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Simon Close

Partner, US

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Simon Close

Partner, US

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1 What do you like most about Berkeley?

For me the clever thing about Berkeley is our ability to stay true to our values and what really matters to us and not making some common mistakes that can get in the way of that. You could say that I am most proud of what we haven’t done rather than what we have done!  

We strive to live up to our values in everything we do and will have open and frank conversations with each other about how well we are doing that.  At the heart of these values is ‘doing the right thing’ – for our clients and our people.

As a business, we have three priorities:

  1. Recruiting super talented people, whose passion is delighting clients by putting their interests front and centre
  2. Working with clients we genuinely like. We want to work with interesting people who have similar values to our own and are passionate and ambitious for achieving great things for their businesses.
  3. Working on the most interesting, important, and exciting assignments.

I’m proud of how we have avoided putting in place ways of working that get in the way of these things that we really care about. For example, we have no individual sales targets that determine personal remuneration or career progression, we don’t use rankings and internal hierarchy that creates competition between colleagues, and we don’t use ‘job numbers’ to control how people spend their non-chargeable time or expenses. Instead, we trust our people to use their judgement. This frees them up to focus on one thing: doing the right things for our clients, for each other and for Berkeley.

2 What’s been your favourite piece of work and why?

There are so many to choose from, but I will go back to one of my first Berkeley assignments in 1997. The client was LIFFE, the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (now part of Euronext).  I was was the project manager responsible for the first release of their new automated trading system (LIFFE CONNECT). The new systems would support a set of contracts, equity options, that were not performing well in the traditional open outcry trading environment. 

It was a fascinating assignment, at the heart of momentous events in the city of London, regularly on the front pages of the FT.  At the time, LIFFE was committed to open outcry trading for most of its contracts and was in negotiations to redevelop Spitalfields Market as a new, larger trading floor. One of their main competitors, the Deutsche Terminb√∂rse (DTB) in Frankfurt, were fully electronic. LIFFE’s largest contract by far was the BUND (German government bonds). Suddenly, towards the end of 1997, the BUND switched from LIFFE to the DTB in just a few weeks.

In response, LIFFE made a dramatic change in strategy and committed to going electronic for all its contracts. Spitalfields was forgotten, and based on our advice, and against Government recommendations, they chose not to buy an existing platform but to extend LIFFE CONNECT beyond the equity options contracts. Over the course of the next three years, we helped LIFFE move all its contracts onto CONNECT and to win the lion’s share of trading in the new Euro-denominated short-term interest rate derivatives (EURIBOR).

I’ll let Wikipedia finish the story…
“On Friday 24 November 2000, at 5 pm, the last three of the once 26 open outcry pits were permanently closed. The design of LIFFE CONNECT made it possible for customers to choose which trading software they would use. LIFFE intended that this flexibility would encourage traders around the world to link to the exchange. And, by the beginning of 2002, customers in 25 countries around the world were trading on LIFFE. This completed a revolution in LIFFE's business: whereas traders had once had to come to LIFFE; now, through LIFFE CONNECT, LIFFE took its market to its customers wherever they were in the world.”

3 What are you passionate about in life?

I passionately believe that most of the working population are good people, with incredible problem-solving brains, who come in to work every day wanting to do the best possible job that they can. Unfortunately, they arrive at their offices to find a whole host of things that get in the way of them doing that.

If leaders in organisations really understood and believed this, they would be switching their energies away from trying to have all the answers to finding ways to free up all the talent in their organisation to be at their best. Unsurprisingly, I have a view on what it takes to free up that talent:

  1. Purpose: A clear sense of purpose that organisations people believe in and can see how their role supports (even if indirectly)
  2. Direction: A coherent strategy, set of values and goals that are understood by everyone in the organisation and are broken down to clear outcomes that individual teams help deliver
  3. Competency: Through recruitment, on-the-job development and training, staff have the skills, experience, knowledge and tools to play the role they are being asked to play
  4. Support: Information is shared freely and staff feel listened to and are given the help, guidance, working environment and resources they need to be successful
  5. Control: The holy grail of empowerment. With items one to four in place, authority can be delegated safely down to the appropriate level for those with the best knowledge and insight to make decisions. 

This is, of course, much easier to write than it is to do. It informs the way that I approach my own work. Our client work is often aligned in helping with the above such as, for example, shaping clear and coherent strategies and operating models. The way Berkeley works is also very aligned: we support our consultants whilst giving them the autonomy and control to do what they see as being right for our clients without feeling the need to always be seeking partner approval first.