A sideways look at economics

When you are reading this, I’ll be holding my first child in my arms. Content. Relieved. And probably quite sleep-deprived, finding it hard to credit how James, my partner in crime, seems able to doze through our baby girl’s piercing cries in the night. (And yet a phone notification of a Leeds goal — albeit a rare occurrence — would no doubt elicit an instant reaction.)

However I’m writing this back in February. It’s the early hours of the morning and I’m still eight months pregnant, awoken by an urgent apple craving, a headache, and that nicely familiar kicking in my belly of my baby girl. I’ve been reading an interview with the famous Guy Hands, otherwise known as ‘The Dealmaker’, who is founder, chairman and chief investment officer of the private equity company Terra Firma Capital Partners. He is 62 years old, but denies that he is slowing down. He says:

People always say the most important aspect of the deal is the price. I also want to pay the lowest possible price, and I spend a lot of time and effort finding out what that should be. But the most interesting aspect is really the story;  all the factors — people, companies, technology and a myriad of other things — that make each deal unique.’

And this makes me think of our company, Fathom. Of course, we are a profit-making business. We strive to exchange the rigorous, independent analysis that is our stock in trade for a fee that reflects the intellectual property and effort that goes into answering the client’s question. However, we also limit our client base dramatically. We politely decline to work with clients who already have a convenient answer to their question in mind, and simply want Fathom to dig up some evidence to confirm it. This is not in the Fathom mission statement. We tell the truth as we see it, in plain English. The engrossing nature of the journey to get to the truth, uncovering evidence, engaging in client debates along the way, is the reason why Fathomites turn on their laptops each day. But the size of the market that prefers to hear the true story, rather than paying for a rubber stamp on what they want to be told, is comparatively small.

The journalist who interviewed Guy Hands goes on to say:

‘What isn’t going to change is his determination to speak the truth as he sees it. And so, inevitably, he will continue to be seen as ruthless — because sometimes the truth is ruthless.’

And this strikes an even deeper chord with me, because Fathom’s motto is: ‘Don’t come to us if you already know the answer. We will tell you the truth as we see it, nothing less and nothing more.’

As I reflect on the similarities between Guy Hands and Fathom (and the other things that divide us), I find myself staring at my orchids on the windowsill. One has seven white, perfectly formed flowers, and the other has nine deep blue flowers. I say this is with due modesty, but they are so lovely that many people have mistaken them for fakes. I recently went to a flower shop in Welwyn Garden City to ask advice on repotting these orchids as some of their roots have outgrown their pots. The flower shop assistant looked concerned, claiming this was a high-risk strategy. They are content, happy and growing well in their current environment. Repotting them could go one way or the other: a) the orchids will thrive in their bigger pots, growing more buds than could be achieved now, or b) they end up on a one-way trip to the compost heap…

Why am I elaborating on the orchids? Because it reminds me of my own story. During my own ride at Fathom I may not have earnt £260 million like Hands, but the experiences I’ve had and the skills I’ve learnt along the way have been invaluable. In 2011, I started as a placement student, strongly encouraged by our then first-in-command, Danny Gabay, in the office’s regular after-hours sessions at the pub. Eleven years on I sit here now as a director of Fathom Consulting, with our virtual 9am team meeting just a few hours away. If interviewed, I would describe this moment in my Fathom journey as akin to the orchids’. I have thrived at Fathom for ten years, soaking up all the knowledge and advice I’ve been lucky enough to receive. I’ve grown in confidence and enjoyed every stressful moment as my responsibilities grew.

However, now I have a new challenge, in a larger pot —– becoming a mother, while wishing to continue to at work. It’s the age-old challenge that so many women have faced before me. I suspect I will need some of that famous Guy Hands ruthlessness to stay true to myself, and true to my new family, while ensuring that Fathom continues its precious tradition of truth-telling. I am not kidding myself that it’s going to be easy, but my newfound motherly strength will help me to flourish once again with these bigger challenges. As Hands says: it is about the story, the people, all the factors. That’s what is really interesting.


Laura Eaton is channelling Guy Hands as she prepares for business life with a new baby