Well Steve, an old friend in a new role, tell me about it and what is the biggest difference with HSBC?
SB: In terms of my new role, Bob, I joined Bibby in June last year as CEO for Europe. Since this time the role has expanded to our international business, which includes Asia and North America.
There are a lot of similarities with HSBC in that we’re operating in the same receivables finance industry, but there are also some clear differences.
We’re more SME-focused than the banks and, as an independent funder, we have a greater ability to go the extra mile to our support our clients. I recently conducted a number of client visits across our international business and what’s evident is how much they value the flexibility and speed of service that we offer to support their growth.
Fundamentally, Bibby is a relationship-based business and I think this shines through in our day-to-day operations, our communications and the level of service we provide to clients.
Another key difference is the culture. Bibby is an extremely innovative organisation with an entrepreneurial outlook and this really resonates with our clients. We have strong people-values and client-centric DNA, which is very much aligned with our heritage as part of the 200-year-old Bibby Line Group.
As a business we’re on a transformational journey and we have an ambitious and clear global strategy. I’m really enjoying the role and I’m excited to be leading this change in such a forward-thinking organisation.
The group is a little smaller now with Australia and New Zealand gone. David Postings kindly explained that one to me but it would be good for the wider world to hear it.
SB: Towards the end of 2015 we set out our focus and grow strategy, which is designed around prioritising selected markets and growing our business in these countries.
The sale of the businesses in Australia and New Zealand was part of this strategy and provides us with significant opportunities to grow in key markets such as Germany, France, Ireland, the US and Poland.
We have witnessed tremendous growth in these countries during the past 12 months and we’re now investing further in these regions to expand our support for businesses, regardless of size or sector.
Would a Brexit impact your European operations?
SB: We’re constantly evaluating a variety of scenarios which could impact all of our businesses to ensure that we can continue to provide excellent service to our clients, and the EU debate is clearly a situation we’re watching closely.
In reality, how a Brexit would impact us and our clients remains to be seen as there are many unanswered questions on both sides of the debate. I think at this stage we need more information for both scenarios to enable the public and SMEs to make this important decision based on facts.
How many personnel do you have in the global division and how are they distributed?
SB: We have more than 1,200 employees worldwide, with 700 in the UK, 100 people in North America, around 300 in Europe and the remainder throughout Asia. However, as part of our focus and grow strategy, we’re currently looking at opportunities to bolster our teams in key markets, so these splits are likely to change over the coming year.
I know that recent work with HPD Software has improved the collation of global information but I guess that much travel is still involved?
SB: If you consider that a human consumes more data in a day that they would have in their entire lifetime in 1800, it’s clear that technology has been a revelation. However, the sheer volume of data that exists today means that people spend a great deal of time filtering and interpreting this data.
As an industry, it’s key that we can engage with smart-data companies with competencies to provide intuitive and sensitised risk management data, and this is really where we can add value to clients through process improvement.
As a business, the work that we have undertaken with HPD has given us a great platform to build on and I have first-hand experience of the broader capabilities HPD can offer.
While technology has undoubtedly improved data management and communications, face-to-face time with both my teams and clients is really important so there is still an element of travel, which is part and parcel of having an international role.
Do your senior managers have access to you at all times, and how do manage this responsibility?
SB: This is an area I’m really passionate about, and my working career has been based on building successful highly-performing teams. In my view, you can’t run a business by simply focusing on revenue. If you care about your people, empower them and help them to develop, they will deliver outstanding service to customers and the numbers will follow.
This focus on people is something that is instilled in teams at Bibby and another reason I wanted to join the business. Communication is at the heart of success for any company and in terms of my teams, I’m very accessible and honest. It’s important to be challenged and I encourage transparent dialogue as this feedback is critical to continuous improvement and subsequent success.
Wherever possible I hold weekly pulse meetings for my direct reports to upload key concerns and for me to download the same. This keeps us connected and helps us to work as one team, which is critical. These meetings are also a chance for us to celebrate success, which is equally important in my view.
How much of a burden is compliance now? It seems to be stifling growth.
SB: Rather than viewing compliance as a burden, I see it as a business enabler. This is particularly true in a time where banks are under greater levels of scrutiny and need to evidence that they’re treating their customers – and the wider community – fairly.
Banks have clearly had to remediate and to adapt to increasing compliance, but I don’t believe for a moment that non-bank financial institutions are immune. Indeed, at Bibby we take our customer due diligence, anti-money laundering and know-your-customer compliance duties seriously. Furthermore, we work in close partnerships with many banks for liquidity. As such, our own compliance is regularly subject to audit and assessment as a consequence.
Reflecting on the worldwide magnitude of change in relation to compliance, I believe that while the focus has been substantial, it has been vital in helping to restore public and business confidence and trust in the financial services sector.
Are some new overseas offices in prospect?
SB: As part of our global strategic review, we considered this at length and we believe we have a greater opportunity to broaden our presence in existing markets. We’re currently investing in key markets throughout Europe and the US, and we see a fantastic opportunity to mature in some of our younger operational markets before we seek to develop elsewhere.
However, as you know – never say never. We’re an extremely commercial and entrepreneurial business so if the right opportunity presents itself, we have both the financial strength and in-house capability to capitalise.
How do you relax?
SB: When I’m not travelling I enjoy spending time with my family and cycling, and I have a great love of music. As with many people these days, I like to keep fit and I play for a local football team, though I wouldn’t call this relaxing! We’ve only lost one game this season and are due to play in a semi-cup final this month which is a fantastic achievement.
You are one of life’s enthusiasts and I can recall a fun night out with you in Chicago and Kevin Craven too. Is it still work hard and play hard or is it all work now?
SB: It’s largely work hard these days, Bob. We have a fantastic work ethic at Bibby and coupled with my own hard-working DNA, there’s not much time left in my diary for play!
That said, I’m sure we can do better than a burger and chips next time!
Thank you Steve, and good luck with the new role.
First published in Business Money Issue 245, March 2016 and reproduced with permission: www.business-money.com.