Kevin Pratt, the UK Editor of Forbes Advisor interviews our Chairman Colin Baker.
Quickfire Questions is a Forbes Advisor UK series in which business leaders share exclusive insight on their background, the secrets of their success, their hopes for the future, and what they would do if they were handed a magic wand...
Colin Baker was born and brought up in Wanstead, London, and was planning to study law at university but in 1987 decided to take a job in the City of London instead. He started his career at Robert Fleming & Co ( now part of JPMorgan Chase), working across various disciplines before becoming a trainee dealer in the bank’s market-making division. He gained further experience working on the London Traded Options Market and the London International Financial Futures Exchange before spending the 2000s as a trader in Tokyo. In 2011 his entrepreneurial spirt came to the fore when he co-founded www.365aviation.com, a private jet charter business. His next enterprise has been www.limesamui.com, a development of luxury villas on Koh Samui island in Thailand. He lives with his family in Hong Kong.
What set you on the road to success?
Luck and diligence. I don’t mean luck in the sense that many use it, but luck as in I just happened to be born in 1968, and decided to enter the work force in 1987 rather than go to university, and at that time the City of London was expanding so quickly there was an enormous amount of opportunity. Diligence in that whatever tasks have been put in front of me, even the menial ones, I always put my all into them. And perhaps I’ve had the grit to take full advantage of whatever opportunities presented themselves.
Did you have a hero when you were younger?
I don’t think I had any heroes growing up, but I was incredibly lucky to have friends whose parents mentored me in different ways or had been successful in a way which made me believe that there didn’t have to be limits to the kind of job you could get, places you could go or friends you could make. I think this put me in good stead to be pretty fearless, and that momentum has carried me through my career and in life generally.
Do you have one now?
I generally admire lateral thinkers who apply focused critical thinking to subjects and aren’t afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, even if they know they will also get a lot of heat for their views.
Do you get bored easily?
I literally never have time to be bored, but I’ve recently set it as one of my life targets. Great creative thinking comes out of boredom so I actually think I would benefit from reducing my workload or managing my time better to give me a chance of boredom.
Who do you admire in business and in life generally?
George Friedman for his insight into geopolitics and teaching us that the future will be very different to how we imagine. Ray Dalio for helping to make finance more accessible and stripping out jargon. Richard Dawkins on evolution and religion (even if he does ruffle feathers). And Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are rock stars in the way that they’ve used data to debunk and challenge so many widely held misconceptions.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I certainly believe in being inclusive and don’t think top-down traditional management structures foster the creativity and task ownership which are essential for a productive working environment. I leave my door open and am very happy with people challenging my views. In fact, I encourage it.
What are your ambitions?
At this point in my life my ambitions are to reduce my workload, slow down, centre myself and make sure I don’t miss my seven-year old son’s childhood. I’ve always been an avid traveller and would like to visit some of the more unusual destinations and embark on passion-driven projects rather than for-profit businesses.
Do you believe in luck?
I’m a science and numbers guy, but I do believe that positive attitudes drive positive outcomes. When it’s hard to link the good things which happen to your actions, that feels like luck, but it’s rarely as random as many people think.
What qualities do you look for in colleagues?
Sincerity. Just be who you are and not what you think someone wants you to be. And integrity, which sadly I’ve found is in shorter supply than we’d all hope. Listening is really important and trying to truly understand where the other person is coming from. Behind those character traits, a good work ethic and the ability to deliver on promises.
Micro-manage or big picture?
Definitely big picture: put anything in front of me and I’m instantly three steps ahead pondering how to develop it. That said I do care about the details. My mantra should be “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” as I find it hard not to get involved in the details.
Do you think business is valued by society?
Small businesses were historically part of communities and important to society. But capitalism drives growth with no regard to non-financial issues, and people are waking up to the fact that some businesses are doing real harm. Hopefully the younger generation will continue to push back and force some humanity back into corporations.
How do you think business will change from 2020 onwards?
I’m a believer in short term mean reversion, so my feeling is that many Covid-related trends will subside throughout 2021. It’s the trends which already existed in 2019 we should watch.
Sustainability has real momentum, so making businesses accountable has potential to drive meaningful change if consumers vote with their wallets. Working from home was a growing trend pre-Covid so I can see that continuing, and I expect to see more satellite offices in suburbs and outside of the major cities.
How would you like business to change from 2020 onwards?
Promoting women to the most senior leadership position at any company (or country) would be a great start. That’s not going to happen of course, but management and investors need to recognise just how much better businesses with diversity in senior management perform in every way. I’d like to see governments nurture small businesses and roll back the red tape to encourage innovation. Bureaucracy risks stifling innovation in smaller businesses and successive governments have failed to reverse this trend.
Finally, whether voluntarily, through legislation or the will of the people, I’d like businesses to be transparent about their social and environmental impact – pay people fairly, clean up their own mess, and constantly strive to reduce their negative footprint.
Here’s a magic wand – what are you going to do?
Change the two-party political systems which have come to dominate so many countries, sortition wouldn’t be out of the question for me, remove lobbyists and make the welfare of citizens and the planet the key mandate of government, not this outdated obsession with GDP growth. That in itself I think would affect an enormous amount of positive change.
What’s your favourite time of day?
Just after dinner as that feels like the only time I exhale. I’m not much of a morning person, lunch is a snack for me, and sadly I tend to find myself back at my desk at night. That sounds pretty sad actually, I need to work on building some ‘me time’ into my days.
My private charter business, 365 Aviation, has just launched Live365, a collaborative platform with some of the world’s leading luxury and experiential brands offering clients enriching experiences. I think this is going to be a fascinating and rewarding adventure and I’m looking forward to learning from these iconic brands as everyone could benefit from enhancing their lives and living in the moment. For my part I’m a nomad, but I would like to spend time at the villas I’ve built in Samui and maybe a month in a ski resort. I have so many friends around the world, I guess it’s the journey for me, not where I arrive.