This is an interview with Grant Ferguson, CEO at Unsecured Funding Source.
Where were you at 22, and how did you get to where you are today?
Driving my Dad crazy, galavanting around Europe, touring with a rock band, learning Swedish and German and generally enjoying a misspent youth! However, I eventually decided to take a crack at “adulting” and finished my education with an MBA from Bradford in the UK at around 27. I returned to the US, got involved in several start-ups, then I did a stint as Brand Manager at MCI (now Verizon). Together with a colleague I met there we started a pan-European call center, achieving Irish fast company status in the mid-90s. We sold to a larger firm pursuing a rollup strategy and stood poised for the coveted “cash out.” Following “accounting irregularities” and a failed IPO, I was left with nothing but a few worthless stock certs to show for 8 years of sweat and tears.
Economic necessity drove me back into the corporate womb where, over the course of the next decade, I achieved significant success; various director roles, VP of a major bank and a stint as CMO of a travel company. But I couldn’t escape who I really was; my very nature chafed against the politics, territorialism, conformity and lack of creativity common in large corporations. I kept trying to get back out – trying various start-up ventures and side-hustles. Nothing stuck. And as time went on, the risk profile had shifted – I had a lot more to lose and knew what every entrepreneur hates to admit: start-ups have a notoriously high failure rate. So I began to focus on something he hadn’t considered much before – acquisition entrepreneurship.
By buying an already operating firm with growth opportunities, I could satisfy my entrepreneurial spirit in a less risky environment. So, in my 50s, I left a successful consulting career, cashed in the 401k and become CEO of UFS, a niche lending company which — ironically enough — helps entrepreneurs like me find the money they need to buy a business. My takeaway thus far: you can try to play it safe but the truth is, you don’t choose to be an entrepreneur, it chooses you.
Thanks for sharing! When did you really decide to “take ownership” of your career? What inspired you to pursue your passion?
At some point during my consulting career, I really had an epiphany that the only truly limited resource is not money, but time. I think the confluence of frustration with corporate hierarchy, lack of true autonomy and the resounding, undeniable realization that time was indeed actually running out were the catalysts that led me to take that leap.
All good career stories include some aspect of “risk.” Was there a moment in your career where you felt that you were risking something, but looking back on it now, that move made all the difference?
Absolutely. I’ve often said that the good and comfortable can be the enemy of the best. For me, there has been a trade-off between security and self-fulfillment. Leaving the corporate world was risky (and foolhardy, according to some), but it set me on a path of no return.
Where do you find significance in your work? What gives you the most satisfaction?
Taking something – a business, idea, team, brand, whatever – and it transforming it and/or growing the heck out of it. It’s been a common thread throughout my career – I love to bring innovation, leadership, strategic thinking and execution chops to really change and grow the status quo.
How do you measure success in your role? How do you know you’re succeeding?
First and foremost, are we pleasing our customers? Are we meeting their needs and adding value all the way along their journey with us? Are we growing and deepening our strategic alliances and partnerships? And does our Brand stand for something meaningful? All the other traditional financial success metrics and KPIs flow from these things.
If you could offer your 22-year old self one piece of advice, what would you say?
Enjoy touring Europe and don’t worry about what your Dad says!