Interview with an Entrepreneur – MD of the Richmond Group, James Benamor
Welcome to ‘Interview with an entrepreneur’, a new series where we talk to entrepreneurs and industrialists and delve into their business mind. Today we interview James Benamor who is the founder and Managing Director of the Richmond Group, a financial services conglomerate that manages several other smaller businesses including: Amigo, FLMquick, Ratio Network and Loan Finder.
The business was listed 29th in the 2007 Sunday Times Fast Track 100 in terms of sales, in 200, 8 it was ranked 34th in the UK by the Profit Track 100 for profit growth, and in 2008, 2009 and 2010 it was rated as one of the 100 best companies in the Sunday Times ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’. In 2010 Benamor and the Richmond Group won an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year Award.
What does your average workday consist of?
I start every day in the gym with an hour of boxing. I gave up coffee around five years ago and found that a bit of hard exercise is the best way to get my brain working in the morning. I shower in the office and head to our cafe for breakfast. Our cafe is a vital meeting point where people from different parts of the company can run into each other and chat through the day’s important stuff. After that my day is pretty much split between project meetings discussing marketing and software development, operational meetings with our call centre managers and time at my desk going through emails. All of our offices are open plan and my desk is on the floor where our software engineers, designers and creatives sit. A diverse team are seated around me. It’s really useful when you come across a new idea to be able to look up and bounce it off a solicitor, a PR guru, a social media expert and customer advocate, in seconds, without having to call a meeting.
How will you deal with increasing competition in your industry?
We need to do what we’ve done for 12 years, make sure our business evolves faster than our competitors’ businesses. Evolution comes from adapting to failure, so we’ll continue to hold ourselves to higher standards than our competitors and make sure we are honest and recognise and address our own failures faster than our competitors address theirs. The biggest danger is not that someone will come along who is better than us, it’s that we’ll start believing our own hype, think we’ve made it and stop trying to change and evolve every day.
Do you believe your target market has changed?
Massively. We developed our guarantor loans in 2004 to fill a niche for people who are financially stable but whose credit scores didn’t reflect that. Since the credit crunch we’ve seen millions more trustworthy people completely denied credit, often for no obvious reason. Customers are also avoiding banks by choice because scandal after scandal means that they don’t trust them.
Do you believe that young people who wish to start a business should go through the traditional route of attending university?
I’m torn on this one. I left school at 15 and if I had to do my life over again I wouldn’t change the path I took. I was always business minded and couldn’t see a way that sitting in a classroom could ever be a faster way to learn than just getting on and trying something. Creating an incredible business is usually about seeing something from a different angle to everyone else, education often trains you to think in a certain way and I’m concerned that reduces creativity and innovation. Having said that, now that my business is established, some of the most useful people I employ have been through University. I also have five children and I am encouraging them to go. It’s one of those ‘do as I say not as i do’ things. Uni is safer, less chance of absolute failure but less chance of astronomical success too.
Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial environment?
Definitely. My mum was a natural businesswoman. When I was five and she was 22 she was the first person to bring Sugaring (traditional North African hair removal) to the UK. As a housewife she decided she was unhappy with the school I was going to, I am dyslexic and didn’t do well in a state school. She started a small business from home and put aside every penny she earned to send me to a private school. Over the next seven years she grew it into a million pound business before going bust in the early 90s recession. Our home was always the centre of the business and I absorbed everything. I don’t think I would have had the belief to start out if I hadn’t been brought up in that environment.
How do you see your industry developing in the next 3-5 years?
Over the last 15 years so many industries have been shaken up as the internet made it possible for customers to move over to companies that gave them what they wanted. Do you remember the last time you went into a high street travel agents? Finance is no different, except that regulation and wholesale funding restrictions has made competition extremely slow. The future is going to be revolutionary. Three to five years might not be enough time to see the full effects but people will have far more control over their money, consumers and businesses will have many more options for borrowing and savers will laugh at the days when the best return you could get on your savings was a couple of percent above LIBOR.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a young entrepreneur starting out today?
1. Try a lot of things. Expect most things you do to fail but expect one or two huge successes along the way. Be really careful of things that sort of work but don’t quite. They can absorb years of your life. Finding the right business is like finding love. When it’s right, it’s right. If it’s not amazing move on. There’s always a better business out there but you only get one life.
2. Stay clear of lifestyle industries. Everyone would love to charter boats in the Caribbean or open a high-end fashion magazine but the truth is the number of people willing to work themselves to death and still make a loss in these industries means your chance of creating anything revolutionary here is small. If you want to make the biggest impact and the most money head for something that’s not sexy. You might not get as much good publicity but you’ll probably make more money and end up doing more good for the world.
3. If in doubt, do something. Anything. You can waste years thinking about what might work. Start now, fail, learn, and try again.
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