Victor’s story: From Bethnal Green to Brampton Green
Victor's story from school drop-out to a respected Independent Financial Advisor and Twitter master is one of the highlights from the Go For It! book we published.
I grew up in the East End of London in a place called Bow.
Home was a 10 storey block of Council flats and we – that’s mum, dad and my brother, who is seven years older than me – lived on the first floor.
My aunt and grandmother lived on the fourth floor and Victoria Park was my garden. Family life was awesome and I was blessed to have loving parents.
My father was a London taxi driver. Originally, he was an apprentice tailor, but kept stabbing himself with needles as he paid more attention to listening to the radio than sewing! My mum was a housewife who could throw £5 into a mangle and make it worth £30. Such was her shopping brilliance. This worked well for the family, as my father was never one to buy a house and have a mortgage.
He didn't want financial pressures. He chose life over work and developed a love of travel.
I benefited from this because my older brother wanted peace and quiet to study for his O’ levels and I got to travel!
When most people were just discovering Benidorm in the 70s, my parents were exploring far flung places like South Africa, Japan, Hawaii, Mexico and I ‘had to’ go with them.
All this travelling led to me wanting to be a pilot ‘when I grew up.’ That eventually passed, but my love of traveling remains to this day.
As I was growing up, my uncle ran a family retail business. He supplied paints and wallpaper way before Homecare, B&Q, Do-it-All and everything else came to the fore. My brother and my two cousins had gone in there and I was expected to follow.
Sadly, my uncle’s business was dissolved before I came out of school.
I’ve always liked people. From the age of about five or six, I remember my uncle saying to my mum, "Give the kid a broom and let him sweep up." So, up until I was 16, that was my Saturday job. I progressed from floor sweeping to serving and even went on a course to learn how to hang curtains in bay windows!
Looking back, I realise that I have always been an ‘out of the box’ thinker.
I remember certain teachers in secondary school reading out the curriculum, expecting us to write everything down, verbatim. By the end of the year I would have about 15 exercise books filled with my scrawl. Such was the intensity of writing, I still have a mark on my ring finger of my left hand, where the pen pressed into it!
One day, I was so fed up, I said, “Miss, if you are just going to read from the book and we are just going to write it down – if you could take a Gestetner copy of it and distribute it to all of us, then you would save us a lot of time and then we could talk about the historical events.”
I got sent to detention for that. I guess I could see things differently as a 15 year old and couldn’t help myself but to point this out. It was clearly taken in the wrong context, as what I wanted were discussions – maybe re-enactment – so I could get a feel for things, rather than a monosyllabic teacher reading from a book. I therefore found examinations difficult. Studying was hard. With hindsight, some visual aids, sounds or drawings would have helped me, but, alas, these were not available. So, at 16 when I took my CSE’s and O' levels, I failed all of them. My best grade being a CSE grade 2 for English.
When the results came through, my parents were in dismay and didn’t know what to do with me.
After my results, my school recommended, and subsequently enrolled me in a 1 year foundation programme at the London College of printing. The reason they did that was this was going to be one of the first courses that guaranteed me a job at the end of it. So they felt that, if I was at least working, then that would get me into that mindset. So that’s pretty much what I did. I got my City and Guilds certificate and passed with distinction. I learnt everything I could about the various processes of printing and got my first full time job in a printing supplies shop called 'Studio 91' in Turnham Green, West London.
If you look on a map, you’ll see that meant me going from virtually the furthest point East on the underground, to the furthest point West for the princely sum of £50 a week; £25 of that was paid to the employer from the Youth Opportunity Programme, and £25 a week came directly from the employer. I worked from 8 to 5 with a 45 minute lunch break, 5 days a week and ‘only’ 10 till 4 on a Saturday. My weekly travel pass was £26 a week which meant I was left with just £24!
As much as I liked working in a retail shop, I did not like paying over half my wage to travel an hour and a quarter each way. So, about 6 months later, I left and found myself doing an array of retail jobs, such as conducting surveys on the telephone to snooker hall management.
Not glamorous but, I was earning good money. Money which could buy me nice trinkets – especially my RS1600i – a two door Ford Escort; my pride and joy.
“There was another unusual job I had a go at that I’ll always be glad I did; hair transplant selling.”
Shallow I know, but my desire for the high-life lead me to commission only sales and eventually into double glazing (via water filters). Banging on people's doors, trying to get appointments, was no easy task. Nor was it any better calling people from the telephone directory. I did, however, manage to keep at it for three years.
There was another unusual job I had a go at that I’ll always be glad I did; hair transplant selling.
Now this really taught me about emotional feelings and, by using my mouth and ears in the proportions they were received, I learnt to understand the person in front of me and take the conversation from there. Unfortunately, it was commission only and I realised that, if I wanted to get married and have a family (which I did – no idea to whom, but I knew I wanted to be a husband and a father), I needed a 'proper job, with a regular wage.'
I decided to chat with my brother, who, as I said, was seven years older than me and by now, married and a father. After near bankruptcy following the dissolution of the aforementioned family business, he had drifted into financial services. So when I asked him, he said, "Vic, anyone who buys a house will need a life assurance policy at some point." That led to me getting involved with various companies on a low basic salary /commission basis before stumbling into HSBC in 1994.
My brother has been a fantastic source of inspiration to me. Neither of us believe in the mantra of ‘you are the average of the eight closest people to you.’ Plough your own field and you can always look up and see what people are doing either side of you if you are built that way.
I am very family focused and providing for my wife and children is my number one priority. This certainly wasn't the case before I was married! It was definitely ‘Me, me, me and me,’ but bringing children into this world (I have four wonderful children who make me proud every day), made me think again about my life.
The best piece of advice I would give others is
“Don’t look at others; look at yourself.” Benchmark against yourself and those that are nearest and dearest around you. If they are happy in what you are doing, then you will ultimately be happy.
The worst piece of advice I’ve heard is
“Just do it at all costs.”
From a monetary perspective this might sound like it makes sense, but if you are not careful, which I was not, you soon realise that you are losing everyone around you as you allow money to be your God. Fortunately, I noticed just in time to keep my friends, but sadly, my first marriage suffered because of it.
What has gone well for me is being my own man and running my own business. I thoroughly enjoyed being an employee of HSBC. I learnt huge amounts; presentation of yourself, how to work in a team, how to articulate yourself, how to manage and make decisions... It has made the transition into owner/director go smoothly, as well as making it easier to deliver an effective 30 second elevator pitch at network events!
One of the things I did that I would never do again is door-to-door sales! Thankfully, if I want to 'cold call' I can use Social media to put my view across, but in the 1980s, the only way you could get your voice heard was to knock on a door. I can't deny that early training has made any 'cold' approach I do far easier.
I’m of the opinion that, if people wanted double glazing, they would go out and get it and if they haven’t got it, there is a reason why. Unlike in my industry, where Government lays out legislation and companies have got to do something.
I know what my clients need and I know how to help them which is very different from trying to sell a product you’re not even sure people want. No, I certainly wouldn’t want to do that again.
In fairness, I have to say that, I could not have achieved my current level of success alone. I have children from my first marriage who are dependent on me, and I have a wife and a four year old son. Both my wife and ex-wife have been willing to accept the infrequency of income.
If someone wanted to start their own business I would just say, “Do it, but realise that you are not going to be an instant success overnight.” There are frogs that you will have to kiss that won’t necessarily turn into princes or princesses, and there is a lot of ground work that you will have to do. Make sure you have got some money behind you; at least six months’ money in a bank account somewhere. Go to every networking event you can and put your name out there. Be confident and positive, but don’t be aggressive and thrust your business card at the first sign of an individual.
Knowing you have money behind you and that the bills are paid gives you an air of relaxation. It makes you more approachable. Compare that to someone who is very tense and ready to dive into any conversation. As they extend their hand for you to shake, you find yourself clasping a wet sweaty palm, a dead giveaway that someone is under stress.
As we near the end of my chapter, I go back to my mother. She had an array of fantastic sayings and the one I live by is, “Measure twice and cut once.” Ask yourself, “Is this right, is this good?” And, just before heading full on into it, think again. I personally always look at the worst case scenario, although I know not everyone does. Some can only see the positives in life. I, on the other hand, have a healthy fear of failure and a healthy fear of what would be the worst case scenario. I will always look at that and if I feel I can handle the worst case scenario, whatever that is, then I am able to move on.
I think of my bank account as my manager; it lets me know if what I’m doing is working well for me and my family. I have created a lifestyle business that, as long as God puts breath in me, I will continue to do. I might slow down and shut my doors eventually. However, right now, I enjoy having the time to find out so much more about people I work with and people who become clients.
As we go on a voyage of discovery, we find out more about each other, and over time develop that wonderful 'know, like and trust' factor - the cornerstone of any business relationship.
And once in a while, something special and out of the ordinary crosses my path.
Last year, I had the opportunity to help right a wrong for a client who had lost a considerable amount of money when his funds were incorrectly invested. Fortunately, investors are protected. However, it sometimes takes more time, effort and sheer determination to resolve this kind of problem than the average man in the street has, especially when they are emotionally attached to the outcome.
It took two years of chasing, but it gave me an immense sense of satisfaction to be able to restore his faith in financial advisors and put him back to where he was in financial terms.
This story has become a part of my CV because I think it illustrates my approach to life and work in general; don’t give up and you will find a way! If you failed your exams – don't worry. You might have to take the circular route to success, but you'll make it. I eventually got my diploma in Financial services aged 47 (I am 51 now). Yes, it was a lot easier for me at 16 to run out and be as bold as brass in front of a future employer and say, “I will do whatever you tell me you want me to do and do it better than someone with a load of O' levels" than it possibly is now. But, there will be a 51 year old guy out there, who will be running a business who knows he got where he has by sheer determination and graft and he will give someone a chance because he knows that, “It is attitude, not aptitude that determines altitude.”
Extract from "Go For It! Sixteen SME Leaders Share Their Stories", 2016
available on Amazon at https://goo.gl/8P9Oqu