‘Want success? Don’t stop asking ‘why’’

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Emmanuel Johnson Market Financial Solutions

“You can’t be successful in business without taking risks. It’s really that simple,” Adena Friedman, Nasdaq CEO reportedly said. Finance is a game of risk, and these are riskier times than usual. But Market Financial Solutions’s underwriter Emmanuel Johnson will be the judge of that.

His mantra to weighing up the competing priorities in his job is “ask questions so you have a good understanding of what you are doing and more importantly why – when you understand the ‘why’ you are better equipped to make decisions”.

MFS managed an impressive 2020 in the face of the once-in-a-generation onslaught of disruptions brought on by Covid-19. According to the lender it lent £22m in bridging in December, after lending £45m in November despite that month’s lockdown, rounding off one of its strongest years on record.

Standing behind these lending decisions is Johnson. “Covid-19 and lockdowns are the biggest challenges in my industry right now, but I believe our business is well placed to be able to weather the challenges,” he says. “We have working partners that share the same goals and have robust business models that ensure they play their role in keeping things moving forward,” he adds.

So it seems. Last August MFS launched its Covid-19 recovery fund – a £60m pot of available capital to ensure loans can be issued quickly to those at risk of a transaction falling through. Based on the success of this initiative, MFS will continue topping up its recovery fund in Q1 2021.

When he’s not deciding the fate of borrowers, Johnson spends his time tracking the title chances of Manchester United – (currently at 2/11 or a 15% likelihood to win the Premier League with William HIll, not exactly a safe bet there Emmanuel) – and travelling, something so many of us are missing during the coronavirus restrictions.

“Love getting away with the family when we are allowed! I love to get on aeroplanes, that for me is the holiday, the rest hopefully involves hibernating in a nice hotel all inclusive,” he says.

Contrary to many others who “fell into” finance, Johnson studied his way in, doing a Business, Marketing and Finance degree at Middlesex University, before kicking off his career at Royal Bank of Scotland.

“I started in retail banking and worked my way through the ranks in the branch from cashier to manager,” Johnson says. After banking he worked for Hays, recruiting for investment banks, then worked in the debt side of finance at Omega Financial Services, before joining MFS in 2019 as an underwriter.

Despite an academic background in finance his advice to new recruits is “be prepared to learn”, a nod to the value of listening to the experience of others even if you think you have a good grounding in a subject.

Were there any barriers to entry he had to overcome? “None to be honest, God has clearly had an eye on me and I have always found favour where I have been,” says Johnson, who attributes his success to working hard and always having “been true to myself”.

Finance is often misconstrued as a money business, when really, like most other sectors, it is a people business, something Johnson knows well.

“What I love most about my job is being able to assist people, every purchase, refinance, and equity release has a purpose and means something to the client, therefore being able to support that is fulfilling,” he says.

He’s not averse to a bit of self-care too though. “I’m an avid eater of any snacks I can find in the office, which means I have to be a keen gym goer as well,” he admits. The struggle is real.