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LAVA series: Working at a challenger boutique – the benefits of starting with a blank sheet of paper

Since launching LAVA just under two years ago, we’ve received a steady stream of enquiries into what it’s like working at a new challenger boutique. Particularly as most of our team joined us from either the Big Four or international firms, we regularly find ourselves fielding questions from prospective hires and industry contacts who are curious about why we traded in our traditional career paths and how we’re finding the transition.

We’ve noticed there can sometimes be an element of hesitancy or suspicion behind these conversations. Large corporations provide familiar, typically secure positions and formulaic progression that some find hard to imagine giving up. In contrast, working at a challenger boutique is uncharted territory. Fast-paced and dynamic, these environments offer more varied, hands-on and creative roles. 

This feeling of the unknown can seem daunting and, for some, a little too risky. However, from our collective experience, the opportunities for personal and professional growth, plus the benefits of a collaborative, future-facing culture, far outweigh old industry setups and scenarios. 

Experiences can vary from company to company, so to shine a light on why we’re such strong advocates of working for a challenger boutique, over the next two months, we’re asking each of our team members to share some main observations about their LAVA career so far.

Launching the series, Simon Woodcock, Partner at LAVA, discusses the benefits that arise from creating an M&A company outside the confines of a legacy structure.

“Starting with a blank sheet of paper, you build the best business and team”
Simon Woodcock, Partner


I began my career in a number of smaller firms, cutting my teeth on the boutique M&A scene before moving on to become a partner at Grant Thornton. During this time, I also kept a close eye on other companies in the sector, remaining curious about what others were doing and exposing myself to different business models and cultures.

This experience and insight taught me a lot. I noted the good and bad parts of a wide variety of businesses and ultimately realised that no one was doing things how I would do them or in a way that I felt reflected a more forward-thinking approach to M&A.

So when we had the opportunity to create LAVA, Claire, Hamish, and I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and combined all the best parts of our different experiences and observations, and scrapped those we felt were dated or restrictive.

Without the limitations of existing infrastructure or legacy systems, we could actually bring to life our ideal outcomes for questions such as, “What’s the best culture we can create?”, “What sort of backgrounds, perspectives and talent do we want to bring in?” and “How can our framework set us up to be leaders in resourcing and targeting future clients?”

If you’re working at a large corporate, this freedom to be dynamic and fluid in how you build and shape your business just isn’t possible.

By contrast, at LAVA, we’re structured in a way that enables us to go after whatever we feel is right for our team, clients and partners. Whether it’s applying for B Corp status, investing in exciting partnerships or recruiting outside of industry norms, we’re able to maintain our pledge to be the most refreshing face of next-generation advisory businesses.


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