23rd May, 2023, Melanie Harriss
When Mike Rowles joined Stephenson Smart Accountants in 2005, he was nineteen and fresh from completing his A-levels. Disregarding an academic route to success, he decided a more hands on approach to development would suit him better. He applied for a trainee role at Stephenson Smart and was delighted to be accepted onto the firm’s trainee scheme.
“I’d always had an interest in maths and felt first-hand experience would benefit me more than going down the university route,” he says. “When I saw Stephenson Smart’s advert for a trainee accountant, I seized the opportunity and applied.”
With the support of Martyn Benstead, who was then a Manager at the King’s Lynn office, Mike completed his studies, whilst gaining valuable on-the-job experience. First passing his AAT qualifications in 2008 and completing further training to become a fully qualified ACCA accountant in 2012.
“Working with Martyn was a brilliant way to kickstart my career. It was rewarding walking away from that initial traineeship with three years of experience and a recognised qualification.” says Mike. “Martyn provided me with a perfect combination of guidance and freedom; I was able to take charge of my approach to the work, but I knew support was always there if I needed it. I felt confident that if I wanted more responsibility, I would be given the opportunity to progress – so I decided to further my skills with Stephenson Smart.”
After qualifying, Mike took on the role of Manager at the firm’s Fakenham office. Martyn was also now based there, in the role of partner. The duo continued to work together well to grow the team and support their many clients. This included them both becoming two of the first qualified ATOL reporting accountants in the country, so that they could best service their clients in that sector.
“I’ve come so far as both an accountant and an individual since starting at Stephenson Smart; looking back is an astounding experience,” says Mike. “The most rewarding thing for me has been building relationships with clients and watching their businesses do well. I also have a keen interest in taking on new trainees and giving them the guidance I received when I first started.”
Stephenson Smart accountants now have over 100 staff based in seven offices and support more than 4,500 clients. We are a forward-thinking firm who take pride in providing enriching opportunities to school leavers, graduates and those wishing to explore a new career path.
Profiles: Mike Rowles and Martyn Benstead
6th April, 2023, Stephenson Smart
Two experienced marathon runners have pushed themselves to their physical limits by running 142 miles while battling serious injury and a major medical setback.
Firm friends Neil Gayton and Martyn Benstead took part in the Positive Steps Grand Slam, a series of three endurance ultra runs across the countryside of Norfolk and Suffolk, which must be completed in the space of 12 months.
But just before they were due to start training Martyn suffered a detached retina in his eye leaving him visually impaired and unable to cross a road alone.
Coupled with Neil damaging his foot, pulling a hamstring and Martyn suffering a problem with his other eye, challenge completion seemed in serious doubt.
Despite all the setbacks, the pair, who are also work colleagues at chartered accountants and business advisors Stephenson Smart, completed the gruelling trails just inside the year.
Positive Steps Fitness and Wellbeing is an organisation hosting trail challenge events and races from half marathons to 100km across East Anglia.
Martyn and Neil, who work in Fakenham and King’s Lynn respectively, began with running The Peddars Way, the second longest course of 48 miles in January 2022.
They followed this in June with a 100km trek, the equivalent of 63 miles, beginning at Castle Acre and ending at Beeston High School along the Norfolk Coastal Footpath.
Their last, and shortest at 31 miles, took place in December beginning and ending at Ickworth in Suffolk.
They have since been awarded with a special tankard for their efforts.
Martyn said: “We’ve known each other for years through working together, but we’re good mates and have become closer friends since we began running and training together.
“During lockdown in August 2020, I had a detached retina and I lost sight in one of my eyes. Neil was brilliant by offering to go out for a walk with me as I was at the point where I couldn’t cross a road safely.
“Running is a massive part of my life and not being able to do it really affected me mentally and physically as I couldn’t do it for at least two months, so I had less training than I would have liked to.
“We needed to complete three courses in 12-months, but it did look in serious doubt as I then had a problem with my other eye, which put the third event in jeopardy. Neil then pulled his hamstring not long into the course.
“Neil is much fitter and stronger than me and I never had a thought that something would happen to him, but when he became injured it occurred to me that it would all mean nothing if he couldn’t finish it too. I would have piggy backed him to the finish line if I had to.”
Neil said. “I felt like I was being held up by gaffer tape at the end. During the first event I had a problem early on with the top of my foot, the second was easier as I didn’t have an injury, but during the third I knew something wasn’t right and it was a real struggle to make it to the end. We went into survival mode, but after many obstacles we achieved it and we’re proud of that.”
Food was key during all three treks with some interesting snacks consumed, including flasks of soup, cherry bakewell tarts and salt and vinegar crisps.
Neil said: “Trail running leads on naturally to longer runs. Having done a lot of marathon running, I think we wanted to do something where we could set ourselves a personal challenge and also enjoy our countryside at the same time.”
Although there’s no events planned for the immediate future while Neil recovers from injury, Martyn said he knows Neil will have something up his sleeve.
“He’s always thinking of something we can have a go at. The obvious one would be Lands End to John O’Groats, but we’ll have to think about that!”
2) Martyn Benstead, left and Neil Gayton on one of the courses.
Martyn Benstead, left and Neil Gayton on one of the courses.
3rd January, 2023, Melanie Harriss
Accountants link to sporting success
An ultramarathon runner, a ladies football team captain, an internationally acclaimed cricketer and a world championship pool competitor is quite an impressive list of sporting credentials.
Especially when it’s revealed they all work at Stephenson Smart accountants.
In fact, these achievements are just a snippet of the sporting success across our firm, leaving us wondering if sport and accountancy have a greater connection than people realise?
Kayleigh Wilson, Tax Manager
“I think there must be a connection,” said Kayleigh Wilson, pool player and Tax Manager for all six offices.
“Accountants are methodical and logical people and most sports require this trait in order to succeed. Pool is definitely quite a strategic game.
“What is it they say? One side of your brain functions better than the other. I would say accountants excel in the use of their left cortex brain function, however the right cortex that controls creativity and artistic skills – not so much!”
Kayleigh began playing pool at the age of seven after her family moved into The Bowling Green Pub in Wisbech and she discovered she could beat many of the regulars.
She started playing for the Wisbech pub leagues at age 10, won the Division Two singles league at 11 and became the only girl on the under 16s England Juniors team at age 12.
By 13, Kayleigh was playing for England Ladies and went on to represent the UK in the World Championships in Germany.
“I’m planning to enter the IPA and the English Blackball Pool Federation ladies tour events in 2023. Ladies pool seems to be getting a lot more publicity at the moment, so now is a good time to see what happens.”
Lexi Waters, Accountants Assistant
Lexi Waters, Accounts Assistant at the March office is captain of the March Town Ladies Football Team.
She started playing football at age five and training with the Outwell Swifts, playing competitively in the Norfolk League.
“My Dad was my football manager at Outwell until age 11, then I started to play for Wisbech Town Acorns on Sundays and Hungate Girls on Saturdays,” she said.
While Lexi was playing for Hungate Girls she had the opportunity to play a tournament against Tottenham Hotspur Girls at the FA’s national centre at St George’s Park, who they beat to come third overall.
Over in the men’s league, Michael Clunan, Manager at the King’s Lynn office, is captain of King’s Lynn Football Club, while Neil Gayton, also Manager at King’s Lynn, is coach for the under 11s West Lynn Football Team, a four times London Marathon runner, triathlon competitor and recently finished a 48-mile ultramarathon.
Neil said: “Sport is good as the job is intense and there’s a lot of sitting in front of a screen. It’s a much-needed release, I think I would go a bit stir crazy if I couldn’t get out and exercise!”
Kirwin Christoffels, Accountants Assistant
With success in football, running and pool under their belts, the team can also add cricket and hockey to the list thanks to Accounts Assistant Kirwin Christoffels.
Kirwin started playing cricket as a young boy growing up in South Africa.
After an abundance of accolades, which included winning the under 19’s Cricket World Cup, he was chosen as the overseas cricket professional to travel to the UK to play several seasons at North Runcton Cricket Club, which led him to stay and pursue a career at Stephenson Smart.
As well as cricket he has now extended his interests to hockey, which he plays almost every weekend for the Pelican’s Hockey Club in King’s Lynn.
“I definitely think there’s a link between accountancy and sport,” said Kirwin.
“Both require a fair bit of analysis, forecasting and being able to think on your feet.
“The rules in sport and accountancy may change as the game and accounting period go on, so being flexible and adaptable to the changes in one aspect may lend a hand to being alert in the other aspect.”
10th October, 2022, Melanie Harriss
Dan Jastrzebski, Partner, Andy Doyle, IT Manager and Neil Gayton, Manager, all took part in the London Marathon this year, with all three finishing within five hours and raising thousands for charity.
Andy, who ran for East Anglian Children’s Hospices, completed the course in three hours, 51 minutes, putting him into the top 1000 of males aged 50-54.
He said: “I’m very happy with my time as it was what I was looking for. The atmosphere was great, the crowds created a wall of noise all the way round, but the last few miles were unbelievable.”
Despite battling a knee injury Dan managed to cross the line in four hours, 52 minutes.
He said: “My knee was painful throughout, but by the end everything below the waist hurt! I had a few issues with my hamstrings on the day, but I managed to get through to the finish, which was great.
“I’ve currently raised £3,395 for St John Ambulance with more sponsorship still coming in.”
Ultramarathon runner Neil Gayton also didn’t waste an opportunity to run another marathon, taking part virtually with his brother Wayne, finishing in four hours, 23 minutes.
He said: “All of our kids were there with a makeshift finish line. I drove to my brother’s in Gayton for a 6am start, so we could make the one-way trip to west Lynn, via some scenic woodlands and riverbanks, so I could get to coach my son’s football match that kicked off at 10.30am!”
Stephenson Smart, which has six offices in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, has a matched donation scheme that will add to Dan and Andy’s charity totals.
Related Articles: Double London Marathon Bid for Dan and Andy
29th September, 2022, Melanie Harriss
Dan Jastrzebski, partner at Stephenson Smart and Andy Doyle, IT Manager will be taking on the London Marathon on Sunday, 2 October.
Andy will be running his second marathon in the capital to raise money for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, the company’s chosen charity for the year, while Dan is taking on his first race for the St John Ambulance.
Andy said: “I’ve had a four-month training plan. I did the GEAR 10k here in King’s Lynn, the Great North Run, a 10k at Holkham, a half marathon at Sandringham in June and some runs and events with my running group Renegade Runners.
“Training has been more challenging because it’s taken place in the summer instead of the winter. I did a lot of early morning runs to contend with the heat. I was getting up at 4am so I could finish before it got too hot.
“I’ve been running for six years as a hobby just to keep fit, I’ve got to that age where I can’t rely on nature looking after me properly!”
Dan gained a charity place with St John Ambulance after volunteers supported a work colleague during a previous London Marathon.
He said: “I started my training in July and I did the Great North Run, but all the other runs have been training runs locally.
“I’m up to 21 miles so far and my plan is to leave a bit for the day. Hopefully the crowds will carry me through!”
Andy is hoping to finish quicker than his 2021 time of 3.57, while Dan would like to cruise across the line in four-and-a-half hours.
Both are part of a core group of athletes at the King Street office, which also includes Neil Gayton, who took on an ultra-marathon of 48 miles earlier this year.
“I don’t know if there’s a link between accountancy and sport, but there are quite a few of us who run,” said Dan.
“We are very office based, so it’s nice to have that element of releasing some energy and getting out and about. It just helps you to unwind, relax and have a work/life balance.”
Andy added: “I can remember the first London Marathon when I was 10 in about 1981. It’s always been something once a year we would sit and watch and I never imagined I would run it once, let alone twice!”
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