Tony Captain Article: The Sculptor of Finance (As Featured in the NACFB Magazine)
Having set-up two successful asset finance companies, been through two recessions and a career in finance spanning over 45 years, Tony Captain, Chairman of Liberty Leasing knows a thing or two about the business of lending. In this article Tony shares his career highlights, insights and advice to the next generation of asset finance professionals.
My career in finance started in 1971 when I was recruited by North West Securities Ltd as a Trainee Industrial Representative. They provided excellent training and I learned about finance for non-motor assets from agricultural machinery to printing presses. They were good at incentivising staff and maximising deals and one of the first to offer keyman insurance. I discovered a real buzz for sales, but in the back of my mind knew I wanted to be my own boss.
An Entrepreneur at heart
In 1983 I joined my business partner, Greg Randall, at State Securities to focus on underwriting and sales. Having been friends since the age of five, I trusted Greg implicitly and 66 years on, we are still business partners and close friends.
We initially dealt with short-term loans between £100-£500 and collected money “on the knocker” as we used to say. Having advertised in the local newspaper, business flooded in. Back then, a client would give a second charge on their property for a £500 loan, how times have changed! As State evolved we moved into hire purchase and leasing with an initial, average deal of £1,000.
People First, Finance Second
Throughout my career, we made a point at selecting the right people for the job and helping them realise their potential. At State I recruited individuals from all sorts of backgrounds, building, plumbing and even a shipping company director. Being a good fit for our business was priority and I was convinced if they held the right people skills and received some training they would successfully sell finance. This unconventional recruiting style has served us well and the fact that the staff we recruited didn’t come from traditional finance backgrounds meant they didn’t join with preconceived ideas or negativity.
A Time to Sell
After 15 years of trading at State and with a profit of c£2.25m a year and approximately £35m of receivables, we decided to sell, having received a fair amount of interest in the business. Following some delays due to Y2K fears, Greg and I eventually travelled to London to sign the deal, celebrating with a few drinks at the Savoy afterwards. However, on the train home, the mood shifted to a somewhat sombre one; it was bitter sweet knowing something we had spent years building was no longer ours and I questioned what we had done. I was about 50, too young to retire and not wanting to waste the experience and knowledge I had acquired, I discussed with my wife about starting over again with a new company but on a part-time basis. This led to the incorporation of Liberty Leasing in 2001.
A model for success
Whilst Greg and I were keen to replicate our achievements at State, we also wanted to step back. We saw Allan Clegg and Paul Sheedy as the future and they joined in 2004. Allan had the qualities for a solid managing director; trustworthy, hardworking, likeable and reliable and Paul had a flair for the sales and operations side along with his great sense of humour and likeability.
Having the support of a business partner and friend is one I’ve never underestimated or taken for granted and I couldn’t be prouder of Allan and Paul’s achievements. Having seen their potential many years ago, they’ve proved me right. I’ve never had to question their actions and was confidently able to relinquish various parts of the business and day to day running to them. We subsequently recruited two trainee Account Managers, Lewis Banford and Joe Hadfield and 14 years on, both are now Area Managers managing their own teams.
Technology and regulation are two aspects that have massively impacted on our industry and will continue to do so. Before mobiles I would hand Greg my list of visits for the day, he would ring ahead to confirm each meeting and I would then have to ask the client if I could use their phone to check in with him.
Although FCA regulation and compliance is likely to increase, it ensures a fairer deal and protection for the parties involved. We’re lucky to have Lara James, Compliance Officer and Laura Roberts, Legal Director to make sure Liberty is compliant and legally watertight.
For those entering the market today, it’s far more competitive and requires considerable capital. To give some context, in 1980 State started with £700, in 2001 Liberty started with £800,000. Today, I estimate one would require about £5m, and that is being modest. It takes a lot to establish credibility in the asset finance industry, with block discounters and the involvement of brokers alongside finding the right calibre of people to employ.
I believe there are many routes to success but a few common aspects have been vital during my 45 year career. You must be motivated and enthusiastic for what you do, as this fuels the drive to succeed. Having an entrepreneurial spirit has always spurred me on, money is a wonderful by-product of success, but if it was purely about money I would have retired long ago. Choosing the right people who are a good fit for the business and retaining those people is also key. Ordinarily we spend more time at work than anywhere else so it’s important to create an environment where people want to come to work and are happy. I’ve been fortunate to work with people I consider friends and watched many realise their potential and achieve success in their own right.
It’s hard to believe we set up State with £700 capital put up by Greg’s older brother, a postman in Southampton. I’m not sure I could have predicted the level of success especially the second time round with Liberty which my wife reminds me was only meant to be a small, part-time venture. With, Liberty’s book size at over £100m with an additional credit line of £43m available, this is an incredible achievement which we can all be proud of at Liberty. I can honestly say (maybe to my wife’s dismay), if I was ten years younger, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again!