Steve Rigby is thinking big. Over the last ten years he has helped create over £500 million of value for his family business Rigby Group – one of the UK’s top ten wholly-owned private companies – Steve now wants to lend a hand to help build the UK.
Rigby Group is now a second-generation family business. “My father, whilst not a household name, was a top 50 entrepreneur in his generation,” says Steve. “He leaves big footsteps,” but as Steve acknowledges, it comes with advantages: “I have the beauty of experience, gleaned from my father’s successes and mistakes, coupled with my own 35 years of effort and a financial security that allows some bold decisions.”
Steve is already doing a fair amount. Among other things, he is on the Board of Family Business UK, a national judge this year for EY Entrepreneur of the Year, chair of the Rigby Foundation, and a long-term supporter of Place2Be, most recently as Chair of the charity’s development board.
These public efforts are part of Steve’s efforts to drive more long-term thinking. A recent salvo in the world of policy was on an issue particularly close to his heart: family businesses. As he wrote for The Times: “only 12 UK companies in the global 500, compared with Germany’s 78, France, with 32, and Italy, with 20. Rigby Group is one of fewer than 500 organisations with more than 250 employees to have transferred to the second generation.”
He is calling for business support programmes to help others wanting to pass on their businesses to the next generation. He also joined calls for full expensing to be made permanent (which it subsequently was at the recent Autumn Statement), and for raising the eligibility threshold for the Enterprise Investment Scheme to companies with 499 employees.
More broadly he wants to answer some chunky questions, such as: What is the ideal shape of our economy? What business mix do we want? What is the role of public markets? How do we encourage entrepreneurialism? What is the role of venture capital? Where are our universities and IP? Do we as a country embrace capitalism?
Turning to business conditions, Rigby sees profound technological change on the horizon and thinks the UK needs to be ready to deliver it. “Traditional capital investment models are changing” he says, pointing to more customer-focused technologies, focused on the users. “AI will only accelerate this change of technology, with knowledge workers likely the most affected.”
This is both an opportunity and a risk. Innovation is waiting to be facilitated but those who fail to invest in it will fall behind, while those who do will lead. Rigby wants the UK to be in the latter group of nations. That’s why he is advocating for British pension funds to be actively investing in startups and novel technologies; that’s why he wants to see more help from the Government for British innovators in their ambitions to go global; and that’s why he wants private companies to be given more room to operate in because they are better placed to put long-term thinking into practice.
Who can blame him for wanting and expecting a more bullish investment environment? In 2021, a single Canadian pension fund invested more in one UK private company than the entirety of the UK pension industry invested in all UK private companies.
As you would expect, Steve is confident that Rigby Group will remain a leader in private capital technology investment. “We intend to remain a ‘mega cap’ private company,” says Steve. “At the heart is SCC – our IT services business with revenues of £3.5 billion and 7,500 colleagues in five countries. We will also continue our private investing business, which is creating the next UK technology titans. We will support this all with our efforts on philanthropy and external affairs, ensuring we share our success and experience.”
When asked about his advice for younger entrepreneurs, he says capital and time are the most important commodities: “The better the idea, the more you can access capital and cheat time. Be clear on your product market fit, your total addressable market and your differentiation. Apply in equal measure your talent and time, but preserve yourself and your integrity.” He believes that setting a clear vision is key: “Don’t be afraid to break the norm, and whilst colleague compassion should be a consideration, leadership is about bold decisions, carving new snow and setting a clear course.”
Ultimately though, when asked about his greatest accomplishment: “Family must always be the answer. What is it all for without legacy and continuation?”