Equilibrium, the Wilmslow-based wealth management firm, recently topped £500m worth of assets on Nucleus.
Founder Colin Lawson puts their growth over the last five years – which has seen them win £400m of new assets – down to a strategic decision to delegate the running of the business to Gaynor Rigby as managing partner. Here Gaynor explains their approach.
What made Colin decide to step aside and hand control over to someone else?
Equilibrium had just been through a challenging period transitioning the majority of its clients’ assets on to the Nucleus platform. It had been an incredibly stressful period to ensure an effective transition and Colin, feeling burnt out by the whole experience, had decided that the skills required to take the business forward were not the ones he had. He could manage and lead a small, slick team but he knew a growing team required full-time attention and he acknowledged that this was not his area of unique ability.
What were your first impressions of the business?
I spent about 10 days talking to everyone in the business to get their impressions of what was working, about how things were being run, what wasn’t working, and what they thought the opportunities for the business were.
The answers were pretty consistent and really all that was required was structure and a clear focus. That was really exciting to me. I could see what it would all look like in my head, how the pieces would fit, and which team members could be nurtured to grow into bigger roles.
How did you develop the strategy?
Colin is always the lead on strategy and once he had handed over the baton to me he had more time and mental energy to think about where he wanted the business to be in 10 years’ time. My role is to be the sounding board as to what is possible, to be realistic on what timeline, and then to figure out how to make it happen.
How did you translate the strategy into action?
We started with the 10-year goal and the number of assets we wanted to have under management and then worked backwards. When we had figured out how many new assets we needed to win each year we did an estimate of what the turnover would be. Then we looked at the marketing and staff numbers and plugged it all into a budget.
One of the bigger challenges was to communicate all of that to the team and for us to understand how to track it all, along with updating the internal systems and processes with our end game in mind.
How did you prioritise the changes?
The management team met (and continue to meet) each quarter. Based on the end of year target we broke things down into three-month chunks to be able to monitor and track changes effectively.
How did you manage peoples’ response to change?
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
In the absence of information people will make up their own answers so we were always upfront and honest about what we were doing and why.
People fell into about three camps: those that were immediately on board and engaged and embraced the changes, those who needed a bit more time and information and those who just didn’t get it and weren’t up to dealing with what we needed to do.
I made it very clear to the team that this was the path we would be following - expectations were set and people held to account. Those who didn’t make the cut, left. It was like leading a charge and I had to be absolute that what we were doing would be better on the other side. It took focus, patience and an unwavering belief.
Looking back – is there anything you’d change or do differently?
No. You need to think of it like having a map with a start place and a destination. You don’t take a straight line from A to B. As you set off things come up and you have to deal with them, that’s all part of the journey.
Looking to the future – how do you plan to maintain this level of success?
The principal on how we run the business is exactly the same. We have our goals and we work backwards to make a plan of how to achieve them, except now we have a lot more brainpower. Our current management team is very, very strong and all come to the table with their own set of experience and expertise. Having all those people engaged in growing the business makes it very exciting. My role is to ensure that we maintain our culture, philosophy and ethos, and that we are all heading in the same direction.
And what do you see as the key threats to watch out for?
We monitor our numbers very closely in terms of turnover, cashflow and profit. Due to our turnover being so highly correlated to markets we need to be robust enough to weather out all those up and downs.
What advice would you give to other firms looking to scale in the same way?
Have a plan, and work backwards.
At the start of every fiscal year have your numbers sorted and plans in place for targets, marketing and people. Then track it closely: weekly, monthly and quarterly. You won’t get there on your own, you need to find good people, grow them, nurture them, trust them and then give them the authority and responsibility to do things on your behalf.
Bottom line: have a plan, track results, grow an awesome team, and don’t forget to delegate.Read more: How to plan for the worst and hope for the best for your firm’s budget