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Interviews

‘A lot of people think entrepreneurs are megalomaniacs but they’re not really – they just want to be involved in an exciting story.’ 

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‘A lot of people think entrepreneurs are megalomaniacs but they’re not really – they just want to be involved in an exciting story.’ 

So says the chief exec of intelligence consultancy Savanta. The company was born earlier this year from the merger of MIG Global’s suite of agencies and is on track to achieve a turnover of £35m.

We caught up with Roger Perowne to find out more about the collective entrepreneurialism driving his company.

Savanta promises to help clients like Vodafone, Wagamama and Sainsbury’s make better decisions. What has informed your own decision-making over the years?

Roger Perowne-Savanta

Roger Perowne-Savanta

‘Is there a better way of doing that?’ That question pretty much sums it up for me. And whenever I’ve taken big – and sometimes scary – decisions, professionally speaking, it’s because I’m convinced the answer is ‘yes’.

In the early 2000s, I was working in a large brand consultancy along with a very clever man called Alistair Cunningham [Savanta’s CIO]. We both had this overwhelming sense that the old agency model just wasn’t nimble or tech-savvy enough to do the things being asked of it. Our capacity to collate and present data was evolving faster than most non-tech experts could relate to, with most research businesses were not offering their clients the benefits of this new world: data on demand, data integrations, interactive data visualisation, analytics using AI, and so on. We took the plunge and created our own company because we thought we could do it better.

That company, Morar, was bought by communications group Next 15 for £5million so you were vindicated in the long run. Do entrepreneurs need that level of confidence do you think?

There is always risk attached to going it alone, and I guess not everyone likes risk. But if you have the belief that things can be done better because you’ve seen first-hand that the old ways aren’t working, and backed this idea up with detailed planning, then the desire to do something about it becomes pretty overwhelming. That’s not to say the decision is straightforward; you can be confident and daunted at the same time. Alistair and I found ourselves in a London bar at 2am playing a game of chicken, each daring the other to quit his job first. He had a young family up in Edinburgh at the time; that makes him braver that me.

Until recently Morar operated alongside several other sister companies under the banner MIG Global. How did that come about?

We knew from our own experience with Morar that a boutique-style approach was the way forward. Clients prefer a personalised experience; they like dealing with experts who have the know-how and the motivation to push boundaries in order to provide high-quality intelligence for their businesses. Thanks to Next 15’s buying power, we could apply Morar’s proprietary tech to other entrepreneur-run data companies and help them grow.

So what was the thinking behind combining seven companies into one single brand earlier this year?

It’s a question of scale. To do really impressive things you need a certain level of investment. We were all interested in developing brand new tools that enable us to capture data of the highest quality and interrogate it better than ever before. We now have a fast-growing team of twenty developers working in our tech hub in Cambridge. That’s an investment Savantais able to make because we’ve come together with a single P&L, operating on a global basis. But the boutique idea hasn’t changed. We’ve kept the personalised client-led approach that you’d expect from highly motivated entrepreneurs working in their own field of expertise – there’s no way we’d give that up. 

 How do you get a whole load of entrepreneurs working together as a team? Some would say that’s a contradiction in terms. 

By not telling them what to do. It’s about recognising that the best ideas come from right across the company, about creating a culture that says: ‘The people at the top don’t know more than you. In fact, they know a lot less than you about some things’. Savanta works because entrepreneurs know that the autonomy and flexibility they thrive on won’t be challenged. I’m not interested in command and control models.  Savanta is a collective, in which we all benefit from the company’s success. This belief in each other, rather than competition, helps to create a place where people collaborate and go further.

It’s also a question of keeping working practices client-focused. Yes, we’re a bigger company now – there are now 250 of us – but that doesn’t mean we have to become corporate. Instead, we have a consultancy-inspired structure: small teams of people with deep pools of expertise. We call them Practice Areas. People can be in more than one Practice Area; they might be specialists in the restaurant sector but also be highly skilled in planning, say. So, from a client’s point of view, we can assemble handpicked teams on a case-by-case basis at whatever scale is required. It keeps us flexible and light on our feet and it means our company remains firmly talent-based. I’m very much one for career management, not line management.

 And can Savanta keep growing along those lines?

Provided we stay true to our spirit, yes. But it’s vital we don’t grow for the sake of it. Our most recent acquisition was Wealth-X’s custom research division [previously Ledbury Research] and it’s a great example of the conditions being right. Torie Bold and her team bring unparalleled expertise in the wealth and luxury sector, and Savanta’s platforms and innovative techniques can help them access hard-to-reach audiences and make discoveries with real impact. Getting together is better for us and our clients, and better for them and their clients. Crucially, it’s a good cultural fit too: we share the same values.

 Do you still see yourself as an entrepreneur first and foremost? 

Well, I was selling bunches of daffodils door-to-door when I was six for 25p! But I’ve never liked the idea that my life is defined by what I do for a living. Your job is not you. Soon after starting Morar, I moved to a four-day week for myself so I could look after my young son on the fifth day. My aim for the future is to teach cricket more, which some people might think isn’t very entrepreneur-like. But I think there’s a lot of confusion around that word. People associate it with lone-wolf egomaniacs, but when you get lots of ambitious and talented innovators pulling in the same direction you realise that’s nonsense. At least half of the key management in Savanta are out-and-out entrepreneurs and so is Tim Dyson, my boss at Next 15. It’s a rare situation and a real privilege to all work together, for common goals.

Interviews

Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR

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Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR 1

Clare George-Hilley is the co-founder of Centropy PR

Global Banking and Finance Magazine recently caught up with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder of fintech and financial services specialist PR agency Centropy, as the company toasts to three years of trading. We asked Clare about what life is like running an agency in the city, the trends she is seeing in the financial services space and what the future holds following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Why did you decide to set up Centropy PR?

I was looking for an opportunity to launch my own agency, both my husband and I had been in the public affairs and public relations industry for over a decade and we thought the time was right to go out on our own.

Clare George-Hilley

Clare George-Hilley

We could see that the financial services industry was surging, with challenger brands and new technology transforming traditional banks and setting new standards of customer service. There was a huge market opportunity to create and launch a PR agency that could provider first class comms support, alongside a deep understanding of complex regulations such as AML, KYC, and the GDPR. Likewise, many traditional technology firms are diversifying their offerings, to tap into the growing market opportunity posed by the fintech boom.

So, we worked on a business plan, designed a strategy for winning clients and officially launched in September 2017. Within a few months we had a growing portfolio of clients and a thriving business, since that point, we have never looked back!

How is Centropy doing now and what are you plans for growth?

The last three years have flown by and our client portfolio has grown and diversified quickly. We now manage PR campaigns for clients on everything from cryptocurrency, wealth management to payments and trading software.

We’ve also hosted parliamentary debates with key industry figures, including Members of Parliament (MPs) on topics such as the future of the financial services industry and the impact of challenger banks on traditional providers. The team is expanding quickly and we’re investing heavily in the latest training and support to ensure our team members are equipped to reach their full potential.

How do you see the next 12 months?

The Covid-19 outbreak has crippled the economy, forcing millions of people to work from home due to the very serious health risks. The knock-on effect of this crisis will lead to companies cutting costs where possible to save jobs, so tech will play a vital role in ensuring many businesses stay afloat.

We are already working with contactless payments specialists and other fintech companies that offer solutions to help companies survive and thrive despite the inevitable challenges ahead.

We aim to continue building our portfolio of expertise, testing ourselves with new challenges and delivering the best possible service to clients

 

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Interviews

Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic

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Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic 2

By Neil Davis, managing director and co-founder of Sterling Networks

What is Sterling Networks?

Sterling Networks is a professional organisation founded in 2014 which facilitates networking events for businesses across the Midlands, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and the South West. Over 300 members attend our fortnightly breakfast and lunchtime meetings.”

What is your background prior to establishing Sterling Networks?

“During the 1990s, I worked in the corporate team for Halifax. My wife, Tracey, and I went onto own a manufacturing business, which was also called Sterling, and produced a range of gifts, merchandise and promotional items.

“We soon realised tradeshows were a great way to meet distributors and clients. From there, the business grew exponentially, and we managed to build a network of around 500 distributors. Eventually, we became ground down by the manufacturing business – in part because the local manufacturing sector was being devastated by competition from China – and took the decision to sell the business and relocate to Spain.

“After spending several years living abroad, we moved back to the UK to set up Sterling Integrity (EXPO’S) & Sterling Networks (Networking) We were inspired by a desire to help businesses make meaningful connections with one another, and we haven’t looked back since.”

The UK has recently entered a recession, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. What have you learned from past recessions and how are these experiences helping you to navigate the current crisis?

“I’ve lived through a number of recessions and have seen the pain that insolvency causes companies on a large scale. It’s taught me that there are those who win and sadly those who lose, and that businesses must adapt to a rise in demand for certain products or services at a time of financial crisis.

“Given the nature of what Sterling Networks offers [an opportunity for business owners to connect and grow together] I decided we could build upon the brand due to the demand for new business during the pandemic. We therefore moved our networking events from face-to-face to virtual via tools like Zoom and have gained a steady stream of new members in recent months, reaching an overall total of well over 300.

“On top of that, we’ve taken new staff on during the crisis and have launched a number of new regional groups across the country. I was determined that Sterling should come out of the pandemic with a head start, so my attitude to the recession has been much more positive than those who are forecasting nothing but doom and gloom.

“We can’t pretend high street retail wasn’t suffering long before the pandemic came along, and thousands of new businesses are sure to start up to meet the demand for the products and services that people require at a time such as this. In order to develop and grow businesses need to focus on where changes need to be made to meet this demand.”

Sterling Networks has been providing emotional support to its members throughout the pandemic. What advice have you been giving to members that could be useful to other business owners?

“I try not to be too opinionated and respect other people’s views when giving advice to members, as there are always two sides to every circumstance. I’ve been careful not to say to people that they should be doing one thing or another, as I don’t know their business and its needs quite like they do. The only thing that I have been telling members is the importance of setting up one-to-ones with one another. By doing so, they can listen to the needs and concerns of other, like-minded business owners and work out ways that they might be able to help one another.

“The pandemic has meant we all have a bit more time on our hands, so the advice I would give to people is to use this extra time wisely. Not having to travel physically from one meeting to another means there is a greater opportunity to connect with more people. It’s important to remember that individuals outside of your business can be just as valuable as those within it.”

What makes you hopeful for the future and are there any words of encouragement you can give to budding entrepreneurs?

“The key events that have happened to this country during my lifetime – whether wars, recessions, or the pandemic – have enabled me to take stock of things. While these experiences are certainly challenging, we all become stronger for living through them, and it gives me great confidence that the world will ultimately improve as a result of the pandemic.

“The whole world is effectively rebooting right now, as is the business community. I like to think entrepreneurs will recognise this opportunity to take better care of their peers, and this translates to greater collaboration between organisations. Speak to as many people as you can, ask all the questions that you need to and do your homework. This might well be a difficult time for us all but planning for the future must start now if it is to become as prosperous as I know it can be.”

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Interviews

Exclusive Interview with Ugo Loser, CEO of ARCA Fondi SGR

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Ugo Loser, CEO of ARCA Fondi SGR

 Arca Fondi SGR is a mid-sized Italian active asset management company. Founded in 1983 by a consortium made up of 12 regional banks, the company has grown in time, expanding its network of distributors and its client base. Nowadays Arca manages Mutual Funds, Pension Funds and Institutional Accounts with total AUM exceeding 30 € bln, reaching more than 100 banks and financial institutions and serving more than 800,000 final clients.

What are the key contributors to ARCA Fondi SGR’s success over the past 35 years?

Arca has always put clients and distributors first. That is to say we have always privileged fair pricing for funds and developing high quality products and services for our customers. This requires constant innovation as an objective and looking for people’s talent to be free to produce its effect

Why are people the founding element of ARCA Fondi SGR and how have you sustained this vision over the years?

We work in small teams, people are young and motivated and can perform duties with a high level of autonomy and responsibility. Innovation is asked to everyone, everyday

What makes Arca Fondi SGR different from other asset management firms in Italy?

Arca is a company focused on doing what it can do very well, that is to say mutual and pension funds, services for clients and banks. We never follow short term trends but always look for long lasting impact on the industry, like we’ve done may times in the past

What products/services has ARCA Fondi SGR pioneered?

Arca has been the inventor of “Arca Cedola”, fixed-horizon, coupon paying funds, which have been with no doubt the greatest product innovation of the past 12 years on the Italian market. This type of funds, at first strictly based on bonds and later as a balanced product, has encountered an enormous success both with clients and distributors due to its simple and effective value proposition. Arca is a market leader also in the “PIR” segment of funds, a range of product focused on mid and small sized companies, that have been the best performers in the Italian stock market for the last few years. In services, Arca is a leader in technology applied to asset management. Our website, app and digital services for clients and banks are award winning, state of the art combination of data, technology and channels, and the best is yet to come on this side.

What strategies do you have in place to sustain your market position and withstand professional competition in the country?

As I mentioned, we do not waste resources on projects with dubious results, instead we constantly invest on people, products and services. The high level of profitability that Arca has been able to maintain even in difficult years for the markets of the banking sector is a further testimony that this strategy works very well

How do you use technology to create meaningful experiences for your customers?

First of all, we have created a whole new division, Arca InnovAction Lab, dedicated to technology, data and processes. This ensures projects are delivered quickly and they are free to leave bad past practices behind. Arcaonline.it, Arca’s website, provides distributors with detailed information on clients’ portfolios, asset under management and subscription/redemption requests. It monitors aggregate selling data offering to our partners a suite functions and analytics to track commercial campaigns. And if the banks branches need assistance, they may ask Sara, our digital chatbot. A broad and timely multimedia production, covering exclusive reports, comments, presentations, videos, webinars and newsletters is also available on the website.

Customers, subscribing Arca’s funds through its distributors’ network, may access Arcaclick, a dedicated area on Arcaonline.it. With Arcaclick the client can easily browse through her portfolio of funds, analyze its characteristics, view transactions and historical funds’ performance in customizable views. Arcaclick is also a powerful source of information on Arca product range: Prospectus, KIIDs and other literature is easily accessible along with news, comments and reports. Arcaclick may also be accessed via Arca Fondi App, a free application for mobiles and tables, running on both iOS and Android. Available 24/7 and in mobility, Arcaclick gives clients the opportunity access information, news and details of their personal portfolio anytime and anywhere.

What key trends will drive pension growth in 2020 and beyond?

The Italian market for pension funds is still very small and therefore there is a great opportunity to grow. Arca Fondi manages the biggest open ended Italian pension fund and it’s been constantly at the top of its rankings. As people and workers are looking for yield and to weather short term volatility, the pension fund is very well poised to profit from this trend.

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