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Douglas Black

Born: Bicester, Oxfordshire,June 8, 1957

Lives: Pimlico, London with wife, no children.

Age: 44.

Education: Administration degree at University of Aston, Birmingham.

Career: 1978-82: trainee chartered accountant at KPMG, 1982-83: tutor at Financial Training, 1983-85: group accountant at Standard Chart-ered, 1985-88: group financial director at SGL Communications, 1988-94: management consultant at Pricewaterhousecoopers, 1995-96: finance director at Ray Brothers. In 1997, joined Towry Law as a temporary finance director before taking on the permanent role of CEO at the end of 1997.

Career ambition:To be a CEO of a top 10 financial services company.

Life ambition: To keep being happy at work

Likes: Cars and wine (but not at the same time)

Dislikes: Unambitious people.

Car: Aston Martin Virage Volante.

Douglas Black probably ranks somewhere just above Ron Sandler in the popularity stakes for many MM readers, with some contemporaries viewing him as the man heading a business which had to be bailed out by its competitors.

Luckily, Black, the high aiming Towry Law CEO, is outwardly impervious to the barrage of criticism following the Investors&#39 Compensation Schemes £30m donation to Towry.

He found himself on the front pages in June when Australian insurance heavyweight AMP confirmed the purchase of Towry Law for £75.7m, a story first revealed by Money Marketing in April.

According to Black, this means: “Business as usual but bigger, better and faster.” In more detail, this means Towry consultants will be better supported technologically and better resourced than many of their rivals.

Unlike most takeovers, Black claims there is no culture clash between Towry and AMP. Their visions of the future market are shared, meaning there is no need for AMP to shoehorn its philosophy into the existing Towry culture.

He says: “AMP bought us because of who we are. There is a very good fit between the two businesses. Just because we have been bought by an Australian company, it does not mean to say we will start walking around in hats with corks hanging off them saying g&#39day to each other.”

Towry Law is still working out how consultants will demonstrate any products recommended from the AMP stable are “better than best” as the training and competence regime will demand.

Black cannot currently give details but says Towry will be looking to the B&B Marketplace model for clues on how to implement better than best.

Towry has 200 RIs but if Black&#39s masterplan is successfully implemented, this will quintuple to 1,000 within four years.

Black plans to woo 800 IFAs by offering them a unique support and long-term benefits package. Black expects Towry can make most IFAs an offer they can&#39t refuse, including a buyback scheme which allows IFAs to have a share in the business.

He believes most IFAs will find the package attractive, particularly as he reckons many advisers work hard for years but accrue very little capital value on typically small client books.

What about the Holy Grail of boosting professionalism and solving the looming recruitment crisis by enticing new graduates into the advice job market? Given that the average age of the IFA is said to be 55, should not the longer-term strategy be to target younger blood as well as lure existing advisers into the Towry fold?

Black says: “Age has nothing to do with professionalism. An IFA could carry on doing his job until he is 70.” MM suggests that this still only means 15 years for the average IFA, to which he replies: “Fifteen years is a long time in politics.”

Black comes across as an incredibly self-assured individual. His precise vision for the future of the business can perhaps be traced back to his past in accountancy. He started out as a chartered accountant at KPMG before working for a company called Financial Training and then heading to Standard Chartered.

I the 80s, Black worked in advertising and PR. He says: “If you weren&#39t drunk by lunchtime, you weren&#39t really trying.” Perhaps its was in the heady AbFab years that Black came closest to living his childhood dreams of rock and roll stardom. These days, the 44-year-old has moved on from Queen and confesses to having a penchant for pumping house music instead.

Shortly after the AMP deal, Towry was in the spotlight again, this time having attracted the wrath of IFAs following the ICS £30m bailout on the £48m-worth of pension liabilities uncovered in Advizas, which was acquired from Hogg Robinson in January 2000, with Pricewaterhousecoopers advising on the deal. He is still unable to say whether anyone will be sued.

A number of IFAs, large and small, fearing a big rise in their ICS levy, threatened to withhold their scheme payments in protest at seemingly having to bolster an ailing rival.

But any unpopularity among the IFA community is like water off a duck&#39s back for Black. He is bullish, for example, about the fact that some IFAs refused to sign the MM open letter to Sandler if Towry featured among the signatories.

In fact, Black goes so far as to argue that the ICS move saved the industry £20m. “We could have let Advizas go into liquidation and it would cost the industry £50m,” he says.

In terms of Towry&#39s recruitment and acquisition drive, even if you agree that you should not put all your hopes for the future in an ageing adviser community, it is hard to doubt Black&#39s conviction that Towry is on the right track. It is even harder to doubt his dedication to taking the business into its next phase of development.

Black has clearly been working hard throughout the recent changes, saying he has often found himself living in “interesting times” but that the last few months have perhaps been rather “too interesting”.

He tends to crash out at his Pimlico home on the weekends, exhausted from the week&#39s travails, but he does not believe he works too hard. “People often talk of the tale of the man on his deathbed saying that his only regret was not spending more time in the office. That&#39s a cop-out. Many will ask themselves why they were not more successful.”

Ultimate success for Black is to be CEO of a top 10 financial services company. But until IFAs are no longer able to resist the charms and chequebooks of Towry representatives, he is indifferent to any sense of waiting to be universally in favour.

When asked what would appear as his epitaph, he responds: “Douglas Black: born one day, died another. They can make their own minds about the rest.”

Depending on how the next few years go for Towry, it could be a decision that Black remains thankful for. Alternatively, if Towry is successful in wooing IFAs in their thousands, it might end up a missed chance to afford himself some hard-earned congratulation.


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