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For long-term growth, join the culture club

“I like finance. I find it intellectually interesting – there’s lots of numbers and that’s great.”

That sentence coming out of the mouth of successful asset manager turned private investor, Guy Bowles, is probably surprising to no-one.

Bowles was the founder and CEO of The Ingenious Group which was sold to Tilney Bestinvest in 2016.

His next sentence, however, is rather more eye-opening.

“But that isn’t what I most enjoyed about being part of Ingenious Asset Management. What I really enjoyed was starting with nothing, rolling up my sleeves and building a business.”

Bowles is a calm man – utterly comfortable in his own skin. Softly spoken, he is assured, confident, measured.

He says he built his business in three ways: by persuading more clients to join, by persuading other investment managers to join (and bring their business with them) and by acquisition.

“I think I can bring significant expertise and knowledge to how one approaches and merges with competitors in the same field and how one integrates them into a business.”

This is Bowles the builder talking and his latest project for growth is the estate agency services provider, Agent and Homes.

Complete sense

Bowles decided to invest in the company when a friend called him to tell him about the business.

“He asked me if I would be interested in joining him as an investor and I trust his judgment.

I looked at the business and felt I immediately got it in terms of what they are trying to do.

“They offer a different approach to the property market and it made complete sense to me.”

This ‘different approach’ amounts to working with agents who are in business for themselves and providing the administrative support, compliance advice and mentorship necessary to succeed as individual operators.

‘Working for themselves but not by themselves’, is their explanatory tagline.

“The modern world is moving away from the traditional office,” says Bowles.

“People want to have flexibility over when, where and how they work.

“And for the customer, this is better because with the High Street office they will often have to have multiple relationships within the firm depending on whether they wish to sell, to let or whatever.

“We offer a single point of contact, someone to focus on their needs. Once the clients get familiar with us and used to the fact that we’re not a big brand name, hopefully, they’ll get a better experience as a result.”

And Bowles has put more than his money where his mouth is. He’s also joined the board of Agent and Homes as a non-executive director.

He says: “I have about 30 investments in early stage and startup companies. I have direct involvement in only five of them – the others are passive investments.

“For the ones I want to be involved with, the culture has to be right.

Professional freedom

“Of course, it has to be profitable but I don’t necessarily have to think it’s going to make huge sums of money. It needs to be something where I feel this is going to do some good – in this case by offering agents an alternative lifestyle to ply their trade.

“What we’re talking about is freedom in three forms: work/life balance, geographical freedom – we’re not bound by area if clients move away – and the professional freedom to not have to choose between sales and lettings, our agents are free to do both.”

That’s Bowles the businessman talking – ensuring what the company sees as its USPs are clear and explained.

But he keeps coming back to corporate culture, he just can’t help himself.

“I come from a world in the City that’s very cut-throat, where some people aren’t very nice.

“Some equity firms want to maximise profits for shareholders. How do you do that? By minimising costs and maximising revenue. To do that they paid the staff just enough to stop them leaving. You also do it by charging clients as much as possible, just to the point where they won’t quite go elsewhere. The shareholders are happy but everyone else is miserable.

“But in order to build long-term success, you need happy staff, happy clients and happy shareholders.

“I think the warmer the culture within the organisation, the more successful the organisation will be. Stakeholders have to genuinely feel they are part of a revolution, part of something new. We’re sort of evangelical about that and in that sense, we eat our own cooking and that creates a very strong culture.”

That is Bowles the board member talking.


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