Playing people in their best positions

Lawrie Wilson is an ex-footballer who played for Charlton Athletic, Colchester, Stevenage, Port Vale and Ebbsfleet. He’s a founder of WillU Financial Group, who specialise in life and health insurance brokage, asset management, estate planning and foreign exchange. You can follow Lawrie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

As a footballer, I understood that my success was determined by how well the team performed. Now in business, I apply those exact same principles to myself and my colleagues.

From the age of 15 I was signed to Charlton Athletic; from there, I got released at the age of 18 and then signed for Colchester in the Championship. Then from there I dropped all the way down to Stevenage, in the Conference. I was there for four or five years and managed to get promotion from the Conference and we also won the FA Trophy. I then got bought back by Charlton, sold to Bolton; went to Port Vale as a stopover on the way back to my hometown of London, and then signed for Ebbsfleet. From there I decided to go part-time.

About five years ago my brother-in-law and his business partner at the time set up a company called WillU: asset management, looking after pensions, ISAs, stuff like that. They quickly recognised that the business wasn’t going to stand alone and they needed other sectors within the business. They set up a foreign exchange arm. I was 32 and just signed as a part-timer to Ebbsfleet, and my brother-in-law asked me to think about joining their business.

At that point I had a few things lined up: I had my Pilates instructor qualifications, I’d done my coaching badges, and I was doing a sports journalism degree. I’d done a few things but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I was very interested to learn more about joining their business.

I would be an owner, so we set up WillU Life, a life and health insurance brokerage, looking after personal and business clients and covering everything from life insurance, health insurance and mortgage protection. From there, we grew very very quickly, quicker than we imagined, and we moved into other areas such as wills and estate planning. Our aim in all of this is to have a one stop shop to facilitate everyone’s financial needs in one area.

However, to start with, I was thrown in at the deep end! I didn’t have any experience of sales and I didn’t know anything about Excel spreadsheets. I didn’t know much about business – all I knew was football. We had employees, to start with, who knew more than I did!

However, partly because of my sporting career, I understood that there are no gimmes and no short cuts, and you have to roll up your sleeves and start from the bottom. I thought to myself: I have to get to know every single bit of the business, inside out. How to win new business, how to be a broker, how to deal with claims, escalation, and servicing clients. I understood very quickly that I need to know from top to bottom how the industry works.

In football you get picked up and can be at a club for six months, a year, maybe four years. You get comfortable: you know the role, you know the environment. Then you get picked up by someone else at the end of that season and you have to go to a new club. You get plonked in and you have to sink or swim. You roll your sleeves up, get to know people, make friends, learn how that manager likes to play football, how that owner likes to run their business. It’s that mentality you need to nurture. You have to build relationships very rapidly – managers, team-mates, sponsors.

I was happy to get stuck in at ground level and learn the business inside out. Then, once I’d been through that process, and this is a principle of the team at WillU: we try to play people in their best positions. People are deployed in the areas they are the strongest in.

I’ve done this role now for two or three years – and I don’t enjoy the admin work, but I enjoy meeting clients, and we’ve found as a business that I benefit more from meeting new people, building those relationships, bringing business in – because that’s my forte, my passion and that’s what I’m good at. That’s what we try to do as a business – to find an area that different people excel in.

If you’re the person who’s passionate about being behind a laptop, in the long run if that’s what they’re best at, then they need to be deployed in the right positions on the pitch, so to speak. If they need to get out to meet new people, then they dig in for the team, and do that role if it’s required, but that’s not always them at their best.

Fundamentally you need to be yourself. Then the company benefits because it’s you at your best; and you will feel happy coming to work.