Glenhawk CEO Guy Harrington: Let’s Fix What’s Wrong with Real Estate Lending

Written by Tom Fairey

14 March, 2022

Let’s start out with some pretty amazing numbers before I actually tell you a whole lot about Guy Harrington:

  • 2018: When his idea was hatched
  • £19.5 million initial funding from investors
  • 30 current employees
  • £160 million annually in lending

OK, now that your mind is blown, here’s his story.

Harrington grew up in Derby and attended the University of Sheffield for a few years before dropping out. He’d been reading his textbooks on property and figured he could do better on his own than sitting in a classroom. Growing up, he’d been fascinated by Monopoly, and always looked for a way to buy Mayfair — the board’s most expensive property.

“I had always found comfort in owning property or in developing and trading in property,” Harrington told me during an interview for my podcast, Back Yourself.

As a young student, Harrington had no handouts, though he has always fancied himself as an entrepreneur — someone who takes risks, looks for opportunities, and builds a business off of that.

“The best way is to learn on the job or try and self educate, and essentially, that’s what I did,” he said.

How to Win at Business: Sell Yourself

In college, he ran a small mobile phone business, buying returned phones and then selling them at a modest profit to university students. He built up a small pool of capital doing that — about £25,000 — and used that money to buy a flat in Derby. Around that time he was hired by someone he knew to work in London — where he had always wanted to be — exporting cars to Asia, though at the same time he kept his nose to the ground, looking for real estate investment opportunities. He eventually found that opportunity — a certain type of apartment that was selling at a lower price per square foot than similar nearby properties.

With the idea in hand, Harrington went looking for investors to back his project, found several who seemed interested, and launched a development business. Soon he had quit his car export job to focus on development full time.

“In business, it’s all about selling yourself, no matter what you’re trying to do,” he said.

Eventually, he found an investor with deeper pockets who helped launch his business on a broader scale.

Non-bank Lender: Short-term Borrowers Should Not Have to Pay So Many Fees

With his investment portfolio growing, Harrington was spending more time borrowing from banks. He only needed money for short periods of time, but the business was being held back by bank loan departments that took too long to get their act together and charged fees that were cutting into his profits. On top of that, no one at the banks ever seemed to understand what he was doing.

“It’s never a good situation when you know more than the lender does,” he said.

Harrington put together an experienced and talented team who were able to act dynamically and understand core customer wants in minutes, not weeks, while appreciating that every loan is unique.

And Glenhawk was born.

Glenhawk is a non-bank lender primarily for investors. Harrington found his niche market by offering a service that was transparent, fair, had fewer fees, and understood the buyer’s journey.

That business plan can issue a nine-month loan for £1 million in just five days, and sometimes faster. They charge slightly higher interest for the privilege of having fewer fees and such a quick turnaround.

As a non-bank lender, Glenhawk is not regulated like a bank but also does not hold client money. Instead, it operates as a go-between, quickly connecting investors to bank cash. 

The Secret to Battling Banks: You Have to Have Skin in the Game

Of all the industries to battle, banking must surely be one of the toughest. From his initial investment of £19.5 million, Harrington used about £16 million for lending, retaining the rest to build the business. After intense vetting, he found a bank that would loan him money for clients.

“You have to have a lot of skin in the game to start with,” Harrington said. Banks initially wanted Glenhawk to bank ventures with significant sums of its own money, though that amount gradually dropped as they gained more confidence in him. 

Key Advice When Growing: Bring in the Right People From the Start

Much of Glenhawk’s success is due to its culture, Harrington said: Creating the right culture is key for motivating people to do exceptional work.

“Culture is infectious,” he said.”If you bring in the right people at the start, it spreads.”

But you have to do that from the start, he emphasized.

“I think it’s almost impossible to put the right culture in when you have more than 30 people,” he said. You would have to change key figures and it would cause too much upset.

The Takeaway

Harrington has never been afraid to take risks. That risk-taking, and the ability to see a problem in desperate need of a solution, helped fuel a breakthrough finance solution for developers. Sure, he’d made mistakes along the way, but he does not regret them — he’s learned from them instead.

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