Lives: Tring, Hertfordshire
Born: June 30, 1959 in Gillingham, Kent
Education: BA (Hons) Economics, Aberystwyth
Career to date: 1981-1993: Allied Dunbar – graduate trainer, broker consultant and branch manager, 1993-98: M&G Group – IFA sales director, 1998-99: sales and marketing director at wealth management start-up Independent Insurance, 1999-2000: J Rothschild Inter-national – sales and marketing director
Career ambition: To make Selestia the leading fund supermarket
Life ambition: To maintain a work/family balance
Likes: Winning and working with clever people
Dislikes: People who do not care and are not interested in anything
Peers say: “Strong on people issues”
Car: BMW 330 convertible
Some of my best friends are IFAs – an admission which might not sound so bizarre in the competitive arena of IFA fund supermarkets but for Selestia managing director Brett Williams, it is the truth.
For many providers, IFAs are “a necessary evil”, according to Williams but he genuinely appears to appreciate their work and does indeed count a number of IFAs among his circle of friends.
Cynics and rivals reading this may still think Williams would say that. After all, he has the considerable task on his hands of convincing IFAs that Old Mutual's new fund supermarket Selestia is better than rivals such as Cofunds and Skandia. It is an exercise as much in diplomacy as it is in offering a state-of-the-art platform.
The project finally goes fully live on November 19, the day all IFAs will have access to Selestia following months of speculation surrounding Project Mars, as it was known in the months running up to launch.
So what does Selestia really mean? “We had a number of options but Selestia really sums up the selection of funds and the fact they are all stars.”
But there are some notable star exceptions with those omitted, including Fidelity, Jupiter, Gartmore, Henderson, Threadneedle and M&G. New Star is also keeping to its exclusive deal with Skandia at least until next year.
While Williams firmly sticks to the Selestia message that it is asset allocation that counts within a client's portfolio, not just having every single fund available, he concedes there are some funds he would like to see on board which are currently in the New Star and Cofunds range: “I do not understand why they will not come on board.”
So with Skandia giving IFAs access to the all the players' funds, just exactly what will Selestia offer them what they cannot have already?
“We have started with a blank canvas with the aim of designing something for the 21st century. We want to be different and fresh.”
Specifically, Williams insists that Selestia's strength lies in the fact it is not dealing with the legacy of previous systems and claims to provide, for the first time, full electronic trading and all the tools needed to build and manage a client's portfolio effectively.
Williams is a thinker who enjoys being surrounded by a team of thinkers. But perhaps more importantly, he needs to be cushioned by individuals who can make the vision a reality. This is something the excitable 42-year-old and father of five identifies as a potential weakness.
“I need completer-finishers around me. Sometimes I get impatient because I want to see something done. I need people around me to tie up the loose ends – I cannot get there fast enough.”
I fact, the thinking behind Selestia was born of frustration that existing IFA offerings have been “product-obsessed” when they should be “customer-obsessed”.
Williams has seen IFAs at many levels in a career in financial services spanning 20 years. This included a stint between 1981 and 1993 at Allied Dunbar where he kickstarted his career as a graduate trainee.
At Dunbar, he was also a broker consultant, rising to become manager of the London and Home Counties branch.
Between 1993 and 1998, Williams was IFA sales director at M&G. Before joining Old Mutual last year he was sales and marketing director at J Rothschild International.
Williams is the eldest of three children and recounts following his entrepreneurial father around the country, whom he describes as the man who brought health and fitness to Macclesfield: “He was a bit before his time.” When it came to deciding what degree to read, economics was the obvious choice. But in the end he split the degree with international politics at Aberystwyth.
“Economics seemed like a sensible business discipline but the international politics side of my studies probably taught me more about business then economics.
“The things that stick in my mind are what you could learn about different leadership skills and also what you could learn about people.”
This fits very neatly with the way Williams hopes he is seen by his peers and colleagues. To this day, he believes financial services is a people business. It is a world he would not happily be involved with unless he was enjoying himself.
Williams' philosophy is confirmed without prompt by Selestia marketing director Bill Vasilieff. He says: “I have known Brett a pretty long time – since 1988. I find him inspirational and particularly strong on people issues.”
Williams does not get all that much time for pure relaxation. With five children ranging from two to 15 years, he has got his work cut out at home in Hertfordshire. The ultimate life ambition for him is to maintain a work/life balance – to be as successful as possible at work but not at the expense of the family, an area he has seen some contemporaries fail.
In the run-up to Selestia's launch and a series of national roadshows to woo hard-to-please IFAs, he will continue to work long hours but hopefully not for too long: “My daughter said as I left this morning: 'don't go to work, Daddy', which tugs at the old heart strings.”
But on the day of the interview he's knocking off at five to pick up one of his older children from their latest pursuit – family is always first.
Lives: Tring, Hertfordshire