Agnentis Partners Founder’s story
“Looking beyond the numbers”
In his 20 years working in finance, Raymond Holt would often hear colleagues say “the numbers speak for themselves”. Except, he rarely found that they did. Typically, the bare figures would only tell half the story. To get the whole picture required open and personal discussions with the leaders of the business.
“I learnt that you can’t look at the numbers without considering them in the context of the people who run the business,” he says. “Numbers always have emotions attached to them. You can’t expect to improve the figures if you ignore the emotions.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Raymond found his empathetic, people-first approach to be somewhat alternative – alien even – in the corporate world.
“There are plenty of consultants willing to come into an organisation and offer up a report on where improvements can be made, however very few, if any, will do their analysis from the perspective of the business owner,” he explains.
“Similarly, there are lots of great coaches working with leaders on how they can improve the way they work, though few of them utilise their skills and experience to get work done.”
Raymond saw an opportunity to make the two meet and join the operational with the personal.
Whole person perspective
Initially, Raymond saw the business as an “operations in a box” service, where small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) could outsource infrastructure services like IT, finance and human resources. However, a coaching open day brought some clarity on what he really wanted the business to be.
“My original business plan felt like wearing a shirt that is two inches too short in the sleeve – it didn’t feel like it was enough,” Raymond says. “After coming away from the coaching taster, I knew that the Agnentis offering had to be more than just operations – it had to be a more personalised service. That’s where my passions lie, in engaging people.”
Having worked alongside the senior partners at Odgers Berndtson – who “were all effectively small business owners” – in his role as Director of UK Finance, Raymond understood the thinking of SMBs.
“Small businesses need someone who is willing to put themselves in their shoes and see the company from their perspective, both personally and professionally – we call it ‘the whole person perspective’,” he explains.
“They also need someone who is prepared to get their hands dirty and fix the ‘leaky tap’. Time and time again, you see it where businesses have hit a glass ceiling – the owner is fighting to take the business forward, however for many reasons, they haven’t been able to make it happen.”
Agnentis get to the root of what the owner envisages for their business and why. Once it has been understood what needs to be done and why it needs to be done, Agnentis provides hands-on advice and action to make it happen.
To have the sort of discussions that are necessary to take a business forward, trust has to be built with the owner, which has proved one of the most challenging aspects for Agnentis.
“For the first year, businesses weren’t interested in engaging with us,” says Raymond. “They wanted some assurance that we were still going to be around in a year’s time before they set the foundations for a long-term relationship.
“It takes time to build the trust that allows business owners to open up. You have to earn the trust. Even if they do want to talk to you, they won’t talk to you until you’ve shown that you care. When they do finally open up, you have to show that you’re prepared to share their risk and worry.”
Ultimately, though, the challenge to build long-term relationships proves to be the most rewarding part of being a business owner when an understanding is struck and words are put into action, Raymond adds.
“The real reward for me is seeing business leaders go home at the end of the day happier than when they came in,” he stresses.
“As a business leader, not every day is going to be a good day –it’s about knowing how to turn bad days into ‘good bad days’.”
Raymond has often found himself having to listen to his own advice as CEO of Agnentis. At the start, he admits he wanted to “do everything at a million miles an hour”, but he’s learnt to slow down a bit, bringing partners into the business who he trusts and can lean on for help.
“When you’re to trying to turn around a business’ fortunes or help it grow, it can be very intense. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your work, so you need people who are able to offer some perspective. You need to be able to step away and have a clear conversation about what’s going on with someone who can understand what you’re up against. That’s one of the benefits of having partners I can trust.”
Knowing what it’s like to run a business and the challenges it brings has helped Raymond gain the trust of clients, with mutual understanding often “changing the dynamics of a conversation completely”.
Looking ahead, Agnentis wants to act as the facilitator for building small business communities.
“I truly believe that by getting enough people who care about each other to work together, creating a community of business leaders, you can change the world,” Raymond says.
“Businesses can serve each other’s needs, depending on their expertise and experience, from a place of empathy and understanding.”
As well as bringing businesses together, Agnentis will continue to support business leaders, offering both advice and action that is tailored towards the individual. While they don’t invest financially in the businesses they partner with, they most certainly invest emotionally. It’s an approach based on a belief that you can only begin to see what someone is really up against once you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. And Agnentis is willing to go the distance.
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