Fifteen years after walking through the door for the first time, Winn Group Chief Operating Officer Chris Birkett notes the very different setting to the one we have today.
Such has been the growth and evolution of the company since that day, that the current operation is almost unrecognisable from the early stages, which started out, as Chris tells us, above the old Kwik Save on Heaton Road.
“I started my time at Winns as a manager within what was then called ‘The Front End’ department, quickly re-branding it as the First Response Team,” Chris said.
“There were around 30 staff in total, situated in two offices above the old Kwik Save on Heaton Road. The offices were, at best, functional; some of the tiles were missing in the ceiling and the carpet was pretty thread bear. The landlord needed to spend some money on it.
“I hadn’t met Jeff (Winn) before he called me on his way back from Centre Parcs on the Monday morning.
“A quick meeting was arranged for that lunchtime and before I had got home after that meeting, Jeff had emailed me a job offer to start straight away.
“Coming from a claims management background, I was sceptical working for a personal injury law firm and wanted to think it over, not realising that the current Mrs Birkett was already emailing my acceptance of the offer.”
Helping to create and implement the processes, procedures and foundations with which the company is currently building upon was not easy, as Chris continues.
“Coming into a solicitors firm from an insurance broker claims background was certainly challenging in the early days,” he continued.
“I was able to recruit people from my previous employer, Chris Jones and Mark Pallas and others, whose expertise in operations and sales respectively helped us gain a good foothold in the insurance broker market in the early days.
“In the first week, Jeff took me round to see the ‘new offices.’ He had bought the Safeway supermarket on Brinkburn Street and work had started to transform it into offices.
“This will hold 300 people’ he said, at which point I thought he must be…”
With Chris Cullingworth, Cheryl Charlton, Corrina Warmington and Lesley Stephenson all working as part of the ‘Front End’ team, and Jo Amos also at the firm, there are still plenty of familiar faces from that time.
“I remember in the early days there was only one lady who worked in On Hire and that was just in the mornings, and then transferred into On Medical and worked there in the afternoons,” he continued.
“Looking now at how far both those businesses have come over the past few years is a real testament to the respective management teams and I’m sure both will continue to grow and prosper within the group.
“We continued to grow our reputation in the insurance sector and gained some new accounts who have been with the group for more than 10 years; Premium Choice, Keith Michael’s, Academy Insurance, and Barry Grainger to name a few.
“They provided us with a solid foundation of work providers and an identity in the sector. The thing with insurance brokers is that everyone knows everyone. It’s a sector where people like to deal with people they like and have a good working relationship with.
“We have built on this over time and I truly believe we now have a very strong management team that understands this ethos and embraces it.”
The here and now has certainly presented its challenges to a legal firm that previously specialised in personal injury claims, and still has it as at the core of its day-to-day operations.
With wide-reaching legal reforms changing the personal injury compensation landscape, coupled with an unprecedented global pandemic, it has been a difficult time for Winns, but one Winn Group is striding out of confidently while looking forward to an exciting future.
“So, where are we now? I suppose in my opinion Winn Group is now ‘best in class’. There are probably only 4-5 main players left in this sector and we are certainly one of them,” he continued.
“Our conversion of non-fault cases to revenue-making cases is the best in the sector; we know that because we see the competition’s management information when we are tendering.
“June was an all-time record month for hire and repair instructions. June beat May, which was also a record month for hire and repair conversions.
“The investment we’ve made in our IT infrastructure allowed us to react so quickly to COVID when others were still thinking about what to do.
“The work we’ve put into telematics and providing a full 24/7, 365 days a year FNOL service is something others are only still talking about but, in reality, don’t deliver.
“The PI reforms are in, and we’re all disappointed with that, but this will have an impact on everyone in our space.
“As a group, we know we are ahead of the game compared to others. We’ve already seen PI only lawyers exit the market and that’s after one month.
“We know there will be more. It gives us more work providers to target and on top of all this, we are moving into other areas of legal work. Wills and probate, dispute resolution, ancillary insurance products, and more. “For the future, what happens next? If we knew that it would be boring … wouldn’t it?”