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Colour and Money
Two questions about the colour of money
From his perch on the Power List of ‘Britain’s 100 most influential black people’, PIERS LINNEY reflects on the finance sector’s twin challenges – to be more ethnically diverse and more entrepreneurial.
I have two obsessions. I suppose you could say they come together under the heading ‘the colour of money’. The first is about business, about creative ways of making money. Since my teens in Lancashire, business was always my aim. While my mates were playing football, I was delivering newspapers. And I found I could make much more if I by-passed the newsagent and bought the newspapers myself wholesale.
My second obsession is about diversity – widening the opportunities, particularly in finance and in the City, to ethnic minorities. I’ve worked in the law, as an investment banker and as a hedge-fund partner and I’ve simply never come across anyone else with an Afro-Caribbean background, like mine, in a senior fee-earning role. We’d be much stronger, I believe, if our financial engine was more culturally representative.
I’ve been lucky. I had good role models: my mother came here from Barbados to work as a health visitor, and then set up a wedding flower business after retiring. My father went to Cambridge University and then worked in exports. That’s why I’ve become a role model in the government's Reach programme that aims to raise the aspirations and achievements of black boys and young men.
There just aren’t any visible role models of Caribbean descent in the jobs that have always interested me in business and finance. You’ll see much more diversity in Wall Street than in the City of London.
And yet, if you can get through the door and you’re good and you work hard, the opportunities are enormous – for me, much greater than I could have found anywhere else.
I qualified as a solicitor and then worked in corporate finance and investment banking. But my primary instinct always was as an entrepreneur. I loved investment banking, even though the hours were crazy, but I really wanted to get my own business feet on the ground, as it were, after years flying at 30,000 feet doing deals for others.
Three years ago, my partner Simon Newton and I structured a management buy-out of a very tired, business mobile phone company called Genesis Communications from DSG International plc. We cleaned it up, made a series of strategic acquisitions to strengthen our range of IT communications offerings and re-branded it as Outsourcery.
We’ve turned it into one of the UK’s leading providers of cloud computing solutions and mobilecentric unified communications to small and medium-sized enterprises, with an annual turnover of around £43m. We’ve just been named Microsoft’s Worldwide Hosting Partner of the Year 2010 – which is like an Oscar in our industry.
Re-launching Outsourcery brought home just how huge a gap there is in the market for debt and equity. At that time, we could see the confusion banks are in about that kind of risk-taking. So, rather than depend on the banks, we’ve equity-financed our business so that we didn’t need them.
But equity investment can now be very hard to come by. In the good times, the banks did venture into that territory and came unstuck. It’s not what they’re good at. I think we need new products – possibly hybrid solutions – to bridge the equity and debt gaps, but which balance risk and reward for the finance providers.
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