CEO of Glenhawk, Guy Harrington, talks about how being a realistic optimist served himself well in business with over £350 million new loan inquiries generated during the pandemic
Guy Harrington, CEO of alternative real estate lender Glenhawk, talked about how preparing for the future is vital in business – but with a great team behind you, success is inevitable
“I’m a very optimistic person. I would say I’m a realistic optimist,” Guy tells me. “I always hope for the best, although you never know what’s going to happen. I have a calm assurance that I know things will work out. That’s worked well for me to date; day-to-day I’m very good at staying calm. People rarely see me stress, I don’t have a reactive personality, I like to think things through. I'm a big believer in mental health and people looking after their mind, more than their body.”
Guy was raised in Derbyshire, England by two very entrepreneurial parents, who both owned a small engineering business manufacturing compressor pumps, selling them to garages around the world. During his childhood, Guy struggled during school and was later diagnosed with dyslexia. He didn’t particularly enjoy school and found it difficult to read and write at an early age. At 21, Guy left Derbyshire to study property management at Sheffield Hallam University, which was where his journey into the property sector began. Guy always had a fascination with property from playing monopoly as a child and found it rather exciting to engage in huge transactions. Guy’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in at university, where he started his own mobile phone business selling second-hand devices on campus and whipping up decent profits. Guy then moved to Windsor to find work as a property developer, where he started building relationships with investors and estate agents and was held responsible for over £100 million transactions. When it came to securing debt finance, Guy realised real estate lenders were missing a vital component when dealing with borrowers – building personal relationships and treating people fairly. And that was when he realised there was a gap in the market to fill.
“The property market is very competitive, but it doesn’t stop you from carving out a niche,” Guy said. “I sat down and thought about what I could change, what I could improve to make this business stand out? I sat in a café every day for three weeks thinking about these things. I wanted our clients to build relationships with us, rather than making it an impersonal transaction. We created trust in the brand which has helped us secure a lot of traction in the marketplace, in a sector that historically has suffered from a lack of transparency and fairness. I wanted to build a platform that we could scale over three to five years and grow into something different. We’d been borrowers in the past, and I hadn’t like how we were treated; the rates we were being charged, I felt we could do it better.”
Glenhawk provides competitive short-term property finance, a £70bn market in the UK, allowing residential and commercial clients to realise opportunities and progress developments. With nearly 30 employees, Glenhawk has continued to expand despite the political and economic challenges including Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting recession. In March, Glenhawk secured a £200 million funding line from JP Morgan, representing the first time the US bank had invested in the UK alternative lending space. Since then, Glenhawk has generated nearly £191 million new enquiries and delivered a 20% increase in the loan book, whilst preparing the launch of a new product, despite the tough backdrop. Guy has praised his team for delivering and achieving their targets, owing his company’s outstanding success to the sheer hard work of his staff. “Trying to bring the product together is an incredibly complex beast, there were many challenges. Property lending is a very competitive market and to disrupt that was very hard. The key for me was finding the right people and for me in business, it's 95% about the people. Whether it's sales or internal operations, having a team you can trust that is going to perform, represent your brand and share your vision, is paramount. We have nearly 30 employees now and really it's all been about the people. My employees were the biggest focus for me at the start.
“Securing the initial capital to support the launch of the business was a challenge. You need a large amount of private capital before you can attract investment banks and other institutions... It was all about selling my brand and the vision, showing I could really do this and that we could build a scalable platform in a sector that was ripe for disruption.”
Guy takes pride in his mantra “expect the best and prepare for the worst”, and the coronavirus pandemic has been the biggest challenge for Guy and his employees at Glenhawk. With a positive mindset and trust in their partners, Glenhawk managed to stay afloat. “We’ve had a lot of obstacles both in the macro and micro,” Guy said. “Brexit, uncertainty, with last year’s elections and most recently coronavirus. The s pandemic has been the biggest challenge for us, clearly for the whole country and the whole world. When the lockdown was imposed, I thought that everything I had done so far would all go. I was up in Scotland staying at my partner’s parents’ house during the lockdown. The pandemic has probably delayed our business growth by a year. We worked well with our equity partners and senior funders (JP Morgan) who were very supportive. Thankfully, none of our borrowers defaulted and we didn’t have to repossess any properties. That’s not who we are as a company and we stand apart from the rest in that aspect unless it was an absolute last resort. But we managed to get through it. At the time it was a very worrying situation.
“The other challenging time was when we were looking to raise a senior funding line from an investment bank. We had around several hundred hours of phone calls and video calls to pitch the business. The banks go into phenomenal detail as part of their due diligence, such as how you’re mitigating risks, how you’re growing the business, etc? The whole team was part of that process. One of my biggest entrepreneurial lessons is it’s never as bad as you think. It always works out. It’s never as bad as your mind builds it out to be.”
In a few words of advice for SMEs struggling to get by during the pandemic, Guy advised businesses to be resilient and adapt to new ways of working – and if that means changing their business model, then it must be done. “You have to have resilience and adapt,” Guy said. “If you have to change your business model, then do it. Any advice from me is to look carefully at your strategy and we’ve had to do that too. You’ve just got to go back to that saying, ‘plan for the worst hope for the best’. It’s not going to be an easy time coming out of this. But, there are opportunities out there to build market share from your rivals. Many of our key rivals have stopped lending due to issues with their business and quality of their loan books and very sadly, people have been made redundant. In a roundabout way, that increases our market share and provides an opportunity for increased consolidation in the market.
“However, you’ve got to be resilient, adaptable, and accept that what you were doing before may not be the same as in a post coronavirus world. It’s important to talk to people as help can come from the most surprising sources. A lady from our local coffee shop is a source of inspiration to me. Always look for opportunities, we don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Guy has advised businesses to drop him a line or a message on LinkedIn and is happy to help provide advice and guidance to companies who may be struggling during this difficult time.