Earlier this year Blue Wealth Capital founder Raj Shah marked his tenth year in business by welcoming a new team member – his wife, Fiona. Jill Theobald caught up with both to find out how their work/life balance is boosting the business and ensuring family time flourishes … plus the pair share their healthy approach to getting your busy working week into shape
We all spend so much time with our colleagues on an average working week, many employees joke about having ‘work wives and husbands’.
But how many of us actually live and work alongside our significant other?
Over to a couple who are making it, literally, work – Blue Wealth Capital director and principal Raj Shah and client manager Fiona.
Grabbing a coffee with the couple in their Sheffield home mid-morning, it’s clear that it does – Raj has time to chat to unLTD ahead of a meeting in the office late morning while Fiona, who has 20 years’ experience working in the corporate and private client legal sectors, is able to drop their two young sons at school before I arrive.
What’s also evident is how their different personalities, approaches and skills – but shared company and family values – are complementing Blue Wealth Capital, the company based in Ranmoor, which specialises in holistic independent financial planning and acts as trusted advisor for high net worth individuals and their families across the region and nationally.
Raj and Fiona initially, and fittingly, met at a business event – the first ever Master Cutlers Challenge wine tasting and networking event in 2008, which brings us back to those different personalities and skills.
“I am very used to self-promotion!” says Raj. “That comes from my early days in the finance and insurance industries, engaging with clients and people local to me and getting to know them. The way I see it you have to do your own promotion, no-one is going to do it for you so I don’t mind the networking and what some would call ‘schmoozing’ because I’d learned the right tone and ways of communicating with people.”
“Whereas back then for me,” says Fiona, “as a newly qualified solicitor, it was very much expected of me as part of the business development side of the role, but it wasn’t something I enjoyed as much. “Fast forward 20 years and now I relish meeting new people and really listening to them and getting to know them.”
Raj moved from Hull to Sheffield to study Business and Technology at Sheffield Hallam University in 1994 but it was a work placement that put him on the path to eventually running his own business.
“One of my landlords had a contact in financial services who was looking for a PA so I took the opportunity and can’t deny the initial attraction, as a student not earning anything, was obviously the money!” laughs Raj. “After that company got taken over and everybody was laid off, I started working in a call centre for a national bank handling in-bound calls.
“I got to work with the financial advisors, and while I wasn’t privy to their meetings, I found I was very good at generating appointments for them. Many became friends – we’d go for drinks in a bar nearby on a Friday after work.”
After graduating and realising, like so many other students before him – including this unLTD writer – he wanted to stay in Sheffield, Raj went to work for a high profile insurance company, again starting on inbound calls. He quickly rose through the ranks (“one of the first questions I asked was about the potential for progression”) to become a coach and trainer and completed his training exams with the firm.
Progress he did, being tasked with the challenge of turning around dormant accounts and taking on different roles in business to business and business to consumer financial sales, moving to an investment firm where he built up a client bank from zero to 80 clients through the school of hard knocking on doors approach.
“I still remember the patter and how we personalised the approach by doing things like following up with thank you notes and staying in touch with potential and existing clients. I think that has definitely developed into our approach at Blue Wealth today where we like to treat clients on a personal, almost family level.”
After moving back to working for a private banking firm, Raj discovered he was not a fan of the process of being minute-managed and reporting to line managers by faxing hourly updates and resigned without a job. He moved on to set up a business for financial brokers with some associates working with mortgage advisors and estate agents – but post ‘credit-crunch’ it was a different story.
“We were being encouraged to take high commissions to keep the company afloat and that did not sit right with me ethically. I resigned but it was a calculated resignation. I knew I wanted to go out on my own and in 2009 with a bit of cash flow from my dad I set up Blue Wealth. We were fee-only which was very rare back then in the financial community and was our USP. From 2013 in the industry you were no longer able to take commission, so we were four years ahead of the game, way before the playing field was levelled.”
Raj has gone on to be named a finalist in IFA of the year 2016, Investment Adviser of the Year 2016, and ranked among the 42 under 42 Brightest and Best Businesses in Yorkshire.
Sheffield-born Fiona, meanwhile, went to school in Dinnington (“it was an under-privileged area, and a pit village – some of my school friends’ dads were miners who were on strike at the time”) and after studying law and Spanish at Essex University with a year studying law in Barcelona, found her way into her legal career.
“I quickly set my heart on a career in law when I was choosing my options at school and was not to be deterred. I graduated with an upper second class honours degree in law and Spanish and, after a few part-time jobs, I secured a career development loan as my parents couldn’t afford to fund my study. I also did work experience at law firms large and small, anything to get more on my CV.”
After getting her foot in the door with one of Sheffield’s high-profile law firms she was supported and championed by team members, starting a training contract and finally qualifying as a solicitor in the firm’s corporate team.
“Looking back though it wasn’t really me,” says Fiona. “I found it a very cut-throat environment with a very unhealthy work/life balance, and it got to be even more competitive after I qualified.
“The upside was I initially trained by two well-respected corporate lawyers and was privileged to work alongside local people running Sheffield business in mergers and acquisitions and the like. I got to know the city’s business scene well, forging relationships with corporate financiers and intermediaries.”
After a period commuting to work for a law firm in Leeds where she also completed a secondment at a wealth management and corporate broking firm in the city, Fiona joined another Sheffield law firm before meeting Raj and getting married in 2010.
“Shortly after marrying we started a family – two small children just 18 months apart which is very demanding! – and I didn’t want to go back into law. My priorities changed and I wanted to be a mother first and foremost.
“When our eldest started school I joined a small team of lawyers practising wills and estate planning and probate at a niche private client firm in Sheffield. The workplace generally was becoming a lot more flexible and I was part of a great team of people there.
“About 18 months ago Raj and I started talking about possibly working together. Raj needed someone reliable and trustworthy and with the right skills to help him grow the business and I was looking for something that was even more flexible around the children and their school and extra-curricular commitments.”
Adds Raj: “After her work in the legal and commercial sectors in the city over the years, Fiona has got the knowledge and pedigree we needed to bring to the business. We share a common purpose and have complementary skills. My years of knocking on doors and cold calling…”
“Which sounds like hell to me!” laughs Fiona.
“Exactly – but that has helped me develop my natural style,” explains Raj, “and means we attract clients that are similar to us who share our values – our clients become like family to us. Fiona and I have got different personalities and skills, but we share that same moral compass.”
“It took us a long time talking about working together,” says Fiona. “We had to bear in mind we were going to be living together and being in business together, in the good times as well as when things might be stressful at work or at home.
“But the fact is I have been with Raj since the start of the business, I have seen the business growing and becoming more complex and I could see what I could bring and how I could help it develop.”
Says Raj: “Running your own business means you put the hours in but equally there’s flexibility where there might not be if you’re working for someone else.”
“The boys have succumbed to a lot of school bugs recently plus we’ve moved house in the last couple of weeks,” says Fiona, “so, I’ve been able to work around that.”
The couple also share a strong passion for fitness and healthy eating. Sure enough – Raj and Fiona don’t just live and work together they train and work out together, too.
“The gym is definitely one of our happy places!” says Raj.
“The thing about healthy eating and exercise is it also improves your mental health,” says Fiona. “We go to the gym four times a week and sometimes the children join us on Sundays, too!
“The gym in the city centre is owned and managed by a local businessman so it’s not a big faceless national gym and there are people from all walks of life there which is good because otherwise you can exist in your own bubble. We really enjoy going there and have made real friends there. Our children are always welcome there too which means they are learning by example.”
“There’s pressure in running your own business so it’s all about putting those parameters in place,” explains Raj. “We have a rule where we don’t talk work before 8:30am or after 5:30pm, but the way we divide up our working week into three segments is probably the best example – this is something we have developed over the last ten years as a business and it’s great to have the support of your significant other in keeping to it and staying on track!”
RAJ AND FIONA’S WORKING WEEK – A GUIDE!
“These are workdays when you are 100 per cent committed to the task(s) in hand and on your ‘to do’ list, as well as to profit-generating and business development activities.”
“These are admin days, for tying up loose ends. The point in the week where you need to follow up on and finish off tasks.”
“These are not work-related at all – they are more time set aside for down time, recreation and rejuvenation.”