,000 “talented and diverse” people. He replaced Claire Reid, who is now UK head of forensics at PwC and had been the first woman to hold the regional leader role north of the Border.

Mr Morris told The Herald that life at the firm has provided him “10 careers” in 30 years but it is clear he has particularly relished the long period he has spent in its deals practice, which he joined around six years after arriving at PwC.

He has now worked on more than 300 transactions to date, and now combines his Scottish leadership position while serving as head of UK deals for the renewables practice.

And he continues to take enormous satisfaction from working on deals, underscoring the importance of such activity for all of the parties involved.

READ MORE: Scott Wright: What would knocking down Buchanan Galleries say about Glasgow?

“It is a truism – every deal is different,” Mr Morris said. “And frankly all the professional services firms… we are in a really privileged position. Every time you turn up it is a really important situation for both potentially buyer and seller, or fund-raiser.

“For many companies, many individuals, they might only do one in their entire careers. Hence, we come in to help them along the way… and hopefully avoid the pitfalls and get the best outcomes.”

There has certainly been no shortage of deal activity in Scotland as the pandemic has played out in the last 22 months, and Mr Morris expects the pattern to continue. Indeed, he declared the deal market is as “buoyant as I have ever seen it”.

Asked to expand on why this is the case, Mr Morris said there continues to be a “wall of global capital” looking for returns while interest rates continue to be extremely low. That capital is increasingly being invested into private equity and infrastructure funds. “A lot of our pension funds are sitting in these investment vehicles, so you have got this huge global and increasing wall of capital,” Mr Morris said.

Canny investors have achieved good returns during the pandemic by backing so-called “disruptors” that have thrived in the circumstances that Covid has thrown up. Zoom and Peloton have been notable examples. Climate change and the drive to net zero is another major trend that is driving investment.

“These big agendas that were happening anyway all just got really, really sped up, and that has just created massive flux and opportunity in the marketplace,” Mr Morris said. “That wall of capital is seeking to support companies who are really ambitious, seeking to invest into new opportunities and fundamentally start new models.

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“Clearly, none of us want another pandemic ever, ever again… but some of the business outcomes from it has actually accelerated things that were happening. There is a real sense of opportunity that has opened up because of this flux and change.”

Mr Morris enthused about the level of interest shown in the ScotWind licensing round run by the Crown Estate, which will see major energy companies and financiers back 17 renewable energy projects (out of 70 applications) around Scotland’s coastline. Much disquiet has been expressed that until now Scotland has not had much supply chain benefit from the proliferation of onshore wind farms around the country in recent years, but Mr Morris is among those who reckon that will change.

“There is an ambition to change it, there is certainly a desire to change it and I think it is being approached in a very sensible way,” he said.

Citing PwC’s recent Green Jobs Barometer, which ranked Scotland ahead of every other “region” in the UK for green job creation, he added: “These are huge projects [and] there will be benefit for us in the UK. It is then about maximising that benefit.”

Mr Morris, meanwhile, is not disheartened by the pattern of major Scottish companies being bought out. Buyouts last year saw Glasgow saw Aggreko, the formerly listed temporary power specialist, acquired for £2.3 billion by private equity players TDR Capital and I Squared Capital, while Edinburgh-based Vegware, a specialist manufacturer of compostable packaging, was bought by Novolex of the US in a deal that valued the firm at tens of millions of dollars.

READ MORE: Scott Wright: How can we halt flow of Scotland’s best firms into overseas hands?

While Mr Morris said it would perhaps be good to see more “champions in the Scottish marketplace”, he does not necessarily think the sale of Scottish firms is bad.

“Quite a lot of the global ownership that is playing out is not about buying and then relocating – it is about buying and investing in,” he said. “On one level, you could have a level of concern around overseas ownership, but I think increasingly it has been positive in attracting capital to help [firms] grow.”

Assessing the economic outlook for the year ahead, Mr Morris highlighted global supply chain issues and inflation as challenges facing the firm’s clients. But he backed firms in Scotland to continue to display the “agility” and “flexibility” that has served them well during the pandemic, and kept insolvencies at lower levels than might have been expected.

Six Questions

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
Did every boy in the west of Scotland not want to be a professional footballer… when I realised my chances were less than one in a million, and being a fire fighter would be a bit scary, it was accounting all the way!

What was your biggest break in business?
So many situations over the years that in retrospect were important to where I am now that it’s impossible to pull out one event but I can say that the influence of a few very important bosses over the years (they know who they are) made all the difference to my career and professional development.

What was your worst moment in business?
I made partner in July 2008 and two months later Lehman crashed and the financial crisis was in full swing… it made the first few years pretty hard as M&A work was thin on the ground but you learn how to adapt, be flexible and also the importance of alumni in your network – they were some of my most loyal clients in what were a few hard business years. 

Who do you most admire and why?
I love sport and Andy Murray strikes me as someone who has wrung every ounce of achievement out of his natural talents – huge work ethic, real love of what he does and appears to have a great set of values. 
In business I am a fan of Richard Branson’s achievements – not often you see a personal brand applied to so many different ventures. 
I know not all of them were a sustained success but still got to admire his ambition and vision.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
Currently reading Putin’s People which is a fascinating insight into the man. 
On music I am a latecomer to the joy of Spotify and currently bouncing around a load of artists… Elbow, Dave not Dave, Celeste and Michael Kiwanuka are all favourites just now
 

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