Exchanging a career for entrepreneurial success

DID anyone try to discourage you from starting the business? I ask Rupert Lee-Browne, the founder and chief executive of foreign exchange company Caxton FX. “No,” he says resolutely. “Well, they probably did, but I wouldn’t have listened,” he laughs.

Lee-Browne, who describes himself as a “rubbish worker,” always had “an itch” to start something of his own. “I always worked reasonably hard for other people, but I was a nightmare employee.” Every job was a means to an end.

The time finally came for him to start something of his own in 2002, age 36. “I had helped to float a foreign exchange company the year before and I thought: “This is a great business model, but could be done so much better.” All it needed was better customer service to demonstrate it adds value, he says. “It’s a fairly straightforward principle: “Treat customers well, have transparent prices and funnily enough they’ll come back.”

With a stash of savings, his last bonus and the promise of investment, he launched his own version. “Initially, my plans were bigger, but I had an investor pull out, so I ‘bootstrapped’ my operation and went for it anyway.”

“Day one was just me and a phone in an office. I’d placed an advert in a magazine and a few on Google. Then I just sat there and waited for the phone to ring. Thank god it did,” he laughs again. “I’d worked out all the processes and organised everything before then, but the first job was still terrifying.” Did that customer know they were your first? “Of course, not,” Lee-Browne grins.

It wasn’t easy to get going though. “I needed a bank to work through. I knocked on so many doors, but none of the major players were willing to help. Thankfully, I found a small private bank that understood exactly what I was trying to do.”

In three months, Lee-Browne had a customer base and started to recruit staff. One of that first tranche was a 17 year old secretary. She has stayed with the company and risen up to become their director of customer service. “One of the many things I love about running a business is being able to develop staff, making sure they’re happy and learning.” Now that they have a £400m turnover, they take this very seriously, employing a full-time head of people.

At the end of the first year, Caxton FX was profitable on all transactions and has been growing ever since. “We’re very typical of the fast-growing companies in the UK at the moment. We’re charging ahead, but have struggled to get hold of working capital to do it.” The banks wouldn’t help, so they’ve opted for a corporate retail bond targeted at our customers. “I don’t much like private equity and venture capital, so that left me with corporate bonds as my only choice. I think it’s a good one. We’re offering a 7.25 per cent return, which is a nice way to say thank you.”

Not interested in giving away any equity then? “No,” he says, but he’s not planning to sell anytime soon. “We’ve so much to do. Why would I give anyone else the pleasure of doing that?” he smiles.

CV | RUPERT LEE-BROWNE
Company name: Caxton FX

Number of staff: 50

Job title: Chief executive

Age: 45

Born: Gloucestershire

Lives: Chelsea

Studied: Art History, University of London

Drinking: Pinot Grigio (Veneto only)

Reading: Who cares wins (David Jones);

A History of Modern Britain (Andrew Marr)

Talents: Practical, sporty and musical

Favourite business book: David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising

Motto: “Timeo danaos et dona ferentes.” “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” (Virgil's Aeneid)

First ambition: ”To climb the great Oak tree in the field next to my home.” (aged 5)