Q&A: A senior private equity manager who left school at 17 tells us how he made it and what will persuade him to hire you
Bill Nixon is the Managing Partner at Maven Capital Partners, a leading private equity house, headquartered in Scotland, which has just expanded to new offices in Glasgow from which Nixon oversees management of Maven's UK business.
Here, Bill - who believes a healthy work-life balance and team culture are crucial to success - explains how he worked his way to the top after starting as a bank clerk, how to impress him at interview, and the importance of going to the pub occasionally.
How long have you been in financial services?
BN: Since I left the local state comprehensive in Ayr at 17 to join Clydesdale Bank as a clerk, 32 years ago.
Has your career been conventional or capricious?
BN: Both. When I started work banks were old-fashioned organisations and you expected to spend your whole career there. However after 19 years at Clydesdale I ended up running its private equity business and instigated its acquisition by Aberdeen Asset Management. I then spent ten years helping to develop Aberdeen's private equity division and in 2009, along with the other senior executives, led the buyout of that business to form Maven. So in the past 12 years I've led two MBO-type deals for businesses I’ve been running - not what I expected when I started at 17.
What matters most, talent or hard work?
BN: Hard work gets you somewhere, but without a reasonable degree of talent you won’t get too far.
What would you always advise people to do before they step into an interview with you?
BN: Show significant preparation. You should know our products and be able to talk knowledgeably about our business. And ask questions - it should not just be a listening process on your part.
Don't worry about being nervous. It just shows you are human and keen to impress, so I don't mark anyone down for that. I remember being nervous in interviews myself, so if I detect it, I invite people to take their jackets off, have a glass of water and just chat for five minutes before resuming. If they are terrified I cannot see what they can really offer, which is not productive anyway.
What do you know now about working in financial services that you wish you had known 15 years ago?
BN: That not everyone is as ethical as they should be. Standards of behaviour have deteriorated during the recession and some people take shortcuts for financial gain. Part of my job is to spot rogues.
You are only allowed to hire one person over the next six months. Can you describe their ideal profile?
BN: They would be a capable, experienced, loyal, energetic team player and eager to learn new skills. At Maven we only have 35 staff and multi-tasking is important, so they need to be willing to muck in and will take pride in helping our team to grow.
What is your advice to new graduates looking for jobs in financial services?
BN: As well as applying yourself and getting a good degree, do a couple of internships to get hands-on experience and a good reference from the company – it will set you apart from the competition who can only show a university degree.
In no more than three sentences can you say what your business area will look like in 2015?
BN: The private equity business will continue to grow steadily, though to some extent that will be limited by the number of good quality interesting companies looking for investment around Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Maven will also be a more diversified, multi-disciplinary business, with more property investments and providing back office services for big financial services companies. It will still be a positive place to work, because we work hard to avoid the kind of damaging internal politics you find in bigger companies.
I want to work for you. What will persuade you to hire me?
BN: I like people who are smart, bright, and articulate, who learn on the job and then stay to 'repay' the loyalty of the employer and time spent training them. You’ll need to demonstrate that sort of attitude and work ethic.
We’ve come a long way in a short time, and are a big business with a small company culture when it comes to harmony and communication – so you’ll also need to be able to fit into our team.
I've worked in large, dysfunctional organisations with rigid hierarchies, and don’t want that to happen at Maven. We have a UK-wide team, so we try to enjoy a drink together when time allows and take the whole team off-site once a year so that we can spend constructive time working on developing our own relationships.