Ernst & Young’s new top woman in the Midlands has revealed ambitious plans to expand the firm’s advisory service and invest heavily in the local team.

Sara Fowler has taken over from Ronnie Bowker as Ernst & Young’s senior partner covering the East and West Midlands, having spent 23 years with the firm and the last ten as a partner in Birmingham.

Ms Fowler – the only woman at the helm of a Big Four firm in Midlands – was previously the head of Ernst & Young’s national fraud and investigations dispute services practice, which she will continue to lead at regional level.

She said she was looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“I’m very proud to have been appointed to this role,” she said.

“I’ve taken over from Ronnie who has done a sterling job for Ernst & Young and been at the helm for 15 years.

“Obviously they are quite big shoes to fill, which makes it a challenge but I’m really excited.”

Mr Bowker will remain with the firm, focusing on his clients and on growing the audit practice.

Over the next three years, Ernst & Young is aiming to double revenues in its advisory arm as well as grow its team in all areas of practice in the Midlands, Ms Fowler said.

The plans will lead to a doubling in staff numbers in the advisory division, from its current headcount of 50 to 100 over the next two years.

“We’re investing very heavily in our advisory team in the Midlands,” she said.

“Our growth in this area is going to be astronomical and to manage that growth we’re creating a hub here. We have been and we will even more so be recruiting, so there will be some great opportunities.”

Ms Fowler said as well as a positive outlook for Ernst & Young in the coming year, she had reason to be cheerful about the ability of West Midland companies to bounce back after the recession and deliver the much-vaunted private sector recovery.

“We need to see an export-led recovery. The Item Club talked about the Anglo-Saxon economy being stony broke – so it’s going to have to be exports.

“I came across some quite startling facts the other day – Italy exports more to China than the UK and we export more to Ireland than we do to the BRIC economies and South Africa combined.

“So that means the opportunity is absolutely there to go.

“I think the ability of companies in the Midlands to respond to the upturn is there.

“Business have kept hold of their people and been very careful in terms of preserving their core competencies so that when the upturn came they could exploit that.

“It’s still not going to be smooth though – the ability to be flexible and agile is key.”