Relentless pursuit of excellence is the secret in the sauce for Atlanta Group, and CEO Ian Donaldson (pictured) is very happy with the overall recipe of the business. He highlighted that Atlanta is like a carefully made cake, with every ingredient a value that is treasured by the group’s team – and this is why every acquisition that it makes, and there have been a lot, needs to adhere to that recipe.
“So, if somebody tries to throws a new ingredient in, and let’s say an ingredient is nuts, and a member of my team is allergic to nuts then that ingredient can’t come in,” he said. “It’s that simple and as I always say to my team, you don’t have to overcomplicate the world that we’re in. If we like what we’re doing and we’re getting results and seeing success as we bring people in, and everybody still likes the flavour of the cake, then we’re going to keep eating it.”
This recipe for success has worked well for Atlanta, which, even just since the start of 2021 has made a series of high-profile acquisitions, striking deals with the likes of telematics broker Marmalade and Be Wiser. That cultural piece is the key behind each of these purchases, he said, and an essential metric of the due diligence that the group carries out on each potential acquisition. Donaldson stated he has no hesitancy in turning down opportunities if their values don’t align because, while balance sheets and business costs can be transformed, culture is more deep-rooted.
“This goes both ways,” he said, “and I always say to people, due diligence me just like I’m doing with you. When we went to Crispin Moger and his team at Marmalade, I understood what they were about to go through. So, I told them they should due diligence us and speak to Tim [Hutton] from Lloyd Latchford, speak to the people from Carole Nash, the people from Swinton and all of those we’ve worked with for so long, and ask them whether we’ve done what we said we’d do.
“And Crispin came back and said that he’d found out what I’d been saying was true, that Marmalade was really going to be part of the Atlanta family and that we here to help grow your business, grow your aspirations. Because when we bought you, we bought your brand, your telemetry knowledge, your systems… so, you’re going to make us better too. It’s really an aligned approach that’s needed.”
It was a similar case with Be Wiser, he said, when the opportunity came up to acquire certain assets of the brokerage including customers, staff and the brand. That Be Wiser uses the same system platform as Atlanta was a significant positive, as was the clear expertise of its staff around motor and home, and its work with telemetry. After exploring how the business could be integrated and what it would bring to Atlanta, it made real sense to the group - and brings another great brand under the Atlanta umbrella.
“We’ll build on it and we’ll use it and we’ll grow it just like we have all the brands that we brought in,” he said. “It’s really exciting, and I’ve not been able to go down there yet but I can’t wait. I’ve met with people around the business at a certain level, but I always pride myself in speaking to every member of staff as soon as I possibly can. I was actually on a full call with almost 100 of the Marmalade staff the other day and it was great to see them and have a bit of banter, and let them get to know me as a new CEO.”
Looking at what the future holds for Atlanta, Donaldson highlighted that all future growth, whether organic or acquisition-led, across the group, will be underpinned by his personal tagline of being “relentless in the pursuit of excellence.” Looking at where you’re going inevitably means also taking stock of where you’ve been and few brokerages can boast of a trajectory like the one seen by Atlanta, which started as Autonet Insurance in a rented apartment in Newcastle in 1998.
When Donaldson and his then business partner Glyn Keeling first set up the business, he said, no phones were ringing and there were no safe bets to be had but, fast-forward to 2021, and by the end of this year, the group will have achieved over a billion in GWP and will champion the needs of nearly three million customers.
“There are so many opportunities out there at the moment, for different reasons,” he said. “Some [businesses] are struggling a bit after the pandemic and we can come in to help them grow. Other opportunities will allow us to change our footprint a little bit, as with the Marmalade acquisition… We’re probably going to announce at least another acquisition by the end of the year. And of course, The Ardonagh Group as a whole is very acquisitive.
“We’re in conversations with many different businesses and the great thing is that our values and culture and ethos is becoming well known in the marketplace. People who are thinking of selling are thinking of us. And some people who want to grow their business and take it to the next level aren’t just going down the private equity or [lending] route but are actually coming to us and saying, ‘I think I can go faster with someone like you… while still being part of my business.’ So, if we can keep the reputation that we have as an acquirer going, then that should hold us in really good stead.”