After a career in the army with spells in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and Guatemala, Group 300 chief executive Chris Batten is marching for victory in the financial services industry.
His background with two years in the RAF police and 12 years as an infantry soldier comes through in his attitude as a highly focused and driven and intense businessman determined to make things happen.
“The military had a huge impact. It taught me confidence, communication skills, to be disciplined, single-minded and focused, it taught me leadership. If it wasn't for the army I would probably now be a middle-aged, balding rock star.”
IFA network and support services provider Group 300, previously the Advice Store Group, is picking up momentum. It had a turnover of £10m and made a network profit in its first year of £120,000 despite spending over £750,000 on technology. Last week, it announced it is on the acquisition trail for a medium-sized network in the next six months.
He says there have been a couple of companies in the press recently who are known to be for sale and he is interested in, for example, Burns Anderson. “If we are in time, we would love to be able to open talks with them but we know they are talking to other people so we might be a bit late. They would be an ideal target to talk to because we think we share so many standards.”
Other developments include a move into the Australian market with its compliance technology, allowing Australian firms to use its UK server, maximising the time difference between the two countries.
“Interestingly enough, I believe that our success in the UK will be greater as a result of the Australian market, rather than the Australian market being good because of our success in the UK. I think in the UK we are treated with suspicion, we are not taken particularly seriously by providers because we are quite small in terms of the large national networks. We are looked at as another new business.
“People do not take the time to find out that we have been here for seven years and slowly but surely we have built a business of some considerable value in terms of reputation and the way in which its clients perceive it.”
Batten says his decision to get into IFA support services was due to the frustration he felt as an IFA. “I was frustrated by the complacency, frustrated by the fact that suppliers did not seem to supply anything that we needed.” He was also frustrated by the cost of other networks and their inefficiencies and claims that Group 300 is about 30 per cent cheaper than competitors because it uses technologies in a smart way and makes its margins without charging “an arm and a leg”. He says: “For one of our competitors to run a business of our size, they would need about 50 employees, we get away with 20.”
He says it is about being smart and is immensely proud of his team and he always has two or three people working on the business, finding new opportunities. The firm believes in constantly having new innovations on the boil and it has had three new launches this year, with another two to come before the year is out to “re-enthuse” the industry.
In his spare time, Batten is on the look out for new challenges and every year he has one holiday to do something for charity. Earlier this year, he cycled from Biarritz to Cambridge with a couple of his senior managers. He has also cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats and plans next to tackle riding across Tunisia with members of his team, through the Sahara.
“I will do anything that is physical, provided that it is a challenge and it pushes me. I have done parachuting, diving all the sort of things you'd expect a soldier to do and, of course, when I came out I still needed that adrenalin rush and I did not quite get everything I needed from running a business and flying a desk. I still need to be out there getting dirty.”
He says moving from the army into financial services was a big adjustment. “When I came out of the army I was not a particularly good businessperson and I think that is reflected in the fact I made so many mistakes. I am not ashamed to say that, of my five businesses, I managed to take three to sale or develop into bigger things like today but the others failed and I did have a business go into liquidation because I did not manage it particularly well. But you know coming out of the army, 12 years as an infantry soldier, then straight into a business, perhaps that was understandable. I think that my biggest strength today is my failures of yesterday. I learn quickly and I never make the same mistake twice.”
He is a strong believer in the motto that if you want to predict the future you have to go and create it, which is why he says at 44 he is still playing first-team rugby.
Born: Stepney East London December 25, 1958
Education: Main learning environment the armed forces and being in business. Latterly Open University law degree and Institute of Directors' diploma.
Career: 1976-78: RAF police, 1978-89: Army, infantry soldier,1989-91: TSB Trust Company – financial consultant, 1991-98: Set up a series of IFA and compliance consultancy businesses, some were sold and some failed to make it to the end-game, 1998-present: architect and CEO of Group 300 and its associated companies. Previously trading as Advice Store Group.
Career ambition: “To continue to grow Group 300 into a brand synonymous with the values of innovation, expertise, quality and integrity for the benefit of all our stakeholders. To continue to develop and build the 300 Team so they can all realise their own ambitions.”
Life ambition: “To push myself to the very limit and maintain integrity and enjoyment, while sharing the spoils with family and friends.”
Likes: Physical exercise, particularly rugby. Good food with friends, fast cars, sunny days and new ideas.
Dislikes: Wasting time, people who hold grudges, dogs with haircuts and people who can't laugh at themselves.
Drives: BMW Z8 Roadster
Peers say: “The most prominent thing about Chris is his energy and passion for the business. It can be very difficult keeping up with him just because of the speed he moves at. He comes up with 100 ideas for everyone else's one.”