A former hedge fund partner and a frustrated skier, who both turned stumbling blocks into successful businesses, have been recognised at the Accomplished Entrepreneur Awards.
The Awards, run by LBS’ Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, recognises alumni who have gone on to found remarkable start-ups that have reshaped their industries.
The purpose of these awards is to re-connect with entrepreneurial alumni whose experience can inspire current students by showing them what is possible and how.
Gerhard Grueter (IEP2002) won in the early stage start-up category for his work founding Lawson Conner, a leading regulation technology firm. He was an investment banker, turned hedge fund partner turned entrepreneur, who found compliance solutions expensive and ineffective.
There were any number of consultants happy to charge by the hour, but no one who would solve a problem for a fixed fee using technology. So he teamed up with a close friend and abandoned plans to create another fund, and set about finding what compliance issues made people miserable. They landed there first mandate in 2013.
“This industry was ripe for disruption,” said Jeff Skinner, Executive Director, Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Those who knew the mechanics of compliance were minting money. Companies were being placed under huge strain from the raft of new requirements and begrudgingly accepted compliance as an inevitably expensive burden of doing business. Most had put in place huge teams without questioning the cost or whether there was a better way of doing it.
“These teams were inefficient and consultants didn’t seem to be delivering what the industry actually needed. Whereas our winner introduced a software platform which today is serving a global customer base across the entire financial services industry. The business model has remained faithful to the original ‘problem-based’ philosophy.” Most recently, Lawson Conner has become part of a global professional services firm with close to 2,500 people in more than 20 jurisdictions.
Grueter said: “I am extremely honored to be receiving the 2019 Accomplished Entrepreneurs Award. Building a global professional services champion from scratch within only six years I feel like is only possible in such an incredible vibrant and agile environment as London Business School. The alumni network has been incredibly valuable for my success throughout the years. In fact the company was started on the premises of the school. Whenever needed, I have received sound, sincere and trusted advice and won many new clients through alumni contacts. I certainly learnt a lot from the world’s finest faculty. Thank you for the opportunity to have an impact.”
Twenty years ago entrepreneurialism was a “minority sport” at LBS but that did not deter Richard Downs (MBA1998), commented Jeff Skinner.
“A small band of students encouraged by a pioneering group of faculty - Michael Hay, John Bates, Rob Johnson and Martin Williams.
“He didn’t have any idea what kind of business he wanted to start, describing his early attempts as, ‘throwing a lot of ideas at the wall to see what stuck’.”
Downs’ eureka moment came on a road trip with classmates on exchange when he wanted to go skiing around Lake Tahoe. Caught moaning about how painful it was to find a decent ski chalet, a classmate flippantly suggested that he should stop complaining and do something about it. The existing market was hugely inefficient and full of frustrations for chalet owners and renters alike. So Iglu.com was born into the internet boom then bust. However, the underlying logic of the business remained unchanged. They were still meeting a very real market need, skiers really were early adopters of the Internet. The 2000/2001 season saw turnover rise to £16m.
In 2011, Downs further completed a tumultuous management buyout required to add a counter-cyclical cruise booking business. An acquisition that has gone onto eclipse the chalet business, vindicating the move. Iglu – with the original founder still at the helm and loving it - is now the largest cruise retailer in Europe, on-line or offline, employing 450 people.
Downs added: “I feel extremely lucky that I graduated from LBS at what felt like a tipping point for entrepreneurship, when student’s entrepreneurial aspirations were increasingly converted into successful businesses with the guidance, support and encouragement from faculty and alumni alike. It is of course a pleasure to accept the Accomplished Entrepreneur Award and I, along with many other alumni, look forward to staying connected to the School on its ongoing journey to create a world class platform to enable an ever growing number of successful entrepreneurs to create hugely exciting and successful businesses.”