Others cite events and experiences as their guiding light, often turning them into powerful personal creeds that they have used throughout their careers.
Geoff Cook, who now heads up Jersey Finance after a long career in banking and wealth management in London, describes what has influenced him the most: “A belief that financial services is a force for good, working with people to create financial independence and security for themselves and for their families in order to build a better future.”
There are those who articulate a similar set of beliefs but admit they were born out of some poor experiences with the sector either as a client or in
their early careers.
Michael Ohanessian, CEO of Praemium, says it was a determination that clients should not be treated in the same way as he was that has been his biggest influence. He says: “I was influenced by my experience as an investor. A static portfolio of funds on a wrap for which I paid high fees to the adviser, the fund manager and platform. There was no transparency, no portfolio rebalancing and poor reporting.”
Others were also witness to that dark side of the industry early in their careers and instead of it driving them out, it generated a passion to raise standards.
“When I joined the industry I had first-hand experience of poor and unethical advice, and it was shocking. No wonder the industry had a bad name. This was a major influence to stay in the industry and ensure to the best of my ability that honest, ethical advice was available to customers,” says Andrew Cole, CEO of Prosperity, and it is this mission that has since driven him.
Some early experiences were not necessarily negative but were definitely character-forming.
One such was Simon Willoughby’s tough baptism in the north-east of England during Margaret Thatcher’s long, bitter battle with Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers, which divided and impoverished whole communities. “The sink or swim challenge of my first job as a life rep in County Durham during the miner’s strike in 1984-85”, shaped him, says Willoughby, now managing director of Acuity Corporate Consulting.
In a very different but equally sober mould, James Pearcy-Caldwell, CEO, OpesFidelio & Aisa International, says his early career as a pilot in the Royal Air Force demonstrated the value of good financial advice. “The death of friends of mine while in the military through a range of aircraft incidents made me understand the consequences for their families,” he says. “Michael Spinak, financial adviser to the Airforce at that time, taught me the importance of financial planning and introduced me into the financial services sector.”
That is not the only RAF connection in the list of key influencers.
Austin Blair, CEO of Providence, learnt many of the values that have guided him from a man who had earned his wings during the Second World War. “One of my first mentors was an ex-fighter pilot called Jack Legg, who was a company director at one of my early employers. Jack taught me to be true to my personal values in all areas of my personal and professional life. He was
a courageous and charismatic leader,” he says.
Some very personal challenges also feature in the list of key influences on our industry leaders, especially for David Kneeshaw, chief executive of RL360.
“Surviving serious injury a few years ago gives you a different perspective on life,” he says. Like many, he also singles out an early boss as a key influence: “A few inspirational bosses along the way, notably Chris Ide, chairman of Swiss Life Europe. Choose them wisely is my advice.”
Making a mark
Ide is among a number of former bosses from whom today’s leaders have taken inspiration. Among them are many industry greats from past decades, people who left a huge mark on the market, often leading fundamental change in the way products were designed and marketed and in the delivery of advice to clients.
Among those who feature are:
- Paul Bradshaw – “massively inspirational”,
says David Ferguson, chief executive, Nucleus;
- Ken Davy – “Under the tutelage of Ken Davy I learned valuable life and business lessons. He helped shape me as a businessman,” says David Howell, joint global CEO, The GWM Group;
- Sir Mark Weinberg – “an amazing character. What I learned from working with Sir Mark was the fantastic skill of stakeholder management. He could understand different concerns and he was very creative and thoughtful about crafting solutions and finding alignment. He was personally tireless in his engagement, individually and collectively, and he was remarkable cool in a crisis,” says Evelyn Bourke, group CEO, Bupa; and
- Mike Wilson – “another giant and visionary of the advice world”, says David Ferguson, chief executive, Nucleus.
Alongside them are other giants of the wider business world, including Bill Gates, admired as much for his philanthropy as for his business success, and Warren Buffett.
Several business and management gurus and authors make an appearance, including Andrew Hallam, described by Sam Instone, CEO of AES International, as “a force for good in the international financial marketplace”, and Seth Godin, an established business blogger and author.
Brendan Dolan, international sales director for Old Mutual Wealth, looks beyond the world of business. “I have spent a lot of time in South Africa throughout my career. Nelson Mandela is considered one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen and his fight for equality and forgiveness has been hugely influential,” he says.
Some of those appearing in this list of influencers have already left their mark on those who have worked with them, no more so than Michael Lohdi, CEO of The Spectrum IFA Group, who Paul Stanfield, CEO of Feifa, says has been the greatest influence on his own career.
Says Stanfield: “The germ of the idea that became Feifa was Michael’s and it was his foresight that propelled me along the road of trade body roles and looking to help positively develop the advisory sector through them.”
Lohdi’s own inspiration is John Smithers, a former chairman of Mondial, for “sharing valuable lessons for dealing with international advisers”.
The strangest nomination as a key influence is that of Mandy Rice-Davies, the model and Soho dancer who played a key role alongside Christine Keeler in the infamous Profumo scandal of 1963. For Hugh Savill, the director of regulation at the Association of British Insurers, who sees himself primarily as a lobbyist, he says of her famous words, ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he’:
“I commend to all lobbyists. I meditate on them daily.”
Good and the great
If that is the strangest influence then perhaps the most fitting is the choice of Garry Heath, now director general of Libertatum. He singles out Professor Laurence ‘Jim’ Gower, a distinguished law professor who, following his retirement from academia in 1979, was asked by the new Conservative government in the UK to review the Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Act 1958, which was seen to be inadequate for the new generation of unit trusts and other savings vehicles.
Four years later he produced a blockbuster report that caught everyone by surprise as it covered many other aspects of savings and investment, including the life assurance sector. From that emerged the 1986 Financial Services Act, the grandfather of all today’s financial services regulation.
Heath quotes from Gower’s report: “While government cannot stop fools doing foolish things, it can and should stop honest people being made fools of.”