Nothing can beat the combination of diversity, humility, and collaboration.
Harry Harrison is the former head of Barclays Non-Core in London, having held the position from 2014 through 2017. Harrison worked in investment and trading at Barclays for over 20 years. He holds a Master of Philosophy in Finance from University of Cambridge and a BS in Economics of University of Warwick.
Harrison currently resides in New York. He is married to Amy Nauiokas, the founder and president of the digital financial services investment and advisory firm Anthemis Group.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
It all started with a strong curiosity about how companies work – how they translate a business model or idea from theory into practice, at a micro level – and then how that interacts with the macroeconomic forces that make markets function (or not). I chose to study economics for A-level in school and then as my major in college, and then I went straight on to Cambridge University for graduate work in finance. At that point, it was very hard to imagine a career in anything but financial services. That was 28 years ago. Since then, I spent many years as a derivatives trader, and then managed teams of fixed income sales and trading traders.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
For once, this answer isn’t a cop-out – but I don’t have a typical day right now. My last job at Barclays was winding down $110 billion worth of businesses that the bank didn’t want to be in anymore. And when we were done, I saw a great opportunity to take a break and explore the world outside of a large financial institution. So far, that’s meant a lot of different things. I’ve loved being a stay-at-home dad. There’s never been more variety in my life than in the stream of field trips, homework assignments, upset stomachs, sprained wrists, and playdates that occupy the calendar of a 5 and 8 year old. I’ve also tried yoga and pilates, and I’m trying to get better at golf and French (not so successfully – yet). I’m also dramatically increasing my bedside stack of books (and the figurative one full of podcasts). I’m really enjoying spending time with entrepreneurs, taking on a number of consulting/advising roles in venture capital, financial technology, and private equity. The entrepreneur I’ve spent the most time with is my wife, whether at film festivals where she’s premiering movies, or on top of a mountain in France where she’s leading a retreat on the future of financial services.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Nothing can beat the combination of diversity, humility, and collaboration. I’ve found that ideas are only as strong as the amount of diversity (intellectual, experiential, ethnic, geographic), humility (clear-eyed view of limitations, individual and collective), and collaboration (internal and external) within the team that’s advancing them. A lot of big ideas, particularly in financial services, are so different and innovative that one bank cannot carry the load for the whole industry. I think I and my colleagues have sometimes fallen short in that area. I witnessed this firsthand at Barclays as we led the way in electronic trading in fixed income markets, particularly in electronic derivative trading and later in derivative clearing.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m riveted by what’s happening to financial services in the Information Age. There are all these new, creative companies emerging that are what I consider “fintech adjacent.” Perhaps they’re not straightforwardly fintech, but their products and services rely on underlying market efficiency or have insurance industry applicability.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I try and tackle things as they arise, avoiding prevaricating and long to-do lists. This, of course, requires prioritizing what is critical versus required and effectively delegating to others. Not everything can be solved or closed out in a day, but it should be possible to constantly move forward on a broad range of items, as long as the team all understand the prioritization of tasks and the expected close out date.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To enjoy the journey as much as the results of your effort. I’ve always been very results-oriented, whether regarding exam results, sports teams, industry polls, etc. While I’ve probably done a decent jobs of remembering to “celebrate the good times” when we made major breakthroughs, I think there were a lot of times when I could have enjoyed more of the daily steps and interactions along the way to the end goal.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Every year, I believe that this could be West Ham United’s year in the Premier League. Amazingly, even among supposedly like-minded supporters, this doesn’t elicit universal agreement, even in the East End of London!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’m a late-in-life convert to yoga. Various sports coaches and doctors have recommended it to me over the years on the back of pretty poor flexibility. My wife Amy, who has an incredible, long-established practice, also had been suggesting it. While she agreed it would help reduce the weekend warrior injuries that were starting to stack up, she also believed the more spiritual side, particularly the breathing and meditation, would help me navigate the stresses of work and family life more effectively. So I’ve thrown myself into it this year and I’m really enjoying both the physical and mental development I’m experiencing.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I’ve always believed in the benefits of innovation. This strategy was particularly successful when I was transferred to New York with Barclays in 2003 to try to establish us as a major player in the U.S. rates market. It was clear that trying a copycat strategy was not going to work, as the dominant U.S. investment banks were already providing massive liquidity to a very well-established client base that they had serviced for many years across multiple fixed income products. They also had very strong relationships across all levels of the institutions. At Barclays, we had developed a very strong electronic trading capability in Europe and, while electronic bond trading was gaining a foothold in the U.S., no one had the desire to disrupt the cosy status quo existing in the “voice” or “over the counter” interest rate swaps market. This was an ideal opportunity for Barclays to differentiate itself while also providing the clients with a service we were confident they would benefit from. Fundamental to the success was the belief that this was where the industry was going, so being brave enough to go there first (while not making us any friends among the incumbent U.S. players) allowed us a foothold into the market. That foothold allowed us to quickly become the dominant player as we lead the way and converted clients to this new form of execution. It was fun seeing firsthand how a disrupter can fundamentally change a marketplace.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Well, an area where I want to improve is learning to communicate my own story as a leader, thinker, and manager. That’s part of the reason why I’m writing this now. Over almost 30 years in financial services, I’ve been privileged to build a successful and meaningful career with a broad but deep network of colleagues, collaborators, and clients. I think I know what they’d say about me, both personally and professionally – but I want to say more about myself and all I’ve learned and achieved in my career so far, especially as I think about the next stage of my professional adventure.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Building on the theme of fintech adjacency, I’d encourage readers and investors to appreciate some very interesting startups, giving particular attention to the companies Flo, KWH, and Trov.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I had family visiting me in New York from the UK the last week of August, so I tried looking at availability for tickets to the US Open. I wasn’t hopeful; in the UK, getting tickets for Wimbledon is hard, and getting tickets for centre court is nigh on impossible. I was very pleasantly surprised, though, to find that, in the first week of the Open, tickets are readily available through Ticketmaster. You could even get day tickets for the Arthur Ashe stadium for $80. Now, when you get there, you realise why – 95 degree temperature, very high humidity, and seats in the East Stand that are in blazing sunshine all afternoon. Since only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, though, this really wasn’t a problem for us! Better still, once you leave the main stadium, your ticket allows you to roam the back courts and concessions all evening and, given it’s the first week, some superstars and up and comers were playing on them. Thoroughly recommend this as a day out if you can manage the heat; how the players cope I have no idea.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I love Waze. I think its way ahead of every other navigation app out there. The way that it crowdsources information from its (passionate!) user base to constantly update and reroute as traffic conditions change is remarkable. I’ve even figured out a way to use it to bother my family – I recorded the navigation directions in my own voice!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Banks have massive suggested readings lists and, among the typical list of Liar’s Poker, Bonfire of the Vanities, etc., I would throw The Little Engine That Could onto ours – in large part to get the cheap laugh, but also because I liked the fundamental message it had for a new entrant to a large organisation and industry. Over the years, many books have had a real impact on my thinking and work. Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead is a great example from the 1990s, with the sheer scale of the vision and changes he saw coming. A major benefit of taking a break from working is that I’m reading much more. I’ve tried to diversify my book selections over this period, but most recently I’ve found myself gravitating to books that look at the major, seismic changes happening in society across the globe, particularly in the current geopolitical environment. The two most recent (and most worrying) are Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges and The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani.
What is your favorite quote?
“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie