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John Brace 1943-2020, Visionary Leader of Harwood Hutton

It is with the deepest sadness that we report the death earlier this week of John Brace, a titan of the UK accounting profession who led Harwood Hutton for much of the past 20 years.

John died at the age of 77 from an illness diagnosed last October.

Harwood Hutton was a massive part of John’s life and even when it was clear his illness was slowing him down, he found his way into the office. He was still playing an active role in HH affairs – and in particular the firm’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic – as recently as a fortnight ago.

As dogged and determined as he was, John could see it was time to hand over the reins at Harwood Hutton, and in July it was announced to colleagues at HH that John’s successor as managing director would be Keir Singleton while Jonny Hague would take over the majority of John’s client work. We had hoped to share that news with all of our clients and connections while John was still with us but his condition deteriorated far more quickly than anticipated.

On behalf of everyone at Harwood Hutton, Keir said: “We are devastated to lose John, who was like a father figure at this place. John commanded enormous respect from everyone who worked with him or for him.

“John was truly inspirational, and all the more so in the past months when battling serious illness, which for most people would have signalled a move into retirement.  But that was not for John, and he continued to serve our firm right up until just a few days ago.”

“We owe John an enormous debt of gratitude for the work he has done in establishing Harwood Hutton as a major UK regional accountancy firm.”

John played a pivotal role in a series of acquisitions and integrations that were factors in landing an Accountancy Age award

After qualifying as an accountant, John Brace spent much of his early career in the construction industry. At house builder Prowting PLC, John worked closely with Michael Harwood, and the two stayed in touch after striking out on their own: John setting up an engineering and construction business and Michael as a self-employed accountant and auditor, with Prowting his first client.

After John sold his business to his management team in 1981, Michael was only too pleased to invite his old friend to join him, Richard Hutton and Graham Corney as the fourth partner in their growing practice, by then known as Harwood Hutton.

Bringing all his trademark energy and business skills to bear, John played a key role in a series of acquisitions and integrations that were factors in landing Harwood Hutton a coveted Accountancy Age award.

John oversaw the construction of new premises in Chalfont St Peter and, eventually, the move to Beaconsfield in 2005, giving Harwood Hutton the scope to broaden its offering by adding a private client tax department, payroll bureau, bookkeeping VAT department and corporate finance function.

Harwood Hutton was evolving into a multi-faceted business that could be seen as a serious alternative to the ‘elite’ London accountancy firms, and as the business grew, more people in the accountancy sector started taking notice of this ambitious, tightly managed enterprise.

John joined the council of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, and in 2004-05, ACCA’s centenary year, he became worldwide President, one of his proudest achievements in his already distinguished career.

“I’m sure there are many generations of professional accountants who owe him a great deal” – Helen Brand OBE, ACCA chief executive

On learning the news about John, Helen Brand OBE, the current chief executive of ACCA, said: “John was passionate, committed and fun – the latter not always a common attribute in leaders. He was an inspiration, and I’m sure there are many generations of professional accountants who owe him a great deal, as does ACCA as an organisation.”

Speaking on behalf of the retired partners of Harwood Hutton, Michael Harwood said: “From our time in Chalfont St Peter High Street with just four employees, John, with his boundless enthusiasm and determination, helped drive the growth of Harwood Hutton. We all enjoyed celebrating the firm’s 50th anniversary in 2007.

“To borrow an analogy from F1, which John loved so much, he steadily moved Harwood Hutton up the grid, developing a client base that now stretches across the country, even the world. The present firm would not be where it is today without him.”

Awards & Affiliations

Client Testimonials
  • I always get quick, clear and definitive responses from the Harwood Hutton tax team – commercial answers to commercial issues.

    Robin Berry – Morgan Management
  • Right from the outset Harwood Hutton gave us direction and great advice – and that advice has evolved over the years as we’ve grown. We’re both medium-sized companies providing a bespoke service – one furniture, one accountancy – and the relationship works.

    Andy McCarron, McCarron and Co
  • I’m deeply impressed with Harwood Hutton’s extensive knowledge of tax arrangements for residential and commercial property landlords.

    Qadeer Ahmed, MD, ABA Finance
  • They really took their time to understand what was important to us and our business and the expertise we required. Whoever we speak to at HH, we get the same fantastic response and technical input. It’s a real partnership.

    Edward Finch, group MD, MRIB insurance brokers
  • I have worked with the directors at Harwood Hutton on a number of mutual client matters over many years. The reassurance of their clear, commercial and focussed advice is one of the main reasons I regard this as one of my most valuable professional relationships.

    Frank Wessely, Partner, Quantuma LLP
  • Harwood Hutton never seem to rest on their laurels. They are always seeking out new avenues and ways to improve their offering. A very forward-thinking company with staff who are always well briefed and who approach each task with drive.

    Karl Austen, MD, Surefoot Communications
  • We have engaged Harwood Hutton in several areas of structuring, including VAT issues, decoupling an SPV from a group structure and HMRC clearance for a transaction. The team have exceeded all expectations by being proactive, measured and very thorough.

    Adam Fawsitt, Director, FHT Limited
  • We moved to Harwood Hutton as they delivered a succinct and professional proposal. If anything, we have been more impressed post-move. They are a fantastic company to work with. They do truly differentiate. They have the skills and capabilities of a mega firm but with a personal service.

    Edward Finch, group MD, MRIB insurance brokers
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