Barry McGoun talks to Chris Wheal.
Barry McGoun is managing director of BJP in Wokingham, Berkshire. BJP is a company in two parts: the first is a commercial insurance broker concentrating on the SME sector and leaning towards construction. The second part trades as Focus Underwriting and supplies products to other brokers, again leaning towards the building sector. The whole business employs 55 staff, mostly located in Wokingham. BJP also has an appointed representative trading from Oxford. Its gross written premium is just below £30m.
How did you make it to where you are today?
I left school at 16 and drifted into an office job. I studied accountancy on day release and ended up as a chartered secretary. I worked in various industries including transport and I had 10 great years in the wine industry – I used to administer The Sunday Times Wine Club. What I found out by moving sectors was how similar people are. Everyone seems to know everyone else. Like many people, I ended up in insurance by accident but I have never regretted it. After working for a broker for too many years, I was fortunate enough to start BJP with John Finch and Peter Faulkner (thus BJP) and have never looked back. We work as a team and use our individual skills to build a successful business.
What are the key challenges ahead?
Keeping ahead or abreast of the game. The industry is changing all the time and affected by every twist and turn in a demanding world. Client and staff retention are the keys to sustained growth and profitability. But we also have to be conscious of the importance of the regulator and insurers. We moan about prices, but insurers have to make a profit. We should work together and look after each other more, rather than have a “them and us” attitude.
What has changed the most since you started?
I am a relative newcomer to the industry – I joined in 1984 – but the industry has changed substantially in that time. Direct writers hardly existed then and technological advances have been tremendous. The aggregators have caused a sea change in the way the industry is structured. The internet has become a way of life for most of us and has totally changed the way a broker and everyone else operates.
What advice would you offer someone just starting out?
If you are going to start your own broker, choose the right partners and carry out those tasks that you are best suited to doing and enjoy the most. As soon as you can, get someone to do the things you are not good at. Also, bringing in new business and making the sale is a skill. Getting up every day and thinking, “I have to convince a new person to buy from me” is quite a challenge. Take time to know yourself and review what you are doing. Too many people get bogged down in working very hard without properly reviewing the way they spend their time. When you do employ people, try to treat them well and ensure they get the training required to help them grow and prosper.
What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
Waiting too long before we started BJP. I always thought of myself as working for someone else.
“Insurers have to make a profit. We should work together and look after each other more.
What was your biggest success?
Buying our own building in the summer of 2003. We had moved several times and again we needed more space. The council rented us space in an 8,000 sq ft building with 50 car parking spaces. We eventually bought it. This enabled us to properly establish our own identity and our standing in the local community. Being able to park outside the front door is a boon.
Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends
In general, I am impressed with the integrity and knowledge of those that I meet. I tend to feel for those who work in the major insurers at the moment with the knowledge that redundancy may be around the corner. It must be difficult working under that kind of strain. Most of the smaller brokers I meet thoroughly enjoy doing what they do, which is great and long may that continue.
What is your unique selling point?
We do not look for very large clients, but concentrate on those where we feel we can give real added value. Our staff are all highly trained and very good at what they do, giving the clients the confidence that when we make a recommendation, it is the right one for their business.
When you are not working, what do you do to relax?
I took up golf six or seven years ago and immediately became hooked – and I still hook my shots. I like the exercise and the relaxing atmosphere as well as the company of fellow golfers. I also have a property in Cyprus that I visit whenever I can.
What is your favourite book/film/football team?
I am not a film fan and the books I read tend to be non-fiction, I do however love to visit the theatre and I am a fan of Shakespeare. Football is not a favourite of mine, but I am a member of Middlesex Cricket Club and visit Lord’s several times a year. IT
Day in the life
6:00am Since the death of my dog, I miss my early morning walk, so I take a leisurely breakfast with some fruit. I leave for the office about 7.30am to 7.45am, after checking my BlackBerry (wonderful invention) for any emails and reviewing my diary for the day.
8:00am When I get to the office there are several members of staff already there. I spend about half my time in the office, a lot of that in various meetings mainly with staff. I do not have any real client contact on a day-to-day basis. I then deal with any outstanding emails and prepare for my 8.30am meeting.
8:30am Staff review. Since we became recognised by Investors in People, which we achieved in 2004, I meet every three months with each of my senior managers to go through their performance and problems and to set a path for the next few months. Today, we had a great discussion and I am pleased with the attitude of the person concerned.
9:30am I review what little post I get these days (email has taken over) and get a general view of what is going on in the office.
10:00am I spend a couple of hours working on the papers for an acquisition that we hope to complete by the year end. This is going well and everyone seems to be happy to proceed.
12:00 Lunch. I always leave the office for a light lunch. The break does me good and gives me time to recharge for the afternoon.
1:00pm Compliance meeting. We have regular meetings to review our compliance procedures and for someone to explain to me the meaning of co-mingling and treating customers fairly. We then go through the training programme.
2:00pm Andy Brown, the manager of BJP retail, and I review current issues and discuss the acquisition. We look at the office organisation to ensure we have enough space for the new business as well as expansion of our existing staff.
3:30pm I meet our accountant to review last months performance and examine the individual performance of all teams.
4:30pm Another check of the emails and answer any problems that arise, then I am ready for home.
5:00pm I leave for home. We try to encourage a strict work/life balance at BJP and all staff are encouraged to leave at a reasonable time. I have to set an example and, also, I am going to the theatre tonight.
5:25pm At home I take a last look at the BlackBerry and get ready to go out.
11:00pm Bedtime is almost always before 11pm.