Broking MD on taking his business to the next level after dual acquisition

"We're on track with our growth ambitions", he says

Broking MD on taking his business to the next level after dual acquisition

Mergers & Acquisitions

By Mia Wallace

For the team at F R Ball Insurance, acquisitions are a little like waiting for a bus – you wait for a while and then two come along at once. The Abergavenny-based broker had a lot to celebrate last week between news of its acquisition of Lawson D Jones Insurance Consultants (Lawson D Jones) and its merger with Wessex Business Services Ltd to create Wessex Insurance Brokers Ltd (Wessex).

Discussing the whirlwind that October has been for the business, MD Paul Wadsworth (pictured above, middle) noted that making deals like these happen – and managing the 30% increase in the size of your business essentially overnight – all comes down to having the right team of people around you.

“They’ve done a cracking job, and for my part, it simply couldn’t have happened without what the team here has done,” he said. “I’m so proud of the way our staff has stepped up to help the transition of the two firms into our existing one, and of the development we’ve already seen.”

It has felt great to be able to share the good news across the wider market, he said, after keeping it under wraps while the processes and practicalities of the transitions were falling into place. The dual swoop is the group’s first foray into the M&A pool – and he emphasised the support the team had received both as an Aviva 110 broker and as part of Bravo Networks.

The deals also open up two new locations to F R Ball Insurance – an independent broker specialising in both commercial and personal lines insurance – with Wessex based in Overton, Hampshire and Lawson D Jones based in Ebbw Vale, Wales.

The opportunities represented by both deals are significant, he said, with the merger with Wessex complementing the next stage of the group’s growth given its dual benefit in terms of both Wessex’s specialist insurance schemes and geographic location. Meanwhile, the Lawson D Jones deal opens up the opportunity for F R Ball to leverage significant growth in commercial lines by investing substantially in the existing premises to create a trading floor for its commercial insurance team.

Touching on how both deals came about, Wadsworth noted that it was in November of 2019 that he first travelled down to Hampshire to meet with Dr John Mitchell then of Wessex Business Services – who has since been appointed MD of Wessex Insurance Brokers. Wessex was well renowned as offering a range of specialist insurance schemes, he said, and Mitchell was looking for a partner who he could work with to take its offering to the next level.

“We built that relationship and now he’s got the infrastructure to enable him to develop that further,” he said. “Back then he was looking at a number of brokers, and the nationals but despite what they had been offering him in terms of a financial package of buying the book out, it was the long-term I was offering him. It was the development of him becoming the MD of this newly created limited company where he could see and trust in what we’re looking to do.”

The deal with Lawson D Jones came about a bit differently, but as with Mitchell, the broker’s owner Jeff Jones was very well-known and well-respected in his locale. Wadsworth noted that he first reached out around 2014 and was delighted to strike up a conversation with Jones but that the discussion didn’t turn to the viable prospect of acquisition until many years later.

When the deal was first discussed, Jones wanted to move to one day a week but since then has moved this up to two days a week – and is actively driving new business within the office. It’s wonderful to see how this move is reinvigorating people with a sense of possibility, Wadsworth said, and great to see the whole Lawson D Jones team so pumped up and motivated.

“The leads that [Jeff’s] bringing in and the way that he’s doing it with Rhidian Williams – one of our newly appointed brokers who’s very big in the market and was the managing director of Quentin L Jones, another strong Welsh insurance broking name – has been incredible,” he explained. “So, Rhidian joined us and I went up [recently] to see him and Malcolm Jeremiah, a sales leader in the business, and it was just so great to sit there, listening to the team talking about the opportunities we’ve got, the opportunities we’ve had and the opportunities we’ve got coming up.”

It may be F R Ball’s first (dual) acquisition, but the broker already has a firmly defined M&A culture, one that recognises why it bought the businesses it did and looks to support them rather than change them.

“And it’s a pleasure to be working with these guys,” he said, “because they’re bringing new things to us as well, and it’s that sharing of experience and that sharing of ideas which makes the difference for the whole of the staff at F R Ball. We’ve gone from 12 staff members, almost two/three years ago to 25 now [with second-round interviews for further roles already taking place].

“And we’ve gone from £4 million to £8 million in gross written premium… And it doesn’t stop there. We’re on track with our growth ambitions because the ambition is to get to good double-digit, high-teens growth within the next three-to-four years through further acquisitions and organic growth.”

The F R Ball team is travelling at pace, and everybody it brings along on that journey understands that from the word go, he said. It’s a culture and a way of doing business that is attracting bright new talent who want to be part of the journey, and the destination just keeps getting better and better. The business is looking to double again in the next three-to-four years and he paid tribute to the staff members instrumental in putting the right management and compliance structures in place to allow that to happen smoothly.  

“A leader of leaders, that’s what I think we’ve got here,” he said. “Because they’re each taking their own initiative and they’re running with it. People are running with [their own instincts]. And if they get it wrong, we put it right and they don’t do it again. But that’s how we all are, because I know I got to where I am by doing exactly that – by understanding that if you don’t try, you don’t get.”

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