WHEN he stepped into his office for the first time in 1963, a pencil and paper were the tools of the trade for John Hornby.
Office computers were the stuff of science fiction and the digital revolution which would forever change the accountancy world had not entered even the brightest of minds.
Closer to home, it was beyond John’s wildest dreams that he would one day establish and grow an accountancy firm which would twice be crowned as the best in the UK.
Half a century on and the world of work has changed immeasurably while technology has made things once considered impossible the norm.
The one constant during this period of huge change, however, has been John himself - and the delight he gets in helping clients of JF Hornby and Co - the company he set up 24 years ago.
He was recently honoured for achieving 50 years as a chartered accountant by the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
For some that might signal an impending retirement. But at the age of 72, John, who is chairman of the business, shows no signs of slowing down: “I still come into the office every day and I’m still going strong,” he said. “I just love helping clients. I get a real buzz out of it.
That was the case when the business started, and it is still the case now.
“So much has changed, of course. It was pencils and paper when I first started. There were no computers, and no adding machines. They were around, but no-one had them, until eventually, they started to get used by bigger firms.
“Then there was decimalisation which changed the way we worked, although much of the process was sorted in advance and it was done over a period of time.
“Eventually personal computers came into being and that really transformed accounting.
When we moved into our offices, we bought two personal computers and a printer and it was £7.5k. Now you would get the very latest and much more powerful computer for under £1,000.”
For 24 years, John worked at James Fisher and Sons, a business he joined as an accountant in 1968 and left in 1993, having ascended the ranks to the position of chairman.
Within months he had established JF Hornby with two members of staff based out of the Daltongate Business Centre.
“We literally put a sign up, started to advertise in a small way and clients came to us,” said John.
The business steadily grew and in 2000, having spent time in the company during his college and university days, John’s son Paul, now the managing director, joined the business.
Growth accelerated with the father and son team at the helm, through the acquisition of fee bases from other accountancy firms - GR Page and Co in 2002 and AB Mercer in 2015 - and as word of mouth spread.
Today JF Hornby and Co services in the region of 2,000 clients and has a staff base of 40. It has expanded from its original office, and while still based on the Daltongate Business Park in Ulverston, now occupies a much larger area.
The business hit a real high note in 2015 when it won the prestigious UK Accountants of the Year award - and followed that success by again securing the award in 2016.
“It was a fantastic feeling, said John. “We thought we might win the northern category, but when we were announced as national winners we couldn’t believe it. We just hadn't prepared for it, to the degree Paul had to wrap the trophy in his washing on the way home to keep it safe.”
For John, who celebrated his 50 years with a special lunch in London hosted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, business is simple. “It is about old-fashioned values, and putting the customer first,” he said.
It is that attitude which has no doubt earned John a number of honours over the years. He has the Freedom of the City of London, is a knight of the realm in Norway and is also a member of the Worshipful Order of Shipwrights.
Whilst mainly ceremonial, the honours embellish a career which is far from over, in a work and expansion capacity.
“We have always got our eyes open,” said John.