Nine months after he left one of the largest discretionary fund management firms in Tunbridge Wells, we catch up with Eric Clapton and find out that he has linked up with another industry veteran from Tunbridge Wells to start a new venture in London
Eric Clapton spent three years at Wellian Investment Solutions, where he took on the role of Managing Director following the company’s spin-off from AV Trinity.
With nearly 30 years of experience in the financial sector, the trained chartered accountant oversaw the growth of the discretionary investment firm, which partners with financial advisers, from having a handful of customers to around 50.
The success grabbed the attention of Harwood Capital, a group with over £3billion of assets under management. They put in an offer to buy-out the firm in May last year, for an ‘undisclosed sum.’
“I felt that we had taken the business as far as it could go without it being purchased,” explained Mr Clapton, who said the sale left him with the opportunity to try new things.
“I had to make a decision on what to do next and felt like I should explore other options.
“My view was that the next stage in Wellian’s development should be left up to its new owners.”
While the sale of Wellian was progressing, Mr Clapton was laying down the foundations of his next project, Clapton Consultants, a London-based chartered accountancy practice that specialises in the financial services sector.
Although he insists the process of setting up such a company is ‘fairly easy’, his many years of creating new enterprises means he is fully aware of the difference between setting one up and making it successful.
He said: “It’s all in the planning, and while the sale was going on I was researching all the regulatory hurdles I may face: What I could and couldn’t do.
“The most important thing to realise is it doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have about the operation itself, you still need good advisors behind you.”
It was this mentality which led to Mr Clapton taking on his second new project less than six months after leaving Wellian.
He was approached by Catherine Greeves who lives in Tunbridge Wells and is herself a former employee of AV Trinity. She had set up Greenstone Financial Planning in October with her business partner Michael Hill, but felt the company needed someone well versed in running a business.
Mr Clapton was given the role of Chairman and obtained a stake in the firm, which offers financial advice to clients on how best to invest or protect their savings and wealth.
“I was brought in to make sure the fundamentals of the business are solid because you can have a great idea but if it is not financially viable you are not going to get anywhere.
“I do not, though, meddle in the affairs of Catherine and Michael, or try and duplicate their efforts.”
Describing himself as ‘a bit of a Stalinist’ due his ‘love’ of five year plans, Mr Clapton said every business needed to ensure it had long-term strategies.
“If a business is going well, people can sometimes just wake up the next day and say, ‘great I’ll do more of the same,’ but this often won’t work if the company hits a bump in the road.”
For Greenstone, Mr Clapton has used his favourite method of mapping out a one, three and five year set of plans.
He explained: “The first year needs to focus on very detailed budget forecasts, while the three-year plan is a little less detailed but concentrates on the fundamentals.
“The five year plan is your main aim and it should give you direction of travel so that if the firm hits trouble there is a process which will support you, alongside metrics with which to review where your company is at.”
Greenstone currently has 40 clients, many of whom also use Clapton Consultants, which together provide complementary services.
The fact there is such synergy between the two companies means Mr Clapton has not discounted the possibility of a formal merger one day.
“I would never say never, but merging is different to working together. There are regulatory obstacles to overcome and we would have to look long and hard at how they would fit together.
“Going forward, who knows? But it would be foolish not to look at it.”
THE GREENSTONE CONNECTION
Catherine Greeves set up Greenstone Financial Planning alongside Michael Hill last October, after working for three years in Tunbridge Wells at AV Trinity.
The mother of three, who still lives in the town and is a member of her local Women’s Institute, has over 17 years’ experience in the industry, making her well qualified to set up a new company in the field.
However, she realised that in order to drive the business forward, and allow herself and Mr Hill to concentrate on clients, they would need outside help.
“We registered with the Financial Conduct Authority in October after spending the previous three months planning and putting the foundations in place,” she said.
“But we realised we simply did not have the business expertise, which meant we were delighted when Eric came on board.
“We have been very fortunate to be able to build up the company so quickly.”
Although the firm is headquartered in Pall Mall to cater to their London based clients, Mrs Greeves is keen to expand into Tunbridge Wells, where she often works from home.
She said: “At the moment we have around 40 clients, but our aim is for between 75 and 100 each. We are very lucky to have the clients we do, as they have taken a bit of a risk coming to a new firm.
“We are looking to expand outside of London and want to be a locally orientated company so we will eventually look for an office in either Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells.”