Our journey into DSW: Harry Walker of DSW Corporate Finance

The founder of DSW’s corporate finance team in the Midlands explains how he became a partner with DSW launching the service with the help of his five colleagues and support from the DSW Breakout Incentive Scheme.

From L – R: Shaf Bheda, Harry Walker, and Ryan Shields.

Why were you looking to start your own business?

After eight years with Grant Thornton, I joined FRP in 2018 and set up its East Midlands corporate finance team from scratch. I came to realise the value of independence and the importance of taking full responsibility for both good and bad decisions during my time there. When I felt it was time for a new challenge, I knew I wanted to undertake my own venture and not be folded into another firm’s structure and culture.

Why did you approach DSW?

I knew I wanted to create an independent Partner-led M&A team focused on delivering to Midlands-based SMEs. I was exploring the possibility of a venture under a new brand or within another corporate finance firm. I considered various options and then approached DSW early in 2023.

How did you bring the team together?

I worked with Fahim Kassam and Daniel Chouciño at FRP, and they have been team members since our launch in September 2023.

Fahim, Harry, and Dan from DSW Corporate Finance Midlands
Fahim, Harry, and Dan from DSW Corporate Finance Midlands, which launched in 2023.

Shaf Bheda, former Head of Magma Corporate Finance, had been thinking about doing something similar so we had a chat. It became evident that his expertise and vision aligned perfectly with mine. However, due to contractual commitments, Shaf began working with us in January.

I had previously worked with Ryan Shields at Grant Thornton and knew I wanted to have the opportunity to work with him again. After a few great conversations and a period of gardening leave, Ryan became part of the team in March.

We have all the pieces of a great jigsaw; we are different characters with different strengths and weaknesses, but we have a great alignment of values and a commitment to delivering high-quality services to our clients.

Our team has a strong advantage due to our extensive experience in M&A advisory, accumulating over 60 years of combined expertise. With Ryan’s presence in the Milton Keynes market, we have expanded our reach to the Central and East regions as well, making our services even more accessible to potential clients in the area.

How did the DSW Break-out Incentive Scheme work for the team?

The scheme provided a cash lump sum of up to £50,000 per person, designed to assist ambitious teams in joining DSW’s network of advisory businesses. This gave us a level of financial security from day one while also supplying essential working capital. Within just six months, the team had doubled in size. The scheme allowed us to take a risk and launch the business when none of us would have been in a financial position to make that choice otherwise.

How was the transaction process?

Initially, I spoke with Cath Priestley (Recruitment Manager), followed by James Dow (CEO) and the alignment of values was clear from early on. Our subsequent interactions highlighted DSW’s corporate finance background and pragmatic approach; they excel in structuring deals and are highly responsive. The process led by Nicole Burstow (former Deputy CEO) and Pete Fendall (COO) was seamless.

Even before presenting to the Board, Shaf, Ryan, and I underwent psychometric tests led by Liz Lawson (Talent & Resourcing Manager), reaffirming DSW’s emphasis on cultural fit and synergy, together with a commitment to understanding and supporting those in their network.

How did the DSW model fit the team’s needs?

Strategically, DSW wanted a corporate finance presence in the Midlands. The alignment was evident, and the support they brought to the table was crucial to our plans. The funding and the ability to operate under an established brand with a strong corporate finance reputation gave us a better platform than the alternative structures we considered.

DSW’s robust infrastructure has facilitated a seamless transition for our team and, importantly, for our clients. DSW provides comprehensive support across compliance, IT, marketing, PR, and administrative functions.

Additionally, we have access to an international resource with Pandea Global M&A. In the corporate finance sector, the absence of international capabilities can often be a significant drawback when pitching for work, and Pandea has already proven beneficial in several deals we’re working on.

What was the ‘deal clincher’ for you?

DSW was a compelling fit for our goals. We could retain ownership of our business and have a level of independence while also benefitting from being part of an organisation that truly understands our sector and market. DSW has an excellent reputation for corporate finance in London, the North West and Yorkshire, and we had the perfect opportunity to segue into its model and brand.

For more on how to become a Partner with DSW, visit our dedicated page.