CEO of British Business Bank, Keith Morgan, talks to BQ about the demands of his role, his plans for the future of the business, and how what he believes make a great leader.
What is it the company does?
The British Business Bank is a government-owned economic development bank that aims to make finance markets for smaller businesses work more effectively, allowing those businesses to prosper, grow and build UK economic activity.
We have four strategic objectives against which we measure our success:
We currently support more than 59,000 small and medium sized businesses through our programmes, with a total stock of finance in excess of £3.4bn.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I’m ultimately responsible for the successful delivery of the British Business Bank’s business plan. This means working with all colleagues, our board, ministers, officials, and commercial partners to ensure the business develops in line with our plan and delivers the impact we are aiming for in the small business finance market.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
After studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, I joined LEK Consulting in 1985 and stayed there for the next 17 years – during which I studied for an MBA at Harvard Business School - and ultimately became a partner specialising in financial services. From 2004, I spent five years at Santander – the first three years of which were based in the UK, and the latter two in the US, where I worked on the acquisition and turnaround of Sovereign Bank Corp.
In 2009, I was asked to come back to the UK to manage the Government’s shareholdings in two of the UK’s recently nationalised banks, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley. This included selling part of the former to Virgin Money and working with the companies’ boards and management teams to restructure the remaining mortgage businesses to form UK Asset Resolution. In late 2012, I was given the job to design and set up the British Business Bank, becoming CEO in December 2013.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
People are overwhelmingly motivated to contribute to a mission that means something to them and great leaders acknowledge that everyone in their organisation is playing an important role to help meet its objectives. It’s also important to be able to put yourself in others’ shoes and see things from their point of view. This helps you anticipate issues from a wide variety of stakeholders, and steer the organisation to meet its goals.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
During the formative stages of the British Business Bank, we had to take account of a range of often conflicting political views of what the scope of our organisation should be. Within this context, it was important to create a business that was sustainable and scalable and could adapt quickly to changes in the wider finance landscape. I’m pleased that, over the years, we have built a business that has been endorsed by successive Governments and has evolved to address not only the problems of securing bank debt but also new and emerging issues such as regional imbalances and providing growth finance for scale-up companies.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I always try to find a way to switch off at the weekend – whether that’s by cooking, exercising or working in the garden.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
From an early age until my teenage years, I really wanted to be an architect. I’d always enjoyed art and design, but also had an aptitude for maths and science. It would have been a good way to bring both aspects together in a job – I still have a bit of a fascination for architecture.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Clutter! - I have been known (only occasionally) to tidy up colleagues’ desks and the tops of cabinets and throw the detritus in the bin.
Not so much a pet hate, but I think that the language used to refer to people in a workplace can often come across negatively – I don’t like the term ‘staff’ for example as it portrays an impersonal relationship between the company and the people that work there. That’s why we refer to our people as ‘colleagues’ at the British Business Bank – it’s a more inclusive term that reflects how everyone has a stake in contributing to our success.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I would expect the British Business Bank to be more focused on regional issues, with a larger role in higher-risk equity finance and to be creating an even bigger impact in the market. More than anything else, I’d like the Bank to be recognised as a key element of support by small and growing businesses, themselves.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Focus on your strategy, your people, and create an organisation that is comfortable with change.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Something will always go wrong on a Monday morning! Success is achieved by keeping the boat on course week after week, and being flexible enough to react to change.
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