New challenges posed for family firms

At work: Altman Smith Accountants' Maureen Williams and David Ellis.
At work: Altman Smith Accountants' Maureen Williams and David Ellis.
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Tough times have hit the high streets and are posing new challenges for small firms.

But, they can create opportunities too, says Muhammad Zahur – and he should know.

Mr Zahur was one of the first Asian chartered accountants to have his own practice in Sheffield and has developed a diversified portfolio of businesses spanning successful care homes and property.

He heads Altman Smith & Co, the London Road-based chartered accountants whose clients are primarily small firms and include a fair proportion of small and independent retailers.

Having been with the firm for more than 40 years, Muhammad Zahur has seen a recession or two and has, himself, been prepared to seize the opportunities they offer.

Clients for the core accountancy business have mostly come as the result of personal recommendation and are spread throughout Sheffield, Rotherham and Chesterfield. They also include companies in Nottingham and Derby, and even as far away as London.

“The business has grown steadily over the last few years,” says Mr Zahur, whose son Amir Zahur, also works for the business as an accountant, while his daughter, Savaf Zahur, is a doctor in London.

“We have all kinds of clients. A whole range of retail clients, taxi firms, people with properties, driving instructors and all sorts of people.

“We have specialised in small retail stores and independent retailers. We do act on behalf of some international firms, but the majority are small firms and self-employed people.”

Mr Zahur says the retail market has changed significantly over the last few years.

“Old, established businesses are finding it tough. Some are closing down, but new ones are springing up in their place, people are trying their luck and, hopefully, with new management and ideas they will be more successful,” he adds.

It’s a recipe he followed himself, when the opportunity to acquire Ash House Care Home in Dore arose around 20 years ago.

The UK had been through a recession and that, combined with the introduction of new standards for care homes, had prompted a number to close down.

“We bought it, refurbished it and it’s still there,” says Mr Zahur, for whom the home is more than a business.

“We go there and talk to the residents. I know them and their relatives. It gives me a lot of pleasure,” says the man who has also helped to raise money and provide expertise for a small care home in Jhelum, in the north of the Punjab, in his native Pakistan.