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30.10.2013

An Interview With Ghazala Bashey, Director and Head of Litigation at Winn Solicitors

An undistinguished building next to Byker’s Metro Station is perhaps the least-likely place you’d expect to find a multi-million pound law firm.

But this is the Headquarters of Winn Group, the leading light of ‘No win no fee’ solicitors and a firm that has seen a meteoric rise in fortunes since its inception in 2001.

Last month it announced a multi-million pound investment by private financiers JZ International and Souter Investments that has cemented the firm’s future and allowed it to plan further expansion.

Winn group incorporates Winn Solicitors Ltd, On Hire Ltd and On Medical Ltd that means it offers a ‘One stop shop’ for those involved in accidents. This includes the integrated provision of legal services, replacement car hire and credit repair services as well as medical treatment services to its customers.

In the year to March 31, 2013, the Winn Group generated revenues of approximately £40m, no mean feat for a company that has only been in existence 12 years.

Heading up that success has been Ghazala Bashey, Director and Head of Litigation at Winn, who along with Jeff Winn founded the solicitors in 2002.

Ghazala has, since the company began, dealt with the nuts and bolts of the business.

She smiles: “To be honest I sometimes have to stop myself and think ‘what the hell happened’.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth for a five year period, and sometimes it catches me by surprise the fact we’ve now built up a multi-million pound business employing 300 people. But at the same time we planned for that growth.

“When we started out in 2002 the business was still fairly compact, it was 2007 that it really took off.

“We knew there was going to be legislative changes and we faced a choice of either struggling in the future or expanding and growing but we didn’t think we would ever hit the profits that we have.

“The key to the growth was listening to what clients wanted. They told us that was a one-stop shop, a reliable fast service with someone who wanted to fight their corner.

“We delivered on that and a third of our new business comes from recommendations.”

Ghazala, 44, was born in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. She moved to North Tyneside age five with her mother Shamsa and three siblings Asad, now a haematologist, Samena, an HR Director, and Raky a Factory Manager, to join her dad Abbas who was working as a GP at the Preston Hospital in North Shields.

She said: “We hadn’t seen my dad for a year so it was really exciting. I don’t remember a great deal about India.

“I remember thinking it was cold and very different but we all settled into our schools really quickly.”

Ghazala says she holds fond memories of growing up in a busy and hard-working household. However tragedy struck the family when aged 12 her dad died suddenly and unexpectedly.

“It was a huge shock and immediately the whole family was thrown into turmoil. My mother who was 40 was widowed and she had to bring up these four children on her own.

“But she’s always had a strong work ethic, one that she instilled in us as well, and set about retraining as a social worker.

“We’ve been brought up from the start to try our best and to deal with whatever life throws at us. Because of that I think all of my siblings have done well.”

Ghazala says the decision to move into law was fairly seamless. A talented pupil at North Tyneside College she could have moved into a number of professions but when she took a Law GCSE and gained top marks she developed both a passion for law and the knowledge that it was an area she could succeed in.

She says: “It was really interesting; I loved looking at legal arguments and how they worked. Although my family were always into the sciences and I found that fascinating I loved criminal law and all of the different Acts and Intentions.

“Although, when I actually started working I found I really enjoyed the civil side of it, from winning something even when the odds are stacked against you, to holding to account insurers who don’t want to play ball.”

Ghazala studied for a degree at Northumbria University and qualified as a solicitor in 1991 and trained at a small firm in South Shields where she ended up specialising in Personal Injury cases.

It was here she met her husband David, a Senior Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, when he was working against her on a case. The couple have two children Kamran, nine and Nylah, six.

Ambitious, and feeling she wasn’t progressing up the career ladder as quickly as she would like to despite regular long days and a great success rate, Ghazala left her practice, at that point a large Newcastle firm, to move to city solicitors Singleton Winn in 1999.

After a few years of working there practice partner Jeff Winn, a criminal solicitor, decided to focus on Personal Injury and knew he needed someone to head up his new practice. So he turned to the clever, accomplished and dedicated Ghazala and recruited her as co-founder.

She says: “It was a turning point in my career – I could continue doing what I was doing and have a moderately successful career as a personal injury solicitor – or I could take a risk and potentially get involved in something much bigger.”

Ghazala took the plunge and she and Jeff founded Winn Solicitors. The pair have turned it into one of the North East’s biggest success stories.

Key to the success of the business has been the coming together of people with different skillsets.

Ghazala says: “Jeff has the entrepreneurial ideas and vision and I have the core legal skills combined with the ability to motivate and manage people. And then Dawn, who came on board later, brought on great managerial skills.

“If we’d all been very similar it wouldn’t have worked out. We played to each of our strengths all of which were very different.”

Ghazala has been instrumental in Winn Solicitors success from the outset. She has driven the focus of the business, Personal Injury Claims, recognising the need for people across the region to have access to justice and resolve cases as quickly and simply as possible.

As Head of Litigation Ghazala is responsible for Winn’s success in this division, which focuses on high volume contested cases, liability cases and court litigation.

By 2010 the litigation team doubled in size leading Ghazala to refocus her main body of work from fee-earning into a managerial role.

She currently leads a team of 45, including 25 solicitors, all working on high volume contested liability cases and court litigation.

The mum-of-two has spearheaded Winn Group’s development and indeed many of their staff are also working mothers.

She adds: “Through being a mother myself I am more aware of how difficult it can be to have a successful career and make time for family, having a good work/life balance.

“I struggled with that in the early days. It’s hard when you’ve got your own business and really want it to succeed you need to make some sacrifices, luckily for me I had a really supportive husband.

“It helped a lot having a good partner and good family. It can be hard for people to have a successful career and a good family life but you have to do what you have to do, make time for your family and try and prioritise.

“As Winn Group has grown I’ve been able to delegate more. I used to find it hard to let go but now we’ve got a really good management team that I can rely on.”

Ghazala is still very focused on growing the business into a national concern. She remains hands-on, still getting involved at ground level in cases, and continues to be instrumental in the growth and success of Winn Group.

She says: “We are nationwide now and we are planning to expand further. Historically we’ve always had a client base in the North East but we’re also planning to become more recognised as a national brand.

“The investment has grown our nationwide profile and we’re looking to expand.

“We’re not planning to double ourselves in terms of staff numbers, for example we’ve invested in a lot of technology but we will keep on recruiting locally.

“Winn Group’s work can be done anywhere in the country, you don’t have to be on the clients’ doorsteps.

“We plan to remain in the North East, and invest in the North East, but have a national following. We will remain dedicated to our clients and to the excellent services we offer.

“It’s been a great time for the business and we can’t wait to take it further forward.”