Upstream Finance: Vision for growth
Judith Totten is managing director at Upstream Finance, a company which provides working capital finance solutions to SMEs. NI Business Now caught up with her to find out why finance should no longer be thought of as dull and one dimensional.
Describe your current job role:
As founding investor and now majority shareholder of Upstream, my role is principally to support and encourage our team of truly awesome people. Together we have created a strategic vision for growth in the NI economic landscape for SME business owners and now we must deliver the funding mechanisms in an innovative and empathetic manner. I guess my role is to keep striving for fresh solutions that we can introduce into NI and to ensure that our own funders and investors are always ‘on the same page’ as our clients and advisers. I ensure that our team in Upstream is armed and driven to fund the growth needs of NI SMEs. I feel that I must live the brand ethos of flexibility, positivity and understanding. I am an SME business owner too – so I truly understand the challenges of building and scaling a business in NI.
What is the best part of your job?
Saying yes to a business owners plans and seeing them through from idea, to delivery and beyond. I love meeting new clients and advisory partners and working together with them to find the best solution which matches their aspirations for their business.
What aspect of your job do you find the most challenging?
I suppose, the reverse of the last answer. Sometimes we have to say no or not yet. That is disappointing but thankfully rare. In Upstream we are great believers in finding a way and structuring a solution that best meets the client’s needs for now and then we evolve that plan as the business changes and grows. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ industry because no two businesses or business owners are the same. I guess the other challenge for us is that sometimes we introduce a concept which is not from the mainstream stable – and that can force a client out of a comfort zone. However, the upside when they see it transform their business is worth the wait!
What are the key challenges facing your sector at the moment and how is your organisation responding to these issues?
The ongoing economic challenges effecting NI business growth and the cultural inertia to change and look beyond the traditional funding options. As a team we spend a lot of time focused on educating the advisory community and the business owner network that they have options and choice. As a sector, the financial service industry has come through a period of negativity and change and we must collectively rebuild confidence and trust. I think, by and large, we are succeeding but to maintain that position we must work collaboratively to support our entrepreneurs and business owners through their growth trajectory. Gone are the days of silo funding where one financial provider could or indeed should ‘do it all’.
What is the biggest goal on your agenda for the year ahead?
Rebranding following a major shareholder buy out in June 2015, moving to new premises in Linenhall Street Belfast City Centre, diversifying our product range and continued growth & expansion . Taking the decision to rename the business ‘Upstream’ was a risk I guess but so far the feedback has been positive and supportive. We want to break away from the notion that finance is dull and one dimensional and that there is little choice on these shores. We have a vibrant business community that deserves the best from local providers and the team in Upstream plan on being right at the centre of this evolution – or is it revolution?
If you had to give one piece of business advice, what would it be?
Trust your instincts – they’re rarely wrong. You will make mistakes along the way but the old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is so true. Oh and “Just do it”, ideally with a big smile on your face!
What work experience and qualifications helped you to get to your position?
A 20+ year career in business banking and all of the training we enjoyed made me the person I am today. My qualifications apart from the obligatory GCEs (that’s how old I am …) are all Bank and Finance related. No university degrees – just experience and skills learned from mentors and trusted colleagues over many years. A strong work ethic, honesty and transparency take you a long way in business – and life I guess. I certainly don’t get it right all the time, but I try to be as kind to people along the way as I can be . Surely that’s easier in the long run ?