Business Eye speaks to our Group Asset Recovery Manager on the growing business with law enforcement and government agencies.
As Aidan Larkin admits, he's learnt a thing or two about assets and their value over his varied professional career, a career which has taken him to his current post as Group Asset Recovery Manager at NI-based Wilsons Auctions.
Starting his career in HMRC (then known as the Inland Revenue) at the tender age of 19 he went on to become the youngest income tax inspector in the Northern Ireland region within four and half years after being accepted onto their fast stream development programme.
He went on to join HMRC’s Criminal Taxes Unit, working on a number of high profile tax investigations as part of a pan-UK team before following a well-worn path from HMRC to the accountancy sector where he worked on the insolvency side of a leading Belfast practice.
“From initial investigations through to asset sales, asset realisation has been something of a theme right through my career to date,” he smiles.
Aware of Wilsons Auctions in both of his previous roles, Aidan joined the company three years ago working to his current position managing asset recovery across the group.
“Asset recovery work here at Wilsons was increasing rapidly, having landed a major contract as the sole disposal agent to the Home Office. Peter Johnston, Group Operations Director and Ian (Wilson) saw that I could bring something to the table, and felt they needed someone with my expertise to help establish us as the leading asset realisation provider to the majority of law enforcement agencies and public sector bodies in the UK and Ireland.
“With the dedication of our hardworking and dedicated team, we've rapidly grown from representing a handful of agencies to now representing every public sector body on the island of Ireland and over 30 police forces nationally. To date we've put over £80 million pounds back into the public purse and its very satisfying for all of us to play such an important role in that process.
“Lots of people tend to think of Wilsons Auctions as a place up at Belfast, or in Portadown, where you can buy a car, van or machinery. They are often very surprised to see the scale of what we do and don’t realise we are the largest independent auction house in the UK and Ireland.
“The hammer coming down on any asset being sold is only the end of the story. We're involved right from the start, liaising with police forces, recovering assets, doing all the paperwork, auctioning them and returning the proceeds to the public purse”.
“Quite often the money raised at our government auctions go directly to good causes such as funding a drug rehabilitation centre or building a kid’s play park in a disadvantaged area. There's nothing more satisfying than being able to say we have played a part in that and really encourages our staff to go that extra mile and make the sales as successful as possible.
The kind of assets being managed and auctioned by the asset recovery department at Wilsons Auctions has already made media headlines.
Among the items sold off have been gold bullion, an Olympic dressage horse, a vessel used for one of Europe's biggest cocaine smuggling operations, a luxury home in Marbella, an array of supercars made by the likes of Lamborghini and Ferrari …..and more bizarre items like a collection of Star Wars and Star Trek memorabilia worth £100,000.
“It doesn't make a lot of difference to us what the asset actually is,” says Aidan Larkin. “Our job is to process it, sell it and return the proceeds to the authorities as quickly as we can. We don't get involved in the story behind any of the items. That's not our business.”
Wilsons Auctions, he says, might be a family firm at its core, but it's a company which is quick to learn, to adapt and to change if necessary. “It's really impressed me,” he says. “Having come from the civil service, it was refreshing to see how they embraced new ways of working and both Peter and Ian are very quick to take on new ideas and to keep re-shaping the business. That's impressive for an organisation with 300 staff and with a hammer total approaching £240 million.”
These days, Wilsons Auctions is dominant in the public sector asset recovery marketplace, working with police forces stretching from Police Scotland in the north to Kent Police in the south east on disposing of proceeds of crime. It also holds the main UK contract for the Home Office and National Crime Agency to name a few.
The firm, with its headquarters in Belfast alongside its busy auction operation there, also has auction bases at Portadown, in Dublin, at Dalry in Ayrshire (Scotland), at three locations in England (Newcastle, Telford and Maidstone) and at Queensferry in North Wales.
“We're kept busy preparing tenders and proposals to make sure that we keep our lead in the public sector asset recovery market, and we travel all over the British Isles to keep in contact with our public sector customers and to keep up to speed with changes in legislation etc.
“Our team is filled with lots of experienced staff who have worked in law enforcement and financial backgrounds and that gives us a real advantage in dealing with our client’s requests and allows us to develop bespoke strategies when dealing with the more complicated assets.
“I think what sets us apart from our competitors is our passion. We treat each asset like it’s our own and ensure our client or customer is always given the best possible experience and we're not afraid of change. And that, I think is why we stay so busy, we never stop working for our clients and always try and exceed expectations.
As a result Wilsons Auctions is prepared for growth. “In the last 12 months alone, we've opened two new sites and landed an incredible 13 public sector contracts,” he adds. “The sky really is the limit and who knows where the next 12 months will take us”.
Confident communicator and sharp presenter he might be, but Aidan Larkin buys into the slogan that sits behind Group Operations Director Peter Johnston's desk at Wilsons Auctions in Belfast.
'Work hard in silence, let success be your noise'....a quote attributed, by the way, to American R&B artist and rapper Frank Ocean.