Ashcourt Rowan's turnaround king Jonathan Polin is a glutton for punishment

 
Tim Wallace
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Jonathan Polin has taken Ashcourt Rowan from the brink of collapse to a £97m takeover by Towry Finance

“I am going to the beach for a week or two. I’ve not decided where. I want to go to the beach, then walk Machu Picchu, or somewhere. Somewhere with no mobile signal.”

Jonathan Polin has earned a break, and he knows it – he has taken Ashcourt Rowan from the brink of collapse to a £97m takeover by Towry Finance.
When Polin took the reins at the wealth manager just over three years ago in September 2011, it was almost out of cash and its systems were falling to pieces.
“I asked the finance director for a cash flow forecast, which said that in the first week of December, we would be bust,” he said.
“It was a baptism by fire.”
On his second day in the job the Financial Services Authority issued a Section 166 notice – a skilled persons review – against Savoy Investment Management, a subsidiary, and later fined the unit for poor investment controls.
Polin had to go to investors for an £8m emergency fundraising, and promised to slash costs. He aimed to cut £5.2m from the cost base, but ended up removing £8m.
“There were some hugely generous bonuses, some people were paid 40 per cent of revenues,” he says, still sounding incredulous three years later.
“There was a huge overlap in offices – we had three offices in Manchester – because we had grown through 12 acquisitions, with no integration.”
“We rebuilt everything. The IT infrastructure didn’t work, it always crashed, every day. It would just disappear for a few hours.”
Such radical cost cutting meant pain for the staff at Ashcourt Rowan.
Headcount quickly dived from 380 to 250 – in the takeover, more will inevitably be lost.
Towry Finance’s chief Rob Devey does not hide the fact that staff will go.
“It is too early to talk specifics, but there are overlaps. I believe in straight talking – this deal is likely to lead to some redundancies,” Devey says.
“But the combined business is going to be a top player in our market, so there are significant opportunities for colleagues here.”
It is a sour note for a chief leaving on a high, but Polin makes no apologies for firing staff.
“People issues are always difficult, and rightly so – this is peoples’ livelihoods,” says Polin.
“I had to be brutal with headcount when I came in, but it secured 250 jobs and the future of the business. People don’t see that, but it is the reality.”
He has no doubts about the sale either, arguing wealth managers have to bulk up to achieve economies of scale if they are to thrive.
Polin has shares worth 0.65 per cent of the business, so will gain almost £650,000 in the sale – which will certainly pay for a good break.
But Polin does not plan to be off work for long. It might have been “hellishly hard work, but it has been great fun too,” he says. “I’ll do another one of these probably. I’m a glutton for punishment. I’ll think about it as I walk the Inca Trail.”

BEHIND THE DEAL

GORDON NEILLY | CANTOR FITZGERALD
1 Gordon Neilly has a long relationship with Jonathan Polin, who hired his team at Cantor Fitzgerald when he took the top job at wealth manager Ashcourt Rowan.
2 Neilly, who came back to the industry after a life-threatening illness, previously worked for Canaccord Genuity, but was hired by Cantor to set up an advisory business. His first deal in the job came from Ashcourt Rowan, when it acquired UK Wealth Management
3 Neilly had a wider team on the deal, including Financial Institutions Group managing director Rishi Zaveri. Law firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods and PRs Maitland also advised Ashcourt, while investment bankers at Morgan Stanley and PRs at Instinctif Partners worked for Towry.

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