The Controller.
Getting to know our NED Mark Holleran

1 December 2020

Mark Holleran “The Controller”
None Executive Director @ ELEMENTARYb

As part of our series in getting to know what motivates our founders to build Eb, we introduce our NED Mark Holleran in this forth chapter.

Mark is passionate about how law can bring value to organisations. Now it might not seem like there would be much to get excited about, and he is the first to admit that lawyers have a certain reputation for the unimaginative. Yet at the heart of what drives Mark is that key difference. Through his twenty-five-year career, he has been drawn to smaller and rapidly growing companies, run by dynamic fun-loving people. Being able to make a difference, steering them through, and helping them solve their challenges is what motivates him.

Governance has been a big part of that. Mark has spent much of his career looking at the ethics of business. Getting his start at Eversheds and working with entrepreneurial enterprises and seeing what made them tick, gave him inspiration. Many in the industry were focused on building blue chip relationships, with a number of those using law firms simply as a ‘necessary risk management tool’ resulting in the service becoming commoditised.  As a corporate finance lawyer, specialising in capital markets and  governance issues for publicly quoted companies, he started to notice a trend. So he took initiatives to integrate good practices within the deeper inner workings of organisations, including undertaking training sessions for directors and lecturing at corporate events. All this before the post Enron fall out brought the consequences of non-compliance into clear focus.

Taking a year away from work to travel the world and win a Yacht race or two (Mark’s other passion is sailing), gave him time to decide what he wanted to get back to. Which was working with fresh new innovators and organisations that valued well-crafted advice, something he could feel a part of.

“It amazes how many end up forgetting
the basics of good governance
even when the benefit/cost equation is staring them in the face”

So in 2009, with two of his clients, he co-founded an investment bank. He became Executive Chairman, taking the newly formed business through the FCA regulatory approval process, IPOing the business in the first 12 months. and growing it to become a highly profitable organisation of over 100 employees. In this role, Mark made a point to get his hands dirty, sitting on the trading floor and with the different departments to ensure that both he and the staff fundamentally understood the mechanics of the business as a whole, and the issues faced by management.

He was mindful that in the past, commoditisation of professional services led to the 2008 crisis. A trend where big organisations were just paying lip service to corporate governance, due to attitudes of corporate entitlement of the old boy’s financial services club. Mark fully understood what happens throughout the ranks can directly and immediately impact the business as a whole. So he pioneered the idea of the importance of everyone to buy into not just governance, but a proper culture of teamwork. An ethos where “If we work together, we can do anything”, so that it became understood as a point of primary importance. Something that used to be a thing to ‘get round’, now became acknowledged that we actually have to deal with it, as imperative to the fundamental health of the organisation.

In 2013 Mark left the bank and founded Lithium Capital, to refocus on providing value to growing businesses. Commenting, “I Love working with entrepreneurs that are passionate about what they do. Passion is infectious, and if they have passion, then you will in turn be passionate about helping them”. Goodness, that’s a lot of passion! And of course his experiences have instilled in him a drive to implement protocols within organisations to ensure that compliance became part and parcel of what they do.

“Good governance and a supportive culture
make a business stand out from competitors
in a crowded market, it can be the differentiator”

To Mark, independent non-executive scrutiny in a supportive, solution driven and collegiate way, is at the core of a successful business and this is exactly what he intends to implement at ELEMENTARYb.

His experience means he has a pretty good idea of what makes governance work in an organisation: it is down to having the right people with open minds, who see it not as a restraint but as a part of the route to having a successful business. Compliance can be used by an organisation to focus differentiation, stand out and market itself commercially, especially given the high profile failures in the largest financial services organisations.

“ELEMENTARYb is not just a bank
but a provider of supportive services,
we remove the divide with users.”

Looking at the ELEMENTARYb core team, Mark reckons they have all experienced the better side of protocols and the not so good. Seeing the ramifications both ways is what has driven the team to bake in proper governance at a very early stage of the organisation. As Eb starts to recruit, every single hire needs to be assessed on that basis, to perpetuate a culture of accountability and compliance.

Asked about the evolution of the corporate culture as the organisation starts scaling and growing, Mark is confident: “It is up to senior management to ensure the familial culture is maintained and we do not lose sight,” he states. He believes a certain type of people will be attracted to ELEMENTARYb. It is important to ensure that senior management including NEDs move around the business, connect with all employees and are visible (even remotely), especially in these lockdown times. Visibility and hands on senior management are the future in all business.

According to Mark, the world will change after Covid19 and there will be a greater reliance on challengers and new entrants than on incumbents. People will be looking to imaginative alternatives that have an ethical focus. And he adds with a smile, “that the team at ELEMENTARYb is more than up to that challenge”.