Lives: Near Swindon, Wiltshire
Born: September 14, 1946
Education: Swanwick Hall Grammar School, Derbyshire, first in chemistry from Hull University, postgraduate courses at three other universities.
Career: Research Assistant, London University, 1973-75, executive at Institute of Personnel Management, 1975-77, assistant director Ashridge College, 1977-81, Hambro Life/Allied Dunbar 1981-90, J Rothschild 1991-98
Career ambition: To make Inter-Alliance what it is capable of becoming.
Life ambition: To make a comeback at soccer but with more talent.
Likes: Food. I collect porcelain. My family say I like work.
Car: Mercedes S600
Peers say: “He was hands-on at JRA setting it up while the other two were still under contract but they got all the glory. He may feel he still has something to prove.”
By its own admission Inter-Alliance was a company heading for the rocks. The Aim-listed national IFA, with over 1,000 RIs, said it would go into administration by April without more cash. If Inter-Alliance had gone to the wall, the consequences for capitalisation of the rest of the IFA sector would have been serious.
Keith Carby is the man who persuaded the City to give Inter-Alliance another chance, talking existing institutional investors such as Merrill Lynch, Gartmore and CGNU into parting with another £18m to a company which had upwardly revised their maximum loss for 2001 to £21m.
Many in the IFA sector and the City say without Carby the rescue package would not have been agreed. His proven track record as a co-founder of J Rothschild Assurance and his moulding of Hambro Life into Allied Dunbar is understood to have clinched the deal.
A measure of the markets' confidence in Carby is Inter-Alliance's share price. When he took over as chief executive from Stuart McGreevy in January the firm was valued at 52p a share. Two months later shares are now trading at around 92p, although still way down on a 52-week high of 316p.
A straight-talking man, Carby has not had a full-time role in the financial services industry for four years. His retirement pot already in the bank, the 54-year-old Carby freely admits he is not working because he needs the money.
The former Inter-Alliance non-executive director, who is now both chief executive and chairman, says “No self-respecting director would want me as a non-executive director. I cannot resist getting involved in something if I think it is not being run properly – I am a nightmare.”
From a working class background in Derbyshire, Carby has risen to the top of his profession. Getting into the local grammar school through passing his 11-plus, he went on to get a first in chemistry at Hull University.
He then went to Oxford University, where he did teacher training while pursuing his real passion of football, earning a blue – a time that saw him man-marking a teenage Graeme Souness, then with Spurs reserves.
An unfinished PhD was followed by spells in research and consultancy roles through the 1970s. He joined Hambro Life, now Allied Dunbar, in 1981, working his way up to managing director while overseeing a near doubling of its salesforce.
In 1991 he was one of the three founding directors of J Rothschild Assurance, where he helped build the company to over 1,300 staff, annual premium income of £450m and funds under management of almost £2bn, before reversing it into St James's Place Capital.
One of the problems he is inheriting at Inter-Alliance is the expense of integrating staff from the Lincoln and Prudential salesforces. With only 132 Pru sales staff coming on board, way below Inter-Alliance's original target, there will be room for overheads to be cut. Carby has already announced a trimming of 25 per cent of the admin staff at head office.
Having stated top-end losses for 2001 of £21m, Carby is clearing the decks in accounting terms and gives himself a comfortable benchmark for his own performance. This figure includes a lot of goodwill that has been written off.
Carby says: “It is not uncommon for management to take the approach of drawing a clear line under losses in this way.”
But other than cutting overheads and stopping acquiring salesforces, how is Carby going to turn around Inter-Alliance's huge losses? He says: “The company grew very quickly organically and through acquisition, and as a result it had severe indigestion. Where the company needs amendment is the way it carries out operations.”
To turn around the company's bank balance, Carby says he wants to take average RI earnings from its present £70,000 to £100,000 over the next two years. But how will he do it?
Carby says: “It is simple – I have done it before. It is about putting people in a culture where they want to do better, providing people with developmental expertise, marketing skills and technology.
On polarisation Carby says: “My shareholders require me to keep an open mind. My personal preference is to remain as independent as possible.”
Carby also wants to pursue the Holy Grail of the national IFA – a national brand. Carby says: “Brand is behaviour. You need to get your people to behave in a way that accords with customers' brand expectations, so people get consistent service when they go to their IFA. We will invest in brand later this year when our structures are in place, but you cannot just advertise your way to market share.”
Carby's hands-on style has seen him work weekends, going around the country to meet his staff and see the nuts and bolts of the industry. But he denies his regime will be a harder one, just a better one.
Carby denies his style is disciplinarian, and his frequent references to his experiences in psychology and psychotherapy reveal an understanding of how people work at first masked by his bluff Northern exterior. Turning around the loss-making supertanker Inter-Alliance will require an understanding of the mind of the IFA and a repeat of earlier successes. His advisers and shareholders will look on with interest.