The world is divided into two types of leaders (well there are probably many more, but we’ll settle on two for now). Corporate Leaders who successfully build businesses and Industry Leaders who successfully impact on society or economic behavior. Gerard is clearly the former and is a great success, but as their careers continue to evolve can they make the transition to be an Industry Leader; it would be a great loss to the industry if they didn’t.
I’m fascinated by the many companies who are successful but are owned or run by people who shun the limelight. The people at the coalface that have the idea, take the risks, accept the challenges and feel the pain but stay silent.
Making the transition from business leader to industry leader is never easy. Time spent on evangelising a message is time not spent in the business, but business leaders are the engine driving our futures creating the products and services we need to succeed ourselves. But who are these business leaders who quietly go about their work quietly, with no fuss and pomp? One such man is Gerard Kenny, CEO of Mansion House Consulting. He runs a successful consultancy and has an impressive range of clients, including numerous Tier 1 Global Banks. What makes him tick; how does he see his role as a leader?
Gerard Kenny describes himself as a builder of teams, an implementer of dreams. He says he doesn’t aspire to be an industry leader; he insists he doesn’t want to be rich, just comfortable and in his own words ‘he wants the satisfaction of knowing he achieved something’.
Admirable, but as we all know you can’t be a great leader without having a vision and that comes from experiences you have, battles won and lost and successes and failures. I spoke to Gerard as I was intrigued as to what made Gerard what he is today?
I’ve known Gerard for several years. I first met him when he was Mints’ London representative; they offered a SWIFT gateway. I was the London SWIFT manager and we had several meetings as I worked with the banks to get SWIFT established in the UK.
I say I’ve known him; but I don’t really ‘know him’ personally. I don’t know what makes him tick, where he grew up or where he got his business skills. I was intrigued about his back story and asked him to let me interview him and I’m pleased to say he agreed.
Gerard was born in Ireland and his family moved to Britain when he was just a baby. He grew up in Kent, went to school there and as he stated wasn’t academically gifted, but street smart. His grandfather was the main influence on him as a youngster and he emphasised the importance of hard work. Not a lot of people know that Gerard was a gifted footballer and could have trodden the professional route. He wanted to be a policeman but influenced by the family he chose job security instead. At 16, Gerard left school and was fortunate enough to get a position with Bank of America in their London Office where he quickly rose to become an officer of the bank, able to sign documents. He was clearly seen by his superiors as trustworthy guy who could manage himself and his responsibilities properly; a trait that has never left him.
Right from the start of his career at 16, he knew in his heart of hearts that he wanted to be in sales. He was attracted to making deals and making money; not only for himself but for the business. Something that has stayed with him throughout his career. At 25 he moved over to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) where he began his sales career bringing to the role, that need to succeed by closing deals.
Both Bank of America and CSC are American organisations and he freely admits that he was drawn to them as he admires the American culture of promoting achievers rather than time servers. Throughout his career he has been keen to promote people who achieve for the business and he’s not at all reticent about getting rid of staff that don’t perform. In his eyes you don’t carry passengers, you must produce.
Many of his peers that I spoke to emphasised time and again that although Gerard sees his main achievement in being a leader, they’d characterize him as a dealmaker. In my conversations with him, Gerard referred to himself as a Rainmaker; (a person who brings in new business and whose influence can initiate progress or ensure success). He clearly enjoys the cut and thrust of the deal negotiation, but he’s got a reputation for being fair. He opens every deal negotiation with a clear unspoken question in his mind ‘what is my counterpart looking to achieve; and what will I get from it?’. Inevitably he gets described as an entrepreneur, a much-overused expression these days, I prefer to call him a go-between, someone who makes deals.
When I asked him about his influences, he mentioned the standard icons, Bill Gates, Jack Welch and Warren Buffet. He described them collectively as achievers and influencers and not unsurprisingly as Rainmakers. But when I pressed him to talk about everyday influencers, his peers in the industry he was less forthcoming. He tended to talk about people we both knew who had been successful but few of them would be described as Rainmakers which surprised me. Does he see himself as a cut above many of his peers?
His family are his personal support group and provide him with the environment he needs to thrive as a successful businessman. This has clearly been influences by his own childhood which he describes as loving, supportive and challenging. Like a lot of Irish families that migrated to the UK, times were hard, but the family unit provided the structure he needed and still needs.
When Gerard says me, he means Mansion House Consulting (MHC), his latest iteration of Gerard Kenny enterprises. It was clear that through our discussions Gerard and MHC are intertwined; he is MHC and MHC is him. When researching for this interview I looked up the MHC website and surprisingly Gerard is not prominent. He’s low key, almost in the background. He promotes the business, his ‘team’ and their accomplishments, but I was struck by the absence of any blogs from him, social media or other commentary. It’s as though he sees himself as the captain of the ship guiding the team from behind, not from the front. He admits that mentoring his staff, educating them and lecturing about his experiences to an internal audience make him happy. But, wonders if the message is suitable for the wider audience, a surprising misplaced lack of confidence.
MHC is set to achieve a turnover of £40m this year, with over 300 employees and has no debt, is self-funded and no outside investors or venture capital. He and his ‘team’ have built the business from scratch through hard work and determination. I spoke to a couple of his customers and they said working with Gerard is a pleasure, he is trusted to deliver, and I got the sense that they like him.
Like all successful startups’ MHC is at a plateau and Gerard freely admits there are several paths the business could take for the future. The future looks good.
But what’s in store for Gerard?
Gerard is one of those people who it’s a real pleasure to sit down with and chat. His insights are revealing, his finger is clearly on the pulse of what’s happening in the Financial Services Industry. His success derives from his ability to spot the trends and then gear up to meet the challenges they give him. But my overall impression is of a man who has much to offer the industry but who works hard to stay in the background at a time where leadership is so important.
He clearly is a well-liked person, tough but fair who enjoys building co-operations between himself and his clients. Inevitably as his business grows his place in it will change, younger Turks will want to have more say. Inevitably he’ll have to give way, but is that what he wants? Can he let go of the control stick and trust someone else to fly the plane?
The sense I got from talking to peers, clients and staff was that Gerard is looked up to as an example of a successful businessman, someone with integrity and grit, who’s worked hard to get to where he is today. Overwhelmingly the main praise was for him as a businessman.
He freely admits that as he approaches his 60th birthday MHC is still on a journey. One senses that MHC and Gerard will always be joined at the hip but, will that satisfy a man who thrives on achieving and being a Rainmaker. Only time will tell.
As I came away from the interview and reading the first draft of this article, I was struck by the fact that business leaders see themselves as serving an internal audience. As Gerard’s team said, he’s inspirational, a born mentor and sales trainer.
The world is divided into two types of leaders (well there are probably many more, but we’ll settle on two for now). Corporate Leaders who successfully build businesses and Industry Leaders who successfully change society or economic behavior. Gerard is clearly the former and is a great success, but as his career continues to evolve can he make the transition to be an Industry Leader; it would be a great loss to the industry if he didn’t.
So why are so few of his peers in similar positions not also making the move to industry leadership. They certainly have the experience, the battle wounds, the ideas and innovations. Is it a lack of confidence, an absence of responsibility or just a lack of time?
In the great debates going on in our industry now, people like Gerard, Chris Skinner, David Parker, Mike Chambers have a lot more to offer than the usual crowd. Their experience is invaluable. We need to have them involved in the debate as decision makers. mentors and educators; yes, leaders.