Lead Forensics

OPINION

Ask the Leader – Gehan Talwatte

1 Jul 2021

As featured in Management Today.

Gehan Talwatte is a serial entrepreneur whose obsession with data has helped him turn several businesses into runaway successes. When he joined a small division of an aviation insurance firm back in 2005, he knew nothing about aircraft – but understood the power of data to revolutionise a business model.

He was a breath of fresh air at Airclaims, bringing renewed focus and igniting the ambition of the whole team.

Not content with domestic growth alone, Gehan realised his international ambitions too. He opened new offices in New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and was supported by a further £6m of follow-on funding from LDC in 2010.

Between 2006 and 2011, the company grew from £3m in revenue to £12m ahead of a trade sale to RELX. In 2008, when the industry went into freefall, Ascend grew 20 per cent. Gehan attributes the success to his obsession with data, his bravery in asking the obvious questions, and the support of a flexible and supportive investment partner in LDC.

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The most eye-opening thing about working with LDC is their incredible curiosity about how to make things better.”
Gehan Talwatte

What did you think about private equity before joining Ascend?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of working with private equity. I’d used private equity to acquire businesses in the past but never worked in a portfolio business so that was interesting. The most eye-opening thing I learned about private equity through working with LDC is that they have an incredible curiosity about how to make things better. LDC is also unique in many ways: the way it is financed, in particular, creates a different level of flexibility in terms of the length of ownership.

How did LDC help you and your business to grow?

At the time, more than half the sales in our sector were happening in China. When I asked my team, ‘How many Chinese salespeople do we have?’ the answer was, ‘None’. LDC was supportive in saying, ‘Why don’t we put someone in Asia and see what happens?’ So, we opened an office in Hong Kong and LDC helped us to get established there. We were the first on the ground and that helped us to embed great relationships with players across Asia. This was reflected in the future growth of the business.

Do you have any particular personal experiences or memories of working with LDC?

When I was building the business, it became clear we needed to mix up the DNA. I was taking on a business that was deeply rooted in engineering and shifting it to being about data. You’re forcing people out of their comfort zones. One of the things that LDC pushed me to do was hire some brilliant people to help make that transition possible. It’s really important for all CEOs to be reminded: you are not the smartest person in the room – at least you shouldn’t be if you’ve got your hiring right. Get the best people in and give them room to fly.

LDC is sharing inspirational stories from its current and past portfolio company leaders to mark 40 years of backing ambitious businesses across the UK.

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LDC is also unique in many ways: the way it is financed, in particular, creates a different level of flexibility in terms of the length of ownership.”
Gehan Talwatte