Grant Farnell’s Biography

By Chancellor

Many people in our industry seek to find a deep-rooted reason as to why they became a Financial adviser. Many may be able to pinpoint a specific event or theme in their lives which brought them down this path. For me, it does feel like it is merely a series of happy coincidences and “sliding door” moments (named after the Hollywood movie of the same name) that have brought me into an industry and a role which I enjoy and get a great sense of self-fulfilment from.

I was born at my grandparents’ home in Hipperholme near Halifax and I have a brother who is 20 months older than me. We got on like most siblings who are relatively close in age, with a mixture of support and friendship intermingled with periods of rivalry and arguments. For two people who were brought up in the same family we are in many ways, polar opposites! My brother was very artistic and could turn himself to any kind of practical work, whereas I was more academic at school. Our Dad had attended Bradford art college before becoming a Lithographic Re-toucher,  a title which he always used with great pride throughout his life, even if I didn’t really understand entirely what he did. On a part time basis, he painted murals, primarily for bars and restaurants, which helped to give us foreign holidays and those little extras when we were younger, which I think my brother and I very much took for granted. My mum worked as well as raising us in a traditional family unit although she was certainly the driving force and chief organiser behind the family and kept my brother and I on the right track.

As was expected of me, I passed my eleven plus exam and went to the local all-boys Grammar school where I was introduced to rugby union – a game I would play throughout my life until I got to old, slow and injured to continue!

I was a reasonably capable student, but nothing outstanding and I didn’t really see the need to be. The school was very old fashioned in both its approach and its facilities and I decided rather than stay on to sixth form, I would instead to go to the local college, where I chose to study Business Studies, in part because I had been very interested in economics which I had studied at school. College was a real culture shock for me in that nobody was going to manage your life and discipline you, so if you didn’t attend lessons or didn’t do the work assigned, it was entirely your choice. At school, I didn’t need to be self-motivated because the result of any school master making any form of negative comment to my parents would have resulted in pressure coming to bear from both directions. At college, my lecturers didn’t seem particularly bothered, I am sure this isn’t true, but it was how it felt at the time. This did make me think for the first time that if I did want to get anything out of this or life that I had to put effort in under my own steam and I could hear myself starting to believe some of the things that my Dad in particular had been badgering me about for years.

Having passed my course at college, I didn’t have the faintest idea what I wanted to do but I did however have a Saturday job at my then girlfriend’s father’s business which produced frozen gâteaux and cakes and he offered me a role there managing the packing department.

Having been to an all-boys grammar school it was once again a culture shock that put me outside my comfort zone managing and working with perhaps 40 women of all ages and backgrounds and there was very little contact with other males. During my time there, I redesigned the way the packing department operated by instigating a process which allowed everyone to finish early if they had done their work, some of the management felt this was wrong because they were not working their full hours but still getting paid. It was, however, something of a win win situation with the employees getting to go home early whist still getting paid – plus the company was getting more and more of the products packed because the workers were so motivated to get the work done so that they could get away earlier.

I have always looked for win win situations throughout life as I feel that these are the most successful relationships and certainly something that I apply to the Chancellor business. The gateaux business was eventually sold to an organisation in the North East and I was asked to move with the company and manage a shift within a purpose-built factory. Whilst I had already met my future wife Dawn at the original factory, she was also asked to move as one of the key workers and we got to know each other far more during our stay in Hartlepool.

For one reason or another the role didn’t work out and after about 6 months I handed in my notice and returned home. I applied for a job working for a finance company selling credit facilities to retailers so that they could offer these terms to their customers. Once again, a real change in culture and for the first time I was entering an environment where I was meeting lots of new people and needed to understand their motivation and build strong relationships and I seemed to be reasonably successful and certainly enjoyed the role whilst I was learning and growing as a person. After about 3 years, however, I felt that there was no real progression or development within the company and even though I was only probably 22 at the time, I felt I needed another challenge and amongst the other roles I applied for was a role as a Life inspector with Eagle Star insurance. Having been through the interview process, I did not really understand what the job was or what I would be doing, but I was quite impressed by the company and the process that they had been through and so I accepted the job that was really my entry into our industry. Like many others, including my colleagues at Chancellor Dave Heaton and Dave Torkington, our foundations were based upon the very thorough and exacting training that was given to us whilst working for these life assurance companies.

I was by now engaged to Dawn who had also returned from the North East. I like to think that this was because of me, but she is a real home girl!! The agreement with Eagle Star was that when their trainees completed the intensive training course that we were all put through, that we would be assigned to any “patch” where there was a vacancy. Whilst I had trained in both the Leeds and Manchester offices, I was assigned a patch working out of Cardiff and covering the eastern part of South Wales. Dawn was, to say the least, less than impressed and it took a significant amount of persuasion and a promise to return North at the end of 5 years if we had not settled, to gain her agreement to come with me. Dawn gave up her job, we got married, we bought our first house and moved straight in there when we returned from our honeymoon.

Dawn had always insisted that she did not want to have kids and I was relaxed on the subject, particularly as I was only 23 years old, however, within 18 months we had our first son Sam and almost 5 years to the day Dawn held me to my promise and we moved back north and have lived in the village where Dawn was born and raised, ever since. At that point we had our second son, Jack. By then, so that we were be able to move back to Yorkshire, I had taken a role with a different insurance company. I then felt that it was time for me to make the big change to become a financial adviser myself, as I felt that I was more knowledgeable and competent than many of the intermediaries that I looked after. Like the routes that both Dave H and Dave T had taken with their careers, it seemed like a natural progression for me, too.

I joined Fairmount in 1998 and began undertaking a joint role of Business Development as well as providing advice to clients and this is where I met John Smallridge, with whom I was to go on and establish Chancellor. David Heaton and several of the administrative staff that I am pleased to employ as part of the Chancellor team also worked there. I was very happy in my role at Fairmount and quickly established myself however, the company was sold to a private bank and investment manager and the underlying culture of the business changed quite quickly. Whilst my role also moved on a pace, I was promoted to the point where I was responsible for the northern financial planning and pension business and I was a member of the national risk, compliance and management boards and was being remunerated handsomely. I just did not feel comfortable with the culture it was very much focused on what the business needed, how the business was going to grow and how it could make more money and I think that they had lost sight of the fact that a business needs to keep at its heart the fact that any arrangement needs to be a win win situation – something I had learnt in the gateaux factory all those years before! I was now 37 years of age and was questioning myself as to whether this was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. On the home front, Dawn’s view on having children had really turned around and having had a break of 9 years we had had our third son Matt who was just 1 year old and therefore there was the added pressure of having another mouth to feed. Saying that, I couldn’t shake the fact that I was not really enjoying my role any longer and as I knew I had 12-month garden leave ahead I handed in my notice with no real plans of what to do next – I just knew I didn’t want to continue as things were. The very next week I got another surprise, Dawn was pregnant with our fourth (and might I add last) child, Summer. We were both convinced we would have another boy, but it did kind of feel right having a girl in the family, especially for Dawn as she was getting a little outnumbered. It was nice to have those months of garden leave together with my family and sharing time, in a way that many dads don’t always get. Equally, I knew I had a large family to support and as my Dad would have told me, I knew I needed to “pull my finger out”.     

A few short weeks later John Smallridge announced he was leaving too and David Heaton left soon after. I met up with John and Dave a few weeks later and John suggested that even though, by that point he was 60 years of age, he was not ready to hang up his boots, so to speak, and he wondered if we should look to set something up ourselves. Dave H wanted to take a completely different path at this time and got a great job with one of Britain’s biggest Employee Benefit consultancies, but I was excited at the prospect of building something for myself, particularly as I could then shape this company into what I felt I would want it to be. So, in May 2006 Chancellor Financial Management Ltd was born and our first employee Janet Barlow, who I am pleased to say is still with us today, was taken on. The understanding was that she may not be too busy at the start as, of course, we did not know how quickly or indeed if the business would grow. We need not have worried.  

John and I worked hard to get things off the ground and at the heart of our business was an ethos that anything that we did, had to be for the benefit of our clients, that we will remain fiercely independent, meaning that there are no conflicts of interest and that our interests are aligned entirely with those of our clients.

David Torkington, who is my fellow Director and David Heaton, whom I had worked with at Fairmount joined the business in 2009 and together with the rest of the Chancellor team, we have continued to grow. It seems incredible that almost 15 years have now passed.

My eldest son, Sam joined the business 5 years ago now, although I am still at pains to point out to him, that he should focus on doing a job which makes him happy and fulfilled, rather than feeling that he owes any form of obligation to me or the business. He also understands that he has to work hard to make himself and his role successful. I just want all my kids to be happy in what they do. Jack is a Graphic Designer, following in his Grandad’s footsteps it appears. Matt and Summer are still at school, but the fact that Matt towers over us all at the age of 16 makes me feel old. Summer is growing into a proper young woman, which is quite scary. Dawn and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this year, or rather we will do if we can come out of the current restrictions; it might have to be a family Zoom quiz again instead!! I am not going to be the one to tell Dawn though.             

We have built a very strong team of individuals within our business and I hope and expect that they all see themselves as important members of the Chancellor family. We will be launching a new Chancellor brand to celebrate our 15th year in business and my one regret is that my friend and colleague John Smallridge is no longer with us to be able to share our success or to enjoy his retirement, which he never really got to do. For those of you that didn’t know John, he passed away very suddenly on the eve of his 70th birthday. We also sadly lost another colleague and friend Karen, who was an amazing receptionist from the Fairmount days and the very early days of Chancellor, until her untimely death in 2019.     It is a constant reminder that we cannot know what the future holds for us and, so, making the most of the time that we have with our families, friends and colleagues is important. I love what I do at Chancellor and my family quite often poke fun at the fact that I really enjoy work – but it is part of who I am.