BRAIN FOOD: Sir Mark Weinberg - If i had to start again...

I have had to start again - twice.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My first business venture was to start Abbey Life Assurance on moving to England from South Africa in 1961. I sold out after a few years, at a small profit, to an American joint venture.

Abbey Life grew into a sizable company, but following acrimonious arguments between the two shareholders, one bought out the other and I resigned.

As most of the management also resigned in sympathy, I found myself starting a new company two weeks later. This time, I chose my backer carefully and, importantly, ensured that the management and salespeople had significant equity stakes. Hambro Life (later Allied Dunbar) went public after five years, but Hambros Bank came under financial strain and BAT took over.

Over the next six years, my colleagues and I found ourselves in disagreement over policy with our controlling shareholder - I left once again. This time round, thanks to the strong will of my colleague Mike Wilson, we took six months to decide how to proceed. We decided that less was better.

By contracting out administration, we kept head office staff to a minimum, and by contracting out investment management, gave ourselves access to superior talent. And we decided to build a smaller, higher-quality team of financial advisers. Once again, we ensured that there was equity participation for staff and advisers. We went public, on schedule, after five years.

Three years later, as our original backers had decided to sell their stake, control passed to a large group, but this time on the understanding that we'd remain independent. I'd certainly not wish to start yet again, but if I had to, I wouldn't change what we did third time round.

Sir Mark Weinberg became chairman of St James's Place Capital in 1991.

He was chairman of Allied Dunbar Assurance 1984-90.

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