(Pictured above: Katie Gilfillan, left, Eleanor Mahmoud, middle, James Fleming, right)
You likely know Cumbria for its beautiful views, poet William Wordworth and perhaps even the steepest road in England, writes Eleanor Mahmoud. Somewhere in between all of that is also the spot where multi-family office Sandaire can trace its roots.
This week I am meeting chief executive James Fleming for lunch at self-described ‘modern British tavern’ The Wigmore in Marylebone. Admittedly a little too far from the lakes of Cumbria for my liking, but with its gastropub menu overseen by a French-British Michelin-starred chef, I am confident in its role as an alternative.
Fleming joined Sandaire in 2017 from Arbuthnot Latham, with a grand 30 years’ experience under his belt. As one of the firm’s recent recruits, it is safe to say his first year in the job has been anything but slow.
‘It’s been a very busy year as CEO – I’ve been focusing on three main things. Strengthening our foundations, improving our processes and adding resources so we can grow our capacity,’ he says. ‘I feel really happy that we have strong foundations to build on.’
Strong foundations Sandaire certainly has – the business has grown steadily since it was founded more than 20 years ago and now manages approximately £2.5 billion for 30 families and foundations globally.
I am increasingly interested in the firm’s history, and, luckily, Fleming can tell me just what I need to know:
‘Personally, I like history, so I find it enjoyable to absorb the business’s history. I like explaining to people who we are and why we are!’
The story began in 1903 in Manchester when Provincial Insurance Company was established by the Scott family. It relocated to Cumbria in 1919 and established an innovative approach to underwriting, eventually employing over 2,000 people by the time it was sold in 1994.
‘The history of Sandaire is fascinating. It is an example of a family moving into a major liquidity event,’ Fleming explains. ‘After four generations, the family business, Provincial Insurance Company, was sold and the family faced new challenges, exploring new opportunities. Alex Scott [founder of Sandaire] was faced with a huge burden of responsibility.
‘Alex considered many options and finally decided to collaborate with other families in similar situations, thus the first multi-family office in the UK was born, in the form of Sandaire.’
As we talk, it is worth noting that, as expected, lunch does not disappoint – my pumpkin and date tagine is delicious, while Fleming tucks into what can only be described as an entire turkey dinner inside a pie.
The Cumbrian link also becomes a little clearer at this point, for those of you who were wondering.
‘The company name comes from Sand Aire House in Cumbia, which was the headquarters of Provincial Insurance Company. We are very close to our roots – our meeting rooms are named after places in the Lake District and we have slices of Kendall mint cake in our reception.’
Most of Sandaire’s clients are self-made entrepreneurs or first generation wealth. The team are therefore privy to some sensitive times with them.
‘We get to meet some fascinating people,’ Fleming says. ‘Events such as selling their business can be incredibly emotional for some as they’re losing the familiarity of what they’ve always known.’
In a bid to assist such clients, co-operation is commonplace within the family office community – so much so that Sandaire is a founding member of the Wigmore Association, which, I should probably clarify, is not a connotation derived from the very pub we are sitting in.
‘The Wigmore Association is fantastic – a group of family offices come together to share best practices.’
This partnership from around the world share research and co-investment opportunities to enhance their understanding of the issues facing the families they serve. With members from Germany to Canada and Brazil, it is no wonder the Wigmore Association is one of Sandaire’s trusted partners.
‘It’s very collaborative rather than competitive,’ Fleming insists.
‘I like to broaden my horizons, and being part of this community does just that.’