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Business News Wales Exclusive Interview: Tom O’Brien, Founder, Verde Corporate Finance

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Tom O’Brien, a founder of Verde Corporate Finance, tells Business News Wales about his role and working with Greenaway Scott. He also gives an insight oh his plans for the next five years and advice on how to be successful.

Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Verde Corporate Finance.

I’m Tom O’Brien, the lead advisor and one of the founders of newly established corporate finance boutique Verde Corporate Finance (CF).

Before launching the firm with Greenaway Scott founder Nigel Greenaway earlier this year, I previously worked as the acquisitions director at HLN Group overseeing numerous acquisitions and supporting the provision of architectural and engineering services in the UK and overseas.

Ahead of that I was finance manager at award-winning Top 15 Group of UK Chartered Accountants UHY Hacker Young.

However, establishing Verde with award-winning business advisory firm Greenaway Scott, was an opportunity I was delighted to seize upon.

Verde CF forms part of the Greenaway Scott Group, a multi-disciplinary professional services business that specialises in advice around mergers and acquisitions, business finance and growth capital. As a group our aim is to continue strengthening our offering to provide the business community with a fresh and innovative multi-disciplinary service they can rely on.

What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

Launching a new brand presents a wealth of opportunities which we are extremely excited to seize and develop over the course of this year.

Initially we will be focussing on establishing Verde among the corporate finance industry in Wales and positioning it prominently to support ongoing growth.

Over the next five years our aim is to build on that strong foundation and begin to develop our offering more thoroughly, with our clients’ needs at the forefront, and establish it across other key areas of the country.

I also feel there are a wealth of opportunities for diversification within the business, where we can explore further business services which will add significant value to our client offering.

As part of this ambition to strengthen and diversify, recruitment will inevitably become an aspect we will consider. However it will become essential for Verde’s growth to recruit people with the relevant skill sets to blend into the evolving world of financial services.

Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently? 

I am proud of the skills and experience I have acquired throughout my career, and the fantastic businesses I have worked with.

Thanks to my slightly competitive attitude and a need to constantly learn, I feel I have really embraced the opportunities I have been given which has strengthened my understanding of the industry overall.

In terms of doing things differently, the only thing I could say is I wish I’d launched Verde sooner! It has already been incredibly rewarding for us as a team and we are really making our mark across Wales in a relatively short amount of time.

I also wish I’d worked with Nigel and Greenaway Scott earlier as it has really boosted our business status to a higher level within the industry far quicker than we could have hoped for.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

Business success is inevitably measured differently depending on the individual company. For some it is acquiring more staff, or making a landmark acquisition or transaction. However I have always felt that success starts with an individual manager’s attitude to how they approach each task.

Prompt decision making is particularly essential within the financial world. It ensures you secure the best deals for your business and client in a competitive marketplace, and demonstrates to them that you are confident with the decisions you are making for their business’s financial longevity.

Business planning is vital. You may have an innovative business idea which could revolutionise the marketplace. However it is always wise to carry out thorough business planning ahead to ensure you are prepared each step of the way. I consistently tell my clients this and have followed it through into Verde.

Self criticism is also important. Evaluating how you can achieve better results and what steps you can take in order to do that, will ensure you continuously grow and enhance your services. Remaining stagnant an unchanging in business could limit success.

And never be afraid to challenge the status quo!

What are your top three tips for success?

Success is easy if you find something you enjoy and you are passionate about. When your work doesn’t feel like work, you will thrive.

Surround yourself with talented, enthusiastic people who are exceptional at what they do.

And always have a plan, I really cannot over emphasise this enough.

Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?

The whole market place is evolving quickly. Our transition into the multi-disciplinary services field is an example of thinking progressively and innovatively. What we would like to see is a much broader engagement by Welsh Government, with new and proactive business groups. At the moment, there are some interesting ideas but the engagement is very centrally orientated. I feel it could be beneficial to introduce some fresh perspectives into committees, with the focus on how relevant they are to that sector.

The professional services market is generally very conservative. I feel our sector generally should learn more from other sectors within Wales and make sure to consistently challenge the traditional in order to continue being progressive.

Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?

It is currently a very exciting time for all of Wales with projects including the Tidal Lagoon, in Swansea; the redevelopment of Cardiff City Centre; and the North Wales Development Bank all with the potential to create diverse new business prospects and economic benefits across the region.

However, realistically due to the scale of these initiatives, some may encounter issues or delays in the short to long term, which businesses looking to invest in them should ultimately consider before proceeding too quickly.

While an element of caution should be exercised, it is undoubtedly fantastic news that projects which could bring endless benefits economically to Wales are being discussed.

Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?

Brexit will inevitably have wide-ranging implications for all sectors, of which corporate finance is not immune.

I think in regards to our sector in particular, it will be essential for exporters and importers to be prudent in relation to foreign exchange. By this I mean that they should be fully prepared for the inflated cost of goods and be thoroughly planning ahead now in order to survive. Waiting for exchange rates to ease could be damaging alongside more difficult trading conditions.

What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

I think Wales is addressing its weaknesses, however the infrastructure needs to be a priority in order to welcome in more business. For example, the M4 at Newport needs a relief road and the airport requires better links to help support business in Wales.

However, we have seen the airport move to public hands (as are many airports across the world), with daily flights to London, helping to create that vital link with the city.

The abolition of the tolls into Wales at the Severn Crossing should also be a significant benefit, attracting inward investment from our neighbours in more affluent areas in England.

What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

Wales is constantly evolving to help attract more inward investment to support its diverse and rich economy. As above infrastructure plays an integral role, and more investment in this area could help to boost business prospects in travelling to Wales. Creating clusters in certain sectors could also strengthen our investment potential, we have strong industries but we need more.

What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?

Today’s children are extremely technologically literate, with many able to use an iPad or smart phone from a very young age. However there is still a concerning educational gap when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) learning, which must be addressed in order to safeguard the future success of Wales’s economy.

I think that coding should be introduced as a key subject in schools, to help introduce pupils to the possible careers paths STEM learning could translate into. Computer literacy (in the sense of actual technical literacy not just the ability to type) is key.

I would personally love to see Wales start to become far more outward looking, and for the education system to also focus a lot more on languages and international matters.

How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?

Essential skills and talent need to be nurtured through higher education in order to grow and reach their full potential. Wales’s universities are filled with promising business talents who could help to shape the industry and promote prosperity and innovation across the economy.

However, in order for them to reach their potential, I think there needs to be an effective relationship between higher education and businesses, with clear goals in mind to effectively  guide them into fulfilling roles where they can make the greatest impact.

Often leaving university can be overwhelming and it could be beneficial for them to have received realistic career guidance, with university staff and talks with working professionals, to sharpen their focus.

This partnership can also provide a unique insight into the business world through valuable placements, which can help students make informed choices about their future.

We have seen how an effective HE and business relationship can work extremely well across the Greenaway Scott Group.

Greenaway Scott has recently opened its first office in the School of Management at the Swansea University Bay Campus site, helping to enrich and enhance the Management School’s offering going forwards. It has also forged valuable relationships by acting for Designer Carbon Materials Limited on its spin out from Oxford University.