Celebrating 25 years

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Celebrating 25 years of Holborn Assets

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Holborn Assets celebrates its 25 year anniversary

1999 Dubai

“The vision for the company at that time was that we would be a small independent financial organisation – possibly with up to 20 Advisers. Here we are, 25 years later, with 200 plus advisers and 18 international offices.”

Those are the words of Holborn Assets CEO Bob Parker as he reflects on the company’s journey. But success, as we will find out, didn’t just happen by accident, nor was it a linear path.

What lies at the heart of any company that stands the test of time is a story. As Holborn Assets celebrates 25 years, this is theirs.

This is the story of how a challenging situation in the United Kingdom turned into a global financial services company.

Our story begins in 1993. During the ’90s, the UK saw the start of major regulatory change, including commission disclosure and the demise of direct sales forces. This would result in widespread casualties across the financial services sector, including the collapse of several large companies. At the time, Bob Parker was the sales director of a FTSE 100 company, with thousands of people working for him.

But overnight, everything changed. And like many in the financial services industry, after making his 2000-man sales force redundant, he also found himself out of a job. 1993 was the start of reducing direct sales advisers from over 30,000 to less than 5000 – with many leaving the industry and others moving into independent networks.

After 4 years with a Network, instead of dwelling on things, Bob decided to take a chance in a country few had heard of at the time – The United Arab Emirates.

As a child, the now COO of Holborn Assets, Simon Parker, recalls the day his Father set off to the Middle East to lay the groundwork for the next chapter for him and his family. “I remember him getting in the car, and I remember his saying, ‘I’ll see you all soon.'”

With Pauline and family waiting in anticipation in the UK – Bob arrived in Abu Dhabi without knowing anyone!

“The important thing when you arrive in a new territory is to get to know people as quickly as you possibly can,” Bob explains. At that time, the world was a very different place. Smartphones didn’t exist, and only 9% of UK households had internet access. Floppy Discs served to store data for the PC.

Snail mail and landlines were still very much in evidence. Meeting people was very much about getting into the marketplace. Connecting with people had to be done the ‘old-fashioned way’.

Bob Parker was, however, resourceful!

“In Abu Dhabi, there was a British club – it seemed a good place to start. I went to the manager and asked him if I could put a seminar on,” said Bob. “I said I would provide the chicken curry and bottles of white wine if I could just invite members of the club to come and listen to a short presentation,” he continued. Nearly 70 people attended the seminar, which he jokingly attributes to the free curry and wine. But while the free curry may have got them there, it was Bob’s seminar that helped him secure his first clients, marking the start of his business in the UAE and what would go on to become Holborn Assets.

Speaking about the inception of Holborn Assets, CEO Simon Parker said: “When Bob started (Holborn), he wanted to create something that put the client first, and he wanted to build it for the people inside the company. This is why we said integrity and respect for all – that’s both internal and external.” With a strong company culture and a growing business, it was time for Holborn to find a new home.

Holborn was an MBO from FINEXCO, a subsidiary of the South African company Old Mutual. In July 1994, the MBO was complete, and the move was made to Dubai.

“This is where it all started,” said Bob as he approached the Pyramid Centre in Dubai to revisit the all-too-familiar building. He reflected fondly on the company’s time at the iconic building and what it meant for Holborn’s growth. “It’s fair to say this is where Holborn matured. It moved from being a child through its teenage years and on to maturity. By the time we were leaving here, we were an established company.” But to get to the next level, Holborn needed to find the missing piece of the puzzle. And they found it in Bob’s brother, Philip Parker, a seasoned corporate CEO and Chairman.

Speaking about his childhood and relationship with his brother Bob, or Robert as he is known to the family, Philip Parker, now Chairman Emeritus at Holborn Assets, said: “We went to the same Boarding school from a very early age. I was always given a pat on the back for doing the right thing, whereas Robert tended towards the opposite. The conventional me and rebellious Robert worked together very well, and we are, and have always been, very close.” And work well together they did.

Philip gave the company a sense of corporate discipline that had been missing. As Simon Parker states, he ‘fundamentally changed’ how Holborn operated. Most importantly, he drew on his years of experience working in large corporate environments to add clear lines of communication and structure. “As we grew, it was important to have some structures; otherwise, things can become chaotic. So, that is what we did,” explains Philip. The rest, as they say, is history.

Holborn grew in every aspect. The company upgraded its offices, moving into the Al Shafar Tower in Barsha Heights. It also grew financially year after year, putting Holborn in the financial position to absorb the top team from a major competitor – Globaleye. But perhaps, just as importantly, Holborn had cultivated an outstanding reputation within the industry, allowing them to recruit the best talent from the UAE.

Statistically, the chances of a business failing are high. Nearly 19% of businesses fail within the first year, and only a quarter (25%) make it past the 15-year mark. However, for the last 25 years, Holborn has flourished. Their accolades include 25 international offices, 18 regulated licenses, 500 employees, and $2 billion assets under management.

That begs the question: What is the key to success? Bob, Simon, and Philip all bring something different to the table. While their styles and approaches may differ, their answer to that question is unanimous – ‘people’.

“The biggest challenge to growth in any business is the people resources you have; it’s always about people—finding the right people and then managing the right people,” explains Philip.

Bob Parker echoes this sentiment: “What is important is when you find people who are good, you retain them. You do that through the (company) culture, training people, caring about them, caring about their lives. Making sure they’ve got a future, where are they going, helping them to grow.”

Despite the changing landscape and the world becoming increasingly digitised, it is human beings that remain at the heart of the company. “Holborn will always be a people business. With technology, AI, and changes in compliance and regulation, what will never change is us being a people business and a family business. One that cares deeply about who we are and the journey we are on together,” said Simon.

He finished with a simple but poignant statement: “The people are Holborn, and Holborn are its people.”

At 25, Holborn has reached early adulthood. But this is not the end; it’s just the start of the next chapter. Here’s to the next 25 years.

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