How Cleckheaton boss Alex Beardsley has overcome hurdles to show a human side to finance

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From wanting to create a better life for herself and her family, Alex Beardsley moved into the world of finance and became a voice for the region’s firms, writes Ismail Mulla.

It’s fair to say that Alex Beardsley didn’t have the easiest of starts to her career.

The joint managing director of Cleckheaton-based corporate finance broker, ABL Business, had her first child at the age of 16.

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But rather than seeing it as a setback, it spurred Ms Beardsley on to get the education she needed to provide a better life for both herself and her daughter.

Alex Beardsley is the joint managing director of Cleckheaton-based finance broker ABLAlex Beardsley is the joint managing director of Cleckheaton-based finance broker ABL
Alex Beardsley is the joint managing director of Cleckheaton-based finance broker ABL

She pursued a career in marketing because “I knew I’d get a job at the end of it”, Ms Beardsley says.

After working for a range of businesses and setting up her own, Ms Beardsley would end up in the world of finance.

The irony of this shift is not lost on Ms Beardsley. In order to get into university she had to retake her maths GCSE three times.

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She said: “We’ve just advised on a £30m deal. The deals that we’re getting involved in are massive.

“For me it was a block, I just couldn’t get the GCSE. It’s because I’m firmly in the grey. I don’t understand matters black or white.

“Life has shown me that you failed it three times but you got it in the end and look what you’ve done.”

The biggest challenge for Ms Beardsley has been overcoming her own doubts. “I’ve realised that my harshest critic is probably me,” she says.

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She has always strived to prove people wrong and that led to her successfully pursuing a string of qualifications and even a stint as a lecturer at university.

Ms Beardsley said: “I used to joke that I needed a business card that folded out to put all the letters on after my name because I had a thirst for knowledge.

“I felt like nobody took me seriously. That probably was wrong. Because I had my daughter at 16, I’d always been trying to prove something.”

She teamed up with Andy Redman in November 2013 to set up ABL Business.

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Mr Redman had the finance expertise, while Ms Beardsley brought her ability to make complex finance simple to the table.

“The move into finance was quite natural because when people are looking for finance they want to know that it’s the right finance,” Ms Beardsley says.

In fact, Ms Beardsley’s strategic approach to marketing had seen her butt heads with clients over her desire to know more about the company’s finances.

However, for the joint managing director of ABL, understanding finance is “marketing at its highest level”.

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It’s the strategic perspective that separates ABL Business, which today has 13 staff, from other brokers, Ms Beardsley believes.

Rather than just ticking the box for a loan, if that is what a client feels they need, ABL will examine all the options for them.

The most difficult thing about founding ABL has been trying to avoid getting sucked into running the business like other commercial finance brokers.

“We realised that what makes us different is exactly what makes us strong and we now just focus on that,” Ms Beardsley says.

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The entrepreneur has an affinity for her staff and wants ABL to be a positive place to work for them.

She said: “Everybody feels involved in the business. It’s a nice place to come. The worst thing for me would be somebody thinking on a Sunday night that I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.”

While working for a business in the early part of her career, Ms Beardsley witnessed a lot of managers “not being human about things”.

“Our goal is to be human with clients, partners and staff,” she says. “We’re all just trying to get along with things, so just be human.”

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Ms Beardsley is also a keen advocate for giving young people a chance. A lot of her team have been apprentices and worked their way up.

Rather than looking for skills or experience, she believes having people with the right personality is more important.

“You hire the right personality and then train for skills later,” Ms Beardsley says.

She added: “For me, the most important thing is the younger people. That might relate back to me. People saying you’re too young to have a child or you’re too young to set up a business.”

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Earlier this year, Ms Beardsley was elected regional councillor for the CBI. It has given her a unique perspective on the economic situation currently facing businesses.

She doesn’t feel a recession is likely to be prolonged and that many businesses are still buoyant.

Speaking about her role as regional councillor of the CBI, Ms Beardsley said: “I really want to give businesses in the North a voice. I want to make sure that all of the decisions are not made in Whitehall. I want to make sure that even the smallest business gets heard.”

While Ms Beardsley is content with what she has achieved so far in her role as joint managing director of ABL, she is “not finished yet”.

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“I don’t feel I’ve finished with the business that I set out to do,” she says. “That’s to create a business that is sustainable and also breaks the mould of the commercial finance brokerage industry.”

In relaying her journey, Ms Beardsley becomes emotional and her voice starts to break. She concedes that raising a child at the age of 16 wasn’t easy.

Ms Beardsley said: “It seems like an absolute age ago now because my daughter is 18 and she’s going off to university herself. It was tough. I lived on my own in a council flat in Wyke with Ella.

“I found out I was pregnant during my GCSEs, I did my GCSEs and then went to work in a factory for a year. It was a printing and fulfilment factory in Wyke. I worked there for a year in order to get some money and then I went back to college the September after. I actually think having Ella gave me an advantage. It was tough but it gave me the drive, which others didn’t have.”

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Her advice to anyone in a similar situation is to “believe in yourself and go for it”.

She said: “It will be difficult. There will be obstacles along the way but people will also help. I’ve met some absolutely amazing people that have supported me and believed in me.”

In setting out to create a better life for her family, Ms Beardsley has also helped improve those of others as well.

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