By Samantha Smith, Chief Executive of finnCap and a member of EO UK – London
Seven years ago, I bought out my business from the co-owner and became the first and only female CEO of a broker firm in London. At the time, most other brokerages were run in a very typical manner; they shared a broadly similar culture—fairly aggressive, with quite a ruthless hire-and-fire mentality, little emphasis on career progression or training and listening to staff and not much interest in employing a diverse range of employees.
I wanted to create a different culture and something that perhaps had not existed in a traditional banking environment before. Somewhere where our team actually wanted to come to work and enjoy themselves, somewhere where everyone’s view was important, somewhere collaborative, where we took every member of staff progress seriously and wanted to treat people fairly but most importantly, have fun.
I have since invested a significant amount of time and energy in creating the “finnCap culture.” This is an ongoing project as once the culture is set keeping it in place as you grow becomes more and more difficult. It is the small things that make the difference and I don’t think you can ever stop thinking about it. I am convinced that instilling a positive corporate culture that is different to your peer group has been crucial to our success—it has helped us to attract and hire better people, retain the best employees, create values that are consistent and build trust in our team while at the same time having a lot of fun. My belief is that a different corporate culture is the reason new businesses can gain market share very rapidly which is exactly what finnCap has done.
People are probably the most important factor in the success of a business and for most organisations people are their key business assets. Recruitment of the right people who have the right cultural fit has been my most important and time consuming job. I am always looking for the right personality that works for our business. Where I had doubts on cultural fit I made mistakes and they didn’t work. You can’t compromise on your culture and if attitudes don’t work you just can’t change it. Always go back to your culture—do they fit? Employees must be aware that they are part of a bigger team and the significant role that each person plays, the value of each individual, including those who are non-client facing or in in supportive roles.
Keeping the culture through a growth phase is particularly difficult. This is what we try and do now that we are 70-people strong to ensure the culture is consistent;
- Communicating strategy changes. An annual staff meeting to communicate strategy for the year with key KPI’s. Staff are involved in putting ideas forward each year
- Quarterly strategy updates on progress and priorities for next quarter
- All team leaders hold quarterly performance management meetings to help improve staff performance and motivate them
- A monthly summary on the business sent to all staff
- Celebrating all successes no matter how small
- A “suggestions box” for anonymous ideas on how to improve the company
- Monthly evening drinks and pizza night with all staff
- A group lunch every other Friday
- Free breakfast in the kitchen and drinks in the fridge
- Knowing you can speak openly and totally confidentially to key people about issues
- A great PA who has their finger on the pulse of staff morale and cares
Culture is not tangible—it is the sum of values, knowledge, attitudes and experiences created over the lifetime of an organisation. Corporate culture is led from the top. It is the small things that make the difference and always having it at the forefront of your mind. Dealing with deviations from corporate culture quickly and talking to staff regularly to check.
Over the last seven years, we moved the business from outside the top 20 advisory/broking firms to the largest adviser and broker on the Aim market, a position we continue to maintain. We were the fastest growing broker every year in a market that was declining. It works. I am extremely proud of our achievements and I am confident that the strong corporate culture we have is a key element of our success.