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John Ferguson is an accomplished business executive, entrepreneur, and philanthropist with extensive experience in the financial services sector. Born and raised in London, he spent his formative years playing football and other sports, while also supporting his beloved Tottenham Hotspur. After being stabbed during a night out, John decided not to attend university and instead entered the workforce.
John’s career began in 1988 at Pearl Assurance, where he worked for nearly a decade before moving into the private wealth sector. Over the next eight years, he gained expertise in various areas of the financial services industry, including management of Broker Funds, Capital Markets, Structured Finance, Corporate Finance, Debt Finance, marketing, and product design. In 2002, John became Operations Director for a pan-European brokerage, where he expanded his offshore knowledge.
In 2006, John emigrated to Prague, where he established his first formal business. Today, that business has evolved into the Lillywhite International Group, a global financial services company with a presence in the UAE, Ireland, and the UK. As Executive Chairman of Audacia Capital (Ireland) plc, John oversees the group’s various subsidiaries, which offer Capital Markets, regulated UCITS Funds, Corporate Bonds, Debt Securitisation, capital raising solutions, Corporate Finance services, and off-market commercial litigation funding opportunities.
In addition to his professional achievements, John is also a co-founder of The Lillywhite Foundation, a UK-registered Children’s Charity that funds projects for children and young people in difficult social or financial circumstances, enabling them to participate in sports and team activity. He is a member of the Institute of Directors, a former member of the Institute of Compliance and the Chartered Insurance Institute, and has been a directly regulated ‘Responsible Person’.
John is a passionate sports enthusiast and a founding member of The Tunnel Club at the Tottenham Stadium. He is also an avid golfer, wine lover, and traveler who enjoys seeking out new experiences.
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Table of Contents
We welcome John Ferguson today, John we are delighted to share your knowledge, experience & insights with the GallantCEO audience. Lets begin with a little introduction.
Can you tell our audience a bit about yourself and your company?
I grew up in London spending playing football, and other sports, or watching my beloved Tottenham Hotspur. Shortly after finishing my A levels, I was stabbed and after recovering decided not to go to university and instead enter the real world.
I began my working life in 1988 at Pearl Assurance, spending nearly a decade there before moving into the private wealth sector. After leaving Pearl in 1994 I spent the following 8 years with two private firms covering all aspects of the financial services sector including, management of Funds, Capital Markets, Structured Finance, Corporate finance, and Debt Finance. I emigrated in 2006 to live in Prague, where a year later I established my first business, which evolved into the Lillywhite International of today.
Since 2007 we’ve grown the Lillywhite Group to offer Capital Markets, Corporate Bonds, Debt Securitisation, capital raising solutions, Corporate Finance services, and off-market commercial opportunities. The group now comprises Lillywhite International, Lillywhite Consulting in the UAE, Lillywhite Private Opportunities, and our Euronext Dublin listed plc Audacia Capital plc where I perform the role of Executive Chairman.
In 2016 I co-founded The Lillywhite Foundation, a UK registered Children’s Charity that funds projects for children and young people in difficult social or financial circumstances, enabling them to participate in sports and activities.
Despite being abroad I’m still to be found at the Tottenham Stadium on match days where I’m a founder member of The Tunnel Club where I often host guests. I love golf, wine, traveling, and new experiences.
2021 and 2022 has been a tough year for business around the globe.
In your experience can you share
How businesses prosper in 2023?
What lessons have you learned?
It has been difficult for everyone there’s no doubt about it, but in every economic cycle new opportunities present themselves, and well-run businesses with lean overheads and the right leaders should be able to take advantage of the new opportunities and be able to adapt to the new environment.
Different sectors will, of course, experience different problems but for us, in corporate finance, it was a case of making sure that new business was strictly examined and stress tested, and taking on board the global market appetite for high-quality corporate debt giving investors a yield. I feel we learned these lessons a long time ago in the earlier days of our businesses when we learned to observe simple basics like cash flow and not spending more than we earned.
The economy has been turned on it’s head in the wake of the pandemic.
What should businesses focus on in 2023?
Similar to the above really, look at every aspect of the business, every process, and every moving part. Ensure you control as much as possible and aren’t totally reliant on third parties. Make sure your cash flow matches ie your OpEx doesn’t exceed your receivables and spend on value for benefits rather than features. We look to make sure we have no single points of failure – everything has a backup procedure. Invest in quality people and remain passionate and positive. Not everything will work or be successful but learn from each mistake and make sure that all the positives are taken into the next project
Many business’ went from working in the office to working at home.
What are the pros & cons of working from home and have you any first-hand experience?
I’ve largely worked from home since 2007 so it made no difference to me personally in that respect. The largest obstacle was having to conduct zoom or teams meetings which simply do not work at the level we operate. Video meetings give absolutely no indication of how the dynamics around “the table” are working, impossible to negotiate when you can’t read body language or judge the mood of a room.
The business operationally was largely unaffected as most of our service providers continued to provide the expected service albeit mostly remotely. The most difficult part was as above not being able to travel freely and meet clients etc.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has caused a rising effect on inflation,
How can business owners combat the rise of inflation and what have you done that you can share?
It’s very difficult to answer for other businesses as each will have its own problems and concerns depending upon the sector in which it operates. For us in debt securities and fixed income inflation has simply increased demand for our services. We have seen an increase in demand for corporate paper as an alternative to bank finance which is both now more expensive and incredibly restrictive.
Equally investors – whether private or family offices are increasingly looking to protect their wealth by getting a yield at or above inflation levels which they are not getting from their other investments or savings.
In the last 5 years, we have seen the rise of Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, NFT’s, Digital Marketing, and many more!
What do you think will impact the world most in regards to online selling?
I’m the wrong person to ask LOL. I don’t believe in crypto or NFTs. I think the quote that “crypto, tokens, and NFTs are bought by idiots hoping to find a bigger idiot to sell on to” is spot on, but maybe I’m a dinosaur.
I do think blockchain will prove immense when applied properly across certain sectors but not in the digital currency world. Digital marketing is of course essential and very much a part of the modern world and I love seeing innovations in this space.
On a more subtle note.
If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive who would it be and why?
Winston Churchill – resolve and reasoning, and strength of character at a very dark time in history.
Pele – achievements in football, especially as a black man in less progressive times, great fun to have dinner with.
Jeremy Clarkson – find his non-pc style highly refreshing and amusing and love to hear about all the places he’s been.
Reading is still one of the most popular ways to learn anything.
What is your most recommended book(s) by who and what did you learn from them?
I read a lot of sports biographies and almost always admire the dedication of, and sacrifices made by, top sportsmen and women. It reinforces that you are unlikely to succeed without hard work and that there will be many failures along the way.
I also read a lot of consumer psychology and behaviour books. I love the reasons why people behave in certain ways or say certain things – criminal psychology would have been my ideal vocation.
What is your purpose for getting out of bed each day and what do you aim to achieve in the future?
I love getting up each day – in fact I hate laying in bed. I always think what will today bring?
Every day is different and every day I learn something. Connecting with people, starting a new project, seeing a project over the line, planning the schedule of travel and meetings – each day is new, and that’s what makes life fun.
My future aims have always been to ensure that my family is secure and comfortable and able to enjoy the wonders the world has to offer. I get a buzz out of completing a deal – irrelevant of its size or significance. If I can maintain my health and keep experiencing new things then that’s the best achievement.