In Person: Ian Donaldson, CEO of Atlanta Group

Ian Donaldson

In Person: Ian Donaldson, CEO of Atlanta Group

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In Person: Ian Donaldson, CEO of Atlanta Group

Growing the business

Big brand

People power

Great Expectations: The self-made broker talks about his billion pound ambitions, lifts the lid on the Swinton deal and considers his Ardonagh bosses.

“I’m never serious,” remarks Ian Donaldson, CEO of Ardonagh company Atlanta Group as he poses for photographs for this interview.

Despite this claim he now manages a business that is shifting some very serious cash. The latest Insurance Age Top 100 puts Atlanta Group – which focuses on motor business through its brands Autonet, Carole Nash and Swinton – in the £500m to £749.99m gross written premium banding and one of the Ardonagh’s star performers.

Business has been something he has worked at since he joined broker Alliance Auto Direct in one of its call centres when he was 18.

He fell into the role after a friend told him: “You’d be good at this Donno, all you have to do is talk to people.”

By the time he was 21 he’d risen through the ranks to become senior branch manager at the Newcastle-under-Lyme call centre where he first started out.

“I did tell the lady who first interviewed me that I wanted her job one day,” he remembers.

Then at 24 he took the risk of setting out to start up Autonet with business partner Glyn Keeling – that was in 1998.

He was driven to branch out after Auto Direct was bought by a bank and he felt all of his time was taken up by “meetings, meetings, meetings”.

“All the entrepreneurship went out of the role.

“Glyn asked me to join him and I said no a couple of times.”

When you are brought up with a Scottish granny you are frugal. Trust me. That is an unwritten Donaldson rule… It may seem we’re spending a fortune buying businesses but we won’t spend what we haven’t got
Ian Donaldson

At the same time he was also doing some work for Hastings around staff training.

He adds: “I was still playing semi-pro football at weekends and doing the training. And I was also getting £500 a day to train the Hastings trainers. All the while Glyn was asking me to join him.

“Eventually I agreed but I kept working with Hastings as well.”

Donaldson reveals that both men sold their houses to fund the start-up and he moved in with his gran in order to save while the company got off the ground even using the home as an office for a short period.

Donaldson fondly remembers returning to his gran’s and said it was great and he was very well looked after as he juggled setting up Autonet with his work with Hastings.

He says it is thanks to his grandmother’s upbringing that they also self-funded the business and avoided getting it into debt.

“When you are brought up with a Scottish granny you are frugal. Trust me. That is an unwritten Donaldson rule and we take it in to how we run the business now. It may seem we’re spending a fortune buying businesses but we won’t spend what we haven’t got.”

“If we’re spending a pound on something we want it to make a pound at least,” he emphasises.

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