Douglas Pryde on how mentoring helped him find success in the pensions industry

by Chris Jackson

The pensions industry is very similar to the thoroughbred horse breeding industry in that both businesses are long term industries which tie up a lot of long-term capital.

With the thoroughbred horse you breed the best with the best, and hope for the best.

When I started my business life as a trainee inspector (salesman) with Scottish Equitable in 1974, I was hoping for the best. The Edinburgh-based insurer had an excellent pensions pedigree and a long-term goal to breed their own sales force to acquire business levels to support their ambitions to be a major player in the pensions industry.

The Scottish Equitable had developed a structure, a training manual and programme with a training manager in situ to recruit and develop staff replacements for staff who left from a pool of trainees.

Aiden O’Brien operates a similar programme so that when a Galileo son retires to stud, he is replaced by another son of Galileo.

Aiden’s strategy works because looking at past performance Aiden has won eight Derbys and countless numbers of group one races including the Prix de L’arc de Triomphe.

I was recruited with others and sent into training with John M McKay, the Glasgow manager who was an Edinburgh man and like Prince Philip, a Royal Navy man.

McKay treated all his sales staff as officers and for four years guided me through my apprenticeship.

McKay sent me on sorties to friendly insurance brokers to deliver quotations and collect new business for me to see what was involved.

Please remember that senior officials wore bowler hats in these days to appointments and there was no such thing as a dress down Friday. McKay insisted that our appearance was appropriate for the job consisting of a pressed dark suit, shirt and dark tie and black polished shoes.

McKay would tell us all at branch sales meetings to get our hair cut once a week and polish our shoes every day. Shoe polish with a brush and duster was available in the gents’ toilets.

The discipline and organisation of being in the right hotel worked for me just as it does for racehorses. A coordinated training programme works for the young trainee inspector, so this inspector has much to thank his mentor John M McKay for.

Four years in Glasgow under McKay tutelage was essential and rewarding for me and Glasgow was a nursery for the big branches in the South of England and London.

McKay would organise training days on a regular basis and extra days if needed. McKay’s training days were conducted jointly where he would accompany me to see banks, building societies, CAs, lawyers and insurance brokers.

After each call a kerb side sales debriefing would follow, a bit like when a horse trainer speaks to a jockey after a race to establish what can be learned from a race.

My senior colleagues in Glasgow branch thought it was fun because I kept Mr McKay out of the office all day and out of their way. 

After leaving Glasgow branch, I was promoted to Liverpool and returned to Edinburgh before joining Scottish Widows as assistant marketing manager for pensions. I left Scottish Widows to set up as an IFA in 1987 just before October ’87 financial collapse when equities fell by around 33%. My timing might have been better.

My IFA business grew using organisational skills and by relying on people and not computers, just as McKay had taught me, to expand the business.

When the business was sold in 2018, funds under management were about £200 million, not bad from a standing start. It is said that this could not be achieved today because of the obstacles to business with Government obstacles imposed on the financial service business.

I do not dress down Fridays when on business because to be part, you must look the part.

Mentors work in all types of business. I was lucky and as my golf partners would say, it is better to be lucky than good and you need to bounce over bankers and not into the sand, and a good pedigree helps.

Douglas Pryde is a Finito mentor

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