Leeds can become a fintech powerhouse, says Georgina Mitchell

Leeds has a great opportunity to become a fintech powerhouse, according to Georgina Mitchell. She met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.
Georgina Mitchell  Picture: James HardistyGeorgina Mitchell  Picture: James Hardisty
Georgina Mitchell Picture: James Hardisty

EVER thought about becoming a non-executive director? It’s not an option for anyone who expects opportunities to land in their lap, as Georgina Mitchell can testify.

Ms Mitchell has a CV which includes board level experience and regular appearances on BBC Breakfast, discussing the highs and lows of the stock market.

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She was determined to broaden her horizons by developing a career structure that involved working with a wide variety of businesses, so she completed the Financial Times Non-Executive Director diploma, as a stepping stone towards her first non-exec position.

“It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, with five different modules, but the most interesting one was about the ‘behaviours of a non-exec’,’’ she recalled.

“It’s very different to being a CEO or an executive. You are not the primary decision maker. That’s one of the key things. The decisions are made by the executive board.

“The non-execs’ role is to go in and question the decisions that have been made, and the assumptions that underlie them, and the objectives, and whether they fit with the business plan of the firm.

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“It can be quite hard for somebody who is used to being on an executive board, or in an executive environment, to stop themselves from saying, ‘ No I think you should do this’ because it is not your decision.”

The best non-execs enable the CEO to have more confidence in their own decision-making abilities.

Ms Mitchell, who was once a member of the operating board at the Leeds-based investment management and share dealing firm Redmayne-Bentley, certainly had to display tenacity to find her first non-exec post.

She recalled: “It’s all about your network. On the course, they say it can easily take you up to two years to get your first non-exec role.

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“It took me nine months, despite having the qualification. It can be quite disheartening, because you are also very unlikely to get your first role by applying for one that you see advertised.

“You won’t necessarily know there are roles available,’’ she added. “It really is a case of sticking with it and believing in yourself and going out there and meeting the right people.

“If they recommend anyone, then follow up every lead. In Leeds you could pretty much eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at networking events. It’s about finding the ones that are right for you and that are right for the sector you want to work in.”

Through her relentless networking, she finally landed the role of non-executive investment director at the Leeds-based rebuildingsociety.com, where she works with a team that helps companies grow through peer to peer lending.

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She’s also secured a non-exec position at investUP, where she is responsible for helping to expand the investor base at the ‘robo-investing’ platform, while helping to steer the company’s strategy.

Financial technology – or fintech – is revolutionising financial services and Yorkshire, with its low cost base and strong talent pool, is starting to attract companies from outside the region. Leeds-based investUP, a peer-to-peer lending aggregation platform that can automatically place investments for investors, was originally based in London.

Ms Mitchell said: “I’m really enjoying working with the early stage companies. There are a very large number in Leeds. The energy that surrounded the likes of the Fintech North festival and the Leeds Digital Festival was fantastic.

“There was a real buzz around the city. People were coming up from London for it. There is a lot of work being done to encourage companies to not just focus on London.”

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There is also a growing a awareness among angel investors and venture capitalists that fast growing firms do not have to be based in London.

She believes technology firms should collaborate to spread the word about the value of doing business in Yorkshire.

“Leeds needs to be prouder of itself,” she said. “There is an argument for bringing all the different areas together to promote Leeds so that people outside the UK don’t go, ‘Where’s that?’

“There are people banging the drum for Leeds. I know a lot of people who regularly shuttle up and down (between Leeds and London) although it is usually us shuttling down and then back up again rather than the other way around.

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“It’s about getting them out of the City so they can see Leeds and see the potential.”

She is also planning to launch a commercial coaching group and peer board – The Uspire Network – later this year.

Uspire, which is launching in London and Birmingham this month, provides commercial coaching and mentoring.

She said “I will be running a group in Leeds for them around September.”

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She said other peer boards were focusing on SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and chief executive and chief financial officers.

Ms Mitchell added: “Where Uspire is aiming to fit is somewhere in between; the larger SMEs that may be pre-IPO (initial public offering) and divisional and functional heads within even larger organisations, who have either aspirations themselves to work on the board or maybe the board have identified them as part of a succession plan and they want to make sure that they retain their top talent.

“There’s no real training to say, ‘You’re going to be on a board, these are some of the problems you will face’.”

Senior figures at firms planning an IPO must be prepared for increased scrutiny and know how to deal with conflicting opinions from share- holders.

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She added: “They can challenge you. It can be hard adjusting to that sort of thing.”

Ms Mitchell is using her own story to motivate and guide other budding non-execs.

She recalled: “I did a talk at the Fintech North conference in February and I had a significant number of people, mainly women, contact me afterwards saying they found it really inspiring to hear about my story.

“It was the story of me from school, right through to where I am now.”

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She plans to continue to play her part in bringing more fast growing firms and investors to Yorkshire.

Name: Georgina Mitchell

Date of birth: July 25, 1975

First job: Chalet Girl

Education: Leeds Girls’ High School, then a degree in Economics from UCL

Favourite song: Shirley Bassey’s Where do I Begin (Away Team remix)

Favourite film: Die Hard 2 – I rarely watch thought-provoking films, they’re for switching part of your brain off in my view.

Favourite holiday destination: Majorca

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Last book read: Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre, its 25 years old now but I enjoy it so much I re-read it, and many of his other books, regularly.

Car driven: Audi Q5

Most proud of: Learning to fly a helicopter, it was a childhood dream.