Mayank Patel, Founder of foreign exchange company Currencies Direct, talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about his entrepreneurial life
Mayank Patel had been running his foreign exchange business Currencies Direct for about ten years when he received his first approach from a Private Equity house.
He says: “I remember almost falling off my chair. I came home and said to my wife, you are not going to believe it, somebody wants to buy my company. I was so excited that somebody had noticed we existed. It was the most incredible experience because when you are building a business you are so involved in it, that it is the only thing you can think about.”
By that stage Mayank had already come a long way. He started Currencies Direct at the age of 28 with a partner and combined savings of £8500 after realising that there was a huge difference between the exchange rate that a large corporate firm could get for commercial foreign exchange and what a small business could get. He says: “I was convinced that a huge gap existed in the market.”
He had however taken on a big challenge. “We were competing with very large financial institutions yet all the money we had in the world was £8500. We had no marketing muscle, no branding and no financial track record whatsoever.”
Nevertheless after approaching a dozen different banks Mayank managed to persuade Lloyds Bank to provide his company with favourable exchange rates for smaller and medium-sized businesses. He also bought some import-export directories and began calling the financial directors of small companies to tell them about the favourable exchange rates and personalised service he could provide.
He says: “I produced a three-page document which I would fax page by page to 100 companies every day. I would work till one o’clock in the morning, but by the end of the week I would have 500 potential leads to follow up on.”
Mayank bought out his partner and began to expand the business on his own, building relationships with estate agents and developers overseas. It was hard work but Mayank had a very clear idea of what he was trying to achieve: “I wanted to create a company which had vibrancy and energy and entrepreneurial spirit, and luckily I managed to do that.”
When Private Equity first came knocking Mayank knew he still had a lot more he wanted to do and so declined their offer. But two years ago he felt it was time to hand the business on to new guardians and found what he was looking for in private equity, selling the business to Corsair Capital and Palamon Capital in a deal that valued the business at more than £200 million.
Antony Jenkins, the former CEO of Barclays, was appointed Chair of Currencies Direct, which by now was processing $4.5 billion of transactions every year, had 500 employees and 14 offices around the world.
Mayank, who continues to be an investor in the business and is honorary president, says the most important consideration for him was to choose investors who felt the same way as he did about the business.
He says: “I take a lot of pride in what I’ve achieved so far and finding the right partners who had the right attitude and similar values was really important to me. I wanted the next guardians of the business to have the ability, the vision, and the deep pockets to take the business even further than I could have taken it.”
He adds: “Building a company is a bit like having a child – eventually it will grow up and have its own life and you are not the person who looks after it anymore, but you will still always care about it. It was really important to me to make sure that it went into the right hands.”
Mayank has this advice for entrepreneurs considering getting investment from private equity: “You have got to have the right chemistry. It’s like a marriage. Once the novelty of having somebody writing a big cheque to invest in your company has worn off, which will probably be 24 hours later, you are going to be sitting with your new investors in a board meeting once or twice a month and be accountable to them, so you need to like them.”
He adds: “You also need to really understand why you want private equity in your business. Is it to expand the company, is it to acquire other companies, is it because the private equity house is going to help you strategically grow your business, will they bring relationships to you, are you looking to take a bit of a back seat and get other people in to drive the business forward? Ask yourself the basic fundamental questions.”
Now almost 50, Mayank is still very much involved in the entrepreneurial world. He is on the advisory board at Cranfield University and is the Leadership Mentor in Residence at Birmingham University, helping and advising budding student entrepreneurs. In 2011 he was awarded an OBE for services to Financial Services and Entrepreneurship. He says: “Being an entrepreneur is part of my DNA. I get the biggest kick out of being involved with something that is entrepreneurial.”
Drax sector lead: Mathew Cuthbertson
Director, Financial Services
Tel: 0203 949 9558