In a three-part series, The Drawdown catches up with AnaCap Financial Partners’ COO Michael Edwards to discover how he arrived in his current role; how it has evolved since joining 11 years ago; his biggest challenges; and his outlook for the future.
Look out for more from Edwards later on this week, where he discusses the development of AnaCap’s proprietary central intelligence platform; outsourcing and regulations.
The Drawdown (TDD): There seems to be no set path to becoming a COO – how did your career progress to this role?
Michael Edwards (ME): I think that’s right. I don’t know anyone that ever said: “I am going to be a COO,” when they were planning their careers. I started my career focused on a CFO role but quickly augmented this with the COO role to broaden my personal toolkit and am now able to execute both roles. A common issue is that there is no constant to the COO role from one organisation to another and while there are common themes the weighting can change significantly.
After qualifying as an accountant in 2003 and having worked in sales and finance, I joined the finance team of a credit insurance business based in London. When the team leader retired, I had an opportunity to build out a finance function. This proved a valuable training ground in managing people and projects. I honed this further in an equities asset management business, where as the finance director I assumed responsibility for the back and middle office, implementing all of the policies and processes. By the time I arrived at AnaCap I had over 10 years’ of experience building and running operational teams.
Reviewing my career path and the ever-evolving nature of my role, I suspect the consistent characteristics between successful COOs are an unwavering discipline with regard to cultural standards combined with an ability to calmly deal with all manner of issues. A strong COO listens to what’s not being said in order to identify where the blockages are within their organisation and then take the appropriate action to clear them, ensuring that a business stays on course with its strategic objectives. Embedding a team culture is at the base of everything I do. Setting standards that I follow myself while building a collegiate atmosphere with the full support of senior leadership management, I believe, is what creates success.
TDD: How has your role at AnaCap evolved since joining?
ME: AnaCap was a start-up, just over a year into its journey, when I joined. Early on I was able to generate an impact across the operational platform, removing non-investment focused elements from those that should be focused on generating returns and then ensuring that those investment professionals were operating optimally.
Technology has changed massively during my tenure and the COO’s role has become ever more technology-centric. For me, leading the investment into and implementation of our proprietary in-house system Minerva, which impacts all elements of our investment strategies and business processes, has been a constant evolution.
This has been particularly successful in our credit strategy where the granular, data rich, nature of portfolios lends itself to big data techniques to improve overall collections strategies. This technology is now incredibly fluid and available from any location with an internet connection.
TDD: What has been your greatest challenge over the past year?
ME: I don’t perceive a greatest challenge so maybe a better way to answer the question is where my time has been mostly spent. The compliance and regulatory changes have certainly been up there but I systems and people are the most exciting areas.
The pace of technological change and number of exciting opportunities this brings is phenomenal. We are continually investing in our digital platform Minerva to build a best in class system that complements and informs our diverse investment activities, and this is not an area that is likely to slow any time soon. While our team, across the board, has evolved to what I believe is the best it’s ever been and the bar is now very high for new joiners – this means we really have to work hard to find those individuals who will both lift the team as well as be the right fit to maintain our culture.
TDD: What are you optimistic about for the future?
ME: It would be naive to think everything will be plain sailing but I believe we are well placed to deliver on our remit. We have an incredible ability to adapt and rise to challenges, as demonstrated by the way we survived the global financial crisis despite being in the eye of the storm as a financial services specialist. This has made the team stronger, more connected and built a culture of competitive solidarity which is fundamental to everything we do and set out to achieve.