The following article appeared in Real Deals Magazine.
Would it be fair to say that you didn’t have a conventional start to a career in venture capitalism?
You could say that. I signed for Aberdeen FC when I was 16 because they agreed to let me stay at school and go to university. I made my debut for the club at 18, when I was in my first year of university. I would play a game on the weekend for the team and then be back in lectures on Monday morning.
Did other members of your team study at university?
The accepted thing to do was to leave school at 16 and focus on football. I think I was the first person at the club to study while playing football. I wanted to go to university so I would have something to fall back on. Initially I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but everyone at the club was very supportive.
Why did you decide to leave the club?
I completed my degree in management and accounting and returned to play football full-time. I was on a two-year contract and I still wasn’t getting a regular place on the side. In football, by the time you’re 22, you should be at an advanced stage. I decided that if I didn’t make it at Aberdeen, I wasn’t going to plough my way through the football landscape. I had a conversation with my manager where he asked if I wanted to go on loan to another club. He was very surprised when I told him that I wanted to leave football.
What did you do after that?
I won an award at university, which was sponsored by KPMG. The firm held a dinner for the winners and one of the managing partners told me to contact him if I ever decided to leave football. I called him up and I was offered a job. It was a natural progression from my degree at university.
I was interested in working in corporate finance and I knew there would be opportunities for secondments abroad at one of the Big Four accountancy firms.
When did you decide to work in venture capital?
Shortly after joining KPMG, I went on secondment to the firm’s office in Sydney. Originally I was only meant to spend two years there.
I extended it for a year and after that I transferred to become a KPMG Australia employee. I ended up staying in Australia for five years. I worked primarily on debt and equity fundraisings for SMEs and I worked closely with private equity houses. It felt like a natural transition to move into that area. I came back to Scotland for a holiday and I made some inquiries about the UK private equity market. I spoke to Stephen Campbell and David Wilson, who built the development capital team at Bank of Scotland, and I was offered a job. I always thought I would stay in Australia, but within six weeks, I was back in the UK with a new job.
You recently decided to form Panoramic Growth Equity. Why?
Stephen and David had built the team at Bank of Scotland since 2001. We wanted to manage our own fund in a market that is under-supplied in capital. Last month, we held a first close of our debut fund at £34m (¤40.7m). It’s the only SME growth fund to close in the UK this year.
Despite your current success, do you ever regret leaving football?
Just once. The year after I left the club, Aberdeen played against Manchester United in a testimonial. It was 1999 and Man U had their full team out. It would have been great to have played against the likes of Beckham, Scholes and Keane. That’s the only time I’ve ever regretted leaving.