Tony was born in the East End of London to a humble and loving family. He left school at the age of 16 with no formal qualifications. He is self educated. He used a selection of magazines, TV programmes and professional training when employed. He did attend the Open University and earned a Bachelors in Psychology. Although he found the experience unsatisfying. This did not diminish his quest for knowledge. He still feels let down by the education system. He knew what he wanted from life early on, but wasn't sure how to go about attaining it.
Tony worked in various positions till his first position as a loss adjuster. After a short spell in the military, he ended up working in the Financial Services sector. His time with Australian Mutual stands out, where he settled into the role and corporation. The run with them soon came to an end when the company demutualised and he moved on to Legal & General (L&G). This was the first company where he was able to innovate a service nationwide. Tony helped L&G pioneer the use of Mortgage Brokers in Estate Agent offices.
Before this if you needed any information on a mortgage you could only get this from a Bank or Building Society (Mutual Bank). Please remember that mortgages as an instrument only became available on the British High Street in the 1960’s. Midland Bank (taken over by HSBC in the early 1990’s) was the first bank to offer them. So in the 1980’s to have access to a mortage outside a bank was a big deal. This was also the time of Big Bang - which saw the deregulation of Financial Services in the UK and the rise of the endowment mortgage. However, he was uncomfortable with Legal & General's interpretation of the Financial Services Act. He soon left L&G.
He was then approached by American Express. Here he helped them to set up Acuma, the first fee-based Financial Planning company in the UK. He found the experience rewarding. But he felt the American Corporate Culture was quite a different environment for him. American Express eventually sold the business on and he soon left the company afterwards. He, like most of us, suffered heavily from the Sterling Crisis of Black Wednesday. When the Sterling was forced out the ERM by currency speculators.
Chancery Law Group
Soon after the ERM debacle, Tony was supporting other businesses as a Business Consultant. He came across a Will Writing Franchise. They had 43 franchisees but the business had poor management and credit control was a significant concern. Within a year the franchise company with Tony’s support was starting to turn around. But, it was too late and soon the company went into liquidation.
Tony along with a minor shareholder managed to buy part rights to the company. Together they formed the first deregulated UK Law firm on 11th November, 1997. A date close to Tony's heart. Within 18 months the Chancery Law Group (CLG), a referral only service, had revenues of in excess of £ 1 million.
CLG worked exclusively with other professional service providers. Such as financial advisers and accountants, as opposed to directly with the public. In those days UK Legal firms were not allowed to advertise their services directly with the public. CLG was set up as an umbrella sales organisation which owned an in house legal firm. The sales business was then used to generate business for the in house law firm, which was a separate legal entity. This meant the law firm itself had no direct contact with the end user. For example, this CLG campaign
( https://www.mortgagestrategy.co.uk/record-response-to-chancery-law-group-campaign/ ) highlights how it worked in practice. In this case the Sunday Telegraph was running a campaign. It highlighted the need for estate planning working with CLG. This generated leads for the legal services of CLG, while not infringing compliance requirements.
As a business, CLG was based in East Sussex and offered its services across the UK, including Scotland. Tony and his fellow shareholder needed external finance to scale up the business. The banks did not understand the complexity of the business, so the only option they felt they had left was to approach a VC. This led to a meeting with a large risk management company who promised the world and delivered little. From a position of owning a 30-40% stake in business with a potential market cap of £ 30 million. He ended up resigning as a Director of the business. In hindsight, Tony feels working with the VC was a big mistake. He is of the firm opinion that equity based financing is riddled with problems. Most of which don’t emerge till it is too late. And, when they do, it’s difficult to recover from the additional concerns they generate.
He took year off and then worked with TowerGate Partnership . From an entrepreneurial environment, coming back into a large corporation environment was a concern for him as he felt that the skill set to climb the corporate ladder is a different to building a business. Employees, he feels, have a technical proficiency in some area, but this technical focus becomes a disadvantage as an Entrepreneur. He feels Entrepreneurs core skills revolve around building and growing businesses.
Tony was invited to give evidence to the Clementi Review - Legal Services Report in 2004 which led to the deregulation of Legal Services in the UK and the Legal Services Act of 2007.
Tips for Entrepreneurs
“Entrepreneurship is your chance to do own thing your way and perhaps to realise your dreams. That said, it’s not how much you earn but what you do with it that counts. Don't forget to live a little along the way! “
Tony feels Entrepreneurship means long hours, pain, cost, frustration and hard work. If you get it right, much joy and financial reward. The risk of not actually realising the dream is high. But, in his experience, most entrepreneurs he has supported are not sure why they are doing what they are.
In other words, why are you as a person deciding to become an entrepreneur? If it is to earn a living, then Tony feels there are easier options. The point here is that he feels the motivation for why you are doing what you are doing is a fundamental issue. Once you know the why, then it’s a case of how much, of what, by when and by whom, which in turn dictates the rest.
Tony feels too many entrepreneurs over depend on good support providers. They feel because good support is available they don't have to build their own capacity to become a business person. For example, they feel that they do not need to understand the accounts themselves. Whilst an accountant can help with the formal historic accounts. They will rarely understand the business as well as the Business Owner. This then places more emphasis on the Business Owner to build their own skills in the Management of the Business. This means areas like Management Accounts, Marketing, Human Resources, Strategy, etc. The business owner needs to know that support is needed in the first place. This is because in most cases there is no one there holding your hand pointing out what to look out for.
Some common areas Tony feels you as an Entrepreneur should focus on are -
1. Examine your own motivation for doing what you are
2. Understand the market you are targeting
3. How are you going to be different to the players in the market?
4. How are you going to compete in the market? Competing on Price is not a recommended way.
5. Where is the money going to come from?
6. Really understand what you are trying to do
7. It really will take 3 x’s as long and cost 4 x ‘s as much
8. If you can’t sell you won’t do well
9. The skill set needed is a multi disciplinary one
He feels if you have done everything above and get it half right you will never need to look back. So go ahead and try it.
Tony is currently building another referral only legal business called Planned Succession and also offers other business support via Gimple Associates .