“Boutique” is perhaps an inadequate description for a trade services company turning over US$1bn and with a presence in four continents. For the first time, independent trade services specialist Falcon Group broke through the US$1bn turnover barrier in FY 2008, but there are no plans for the company to pause for breath.
“The aim is to be a US$5bn company within three to five years,” says Will Nagle, CEO. “This seems like a big jump but it is no greater leap than reaching US$1bn – and they say the first billion is the hardest!”
Yet this was no land-grab at the cost of profitability, which jumped by 342% to US$24mn in 2008 – an achievement both Nagle and chairman Kamel Alzarka are justly proud of.
“The bottom line is always the critical line for us so we have exceeded our own expectations,” says Nagle. “We also achieved these record results in a period when trading conditions continued to deteriorate. Of course, we are a company geared towards maximising the opportunities that difficult markets present but, nonetheless, this requires an immense amount of due diligence. It also requires us to remain nimble and skilled in order to develop and manage those opportunities.”
Ironically, Nagle describes much of the previous 13 months as a period of consolidation from the fast-paced gains of the past five years, although the company still managed to open an office in the Americas for the first time – in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This was followed by an office opening in Miami, Florida earlier this year.
“We now have a firm foothold in the Americas and see it as another growth area, after our successful openings in Asia in 2007 and our firmly established position in the Middle East,” says Nagle. “Miami, with its multi-billion dollar trade finance industry is often seen as a gateway between North and South America and therein lies the attraction for Falcon.
We have been looking to position the company within the busy trade finance hub for the past two years. Yet, as with all our office openings, we waited until we were sure that we had the correct person on the ground – in the form of our new country manager Francisco Miralles – before committing to the region. He and Daniel Issa in Brazil now provide strong coverage for Falcon in the Americas.”
So has the “boutique” description become inadequate?
“We don’t call ourselves a boutique, although we remain an independent provider of trade services so we don’t reject the term,” says Nagle. “We continue to provide bespoke structured solutions for a wide variety of clients throughout the global trade services market. Indeed, Falcon has always shied away from off-the-shelf products, preferring to structure deals that provide added value, as well as make us stand apart from the competition.”
Indeed, since its foundation in 1996, Falcon Group’s organic growth has always been based on seizing the opportunities presented by market conditions, with the current situation a definite boon.
“During the current market dislocation, Falcon has been able to step into the breech,” says Nagle. “Meanwhile, strong relationships with global financial institutions have allowed us to make the most of opportunities that more constrained players have to turn aside. Falcon has always operated just beyond the capabilities of the traditional players in any market, so if those capabilities recede – for whatever reason – we advance.”
Certainly, Falcon is now being recognised as a major player in the trade service arena. The company recently underwent a major branding overhaul, emerging with a new monochrome logo and website that complements the company’s late-2008 move to the iconic 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London (‘the Gherkin’).
“The move not only positioned us within the heart of the City of London, it gave us the space to house our growing back- office – allowing us to include additional integral back-office processes in-house,” says Nagle.