It has been more than 25 years since Alex Hilton-Baird and his father, Alan Baird, established Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions in 1997. Through recessions, times of rapid economic growth and a pandemic, they have seen it all and today run a group of companies with dedicated teams of experienced and knowledgeable staff. Here’s the story of the Hilton-Baird Group so far, and how it all began…
Turning adversity into opportunity
It was an Autumn evening in 1991 that Alan Baird received phone call after phone call from his customers – each informing him they were going into administration and unable to pay the money they owed him – that he knew his company’s time was up.
He was the co-owner of a business which sold acoustic and thermal insulation products to sub-contractors around the UK. They had been trading for seven years and had around 80 staff on the payroll. But as the recession heaped pressure on the cash flows of SMEs across the country, a large number of his customers went out of business almost overnight, leaving thousands of pounds worth of unpaid invoices behind.
A teenage Alex was sat upstairs, and they knew things were going to be different. Alex still went to university, earning a first class degree in European Management and a Masters Degree in Economics & Politics. Alan, meanwhile, went to work for the invoice finance company which had been funding his business, where he gained a real insight into managing sales ledger risk and the importance of knowing your customers inside out.
Drawing on all of this experience, their entrepreneurial mindset and their new knowledge of the invoice finance market, they co-founded Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions during the summer Alex graduated from university with a determination to help businesses to better manage and protect their cash flow – and avoid the same pitfalls as Alan’s business.
The rest, as they say, is history.
From little acorns…
With little more than a phone, computer and a database, Alex began calling businesses from his spare bedroom, striking up conversations about their cash flows, their customer base, the challenges they were experiencing and what they might be able to achieve with enough cash available to invest.
With this information he would then introduce suitable invoice finance companies – which advance funding against the value of unpaid invoices to help businesses overcome the cash flow implications of trading on credit terms – and earned a commission from the lender where a new facility was signed. Factoring was particularly prevalent, which involves the factoring company additionally assisting with the collection of those invoices and checking the creditworthiness of customers, providing the client with additional peace of mind.
As Hilton-Baird’s client base began to grow and Alex and Alan added more invoice finance providers to the company’s panel, giving their clients even greater choice and access, it became clear that there was an opportunity to diversify and put their experience to further use. So, in 2001, both Hilton-Baird Collection Services and Hilton-Baird Audit & Survey were established to provide debt collection and audit services respectively to lenders. And so, the Hilton-Baird Group was born.
From the onset, Alex and Alan set out to build a business that was more than just the two of them, and the increase in demand for their services led to the company’s first employee being recruited and first office found in 2002, in Eastleigh, Hampshire.
By 2004, as the amount of work involved in running the business increased further, Alex recruited an Operations Manager, Ian Tramaseur. Ian became the fifth member of the team, and 18 years later continues to support Alex and Alan as Operations Director for the Group, combining this role with being Director of Hilton-Baird Collection Services.
The Group continued to go from strength to strength, with larger premises bought in Southampton in 2006 and the company growing its burgeoning reputation across the industry. And Europe, it turns out, with the Group awarded a prestigious contract in 2007 by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to deliver essential financial training and knowledge to the banks and asset based lenders of Moldova. This was an incredible achievement for the company, at a time the invoice finance market was seeing rapid growth both in the UK and across Europe.
Also in 2007, 10 years on from the company’s inception, came another significant appointment as Evette Orams joined Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions, initially as Corporate Finance Manager and soon after, Managing Director – a role she still occupies today. With 11 years’ experience in the industry, across roles in operations, sales, client management and collections, Evette brought extensive experience to the company and enabled Alex to take a more strategic position as CEO of the Group, with Alan focusing his attention on the other two companies. Evette’s appointment was also the catalyst for the company to expand its knowledge, services and panel beyond solely invoice finance, enabling the business to assist companies with a wide range of funding solutions.
The next few years saw each of the Group’s companies gain national recognition. In 2008, Hilton-Baird Collection Services was named Commercial Debt Collection Agency of the Year at the annual Credit Today Awards – the first of three triumphs in the space of four years. Then, in 2009 and 2010, Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions was voted Asset Based Finance Broker of the Year at the Business Moneyfacts Awards.
Hilton-Baird Audit & Survey, meanwhile, were engaged by the Asset Based Finance Association (which was integrated into UK Finance in 2017) to deliver the trade association’s annual audit and survey training course to industry professionals in 2008. Alan was voted Lecturer of the Year at the ABFA’s Achievers Awards in 2012 and 2016 in recognition of its quality and excellent delegate feedback.
Meanwhile, with the audit business growing rapidly, Graham Bird was appointed Audit Manager in 2010 to oversee its day-to-day management, enabling Alan to focus on larger, more complex instructions. Graham was subsequently promoted to Managing Director in 2016, and continues to drive the business forward today.
Also in 2010 came a key development in the evolution of Hilton-Baird Collection Services, as the company extended its debt collection and, later, outsourced credit control services to SME and corporate clients. Many companies were still reeling from the effects of the global financial crisis a couple of years earlier, with the problems of late payment starting to intensify. So it meant the Hilton-Baird Group became a one-stop shop for businesses in their quest to improve cash flow – both as a means to raise suitable capital and to get paid faster by customers.
The collections business saw huge demand for its services and, with the brokerage also supporting more businesses than ever, the size of the team soon passed 50 for the first time – a significant milestone in the company’s journey and evolution.
To further consolidate the Group’s position at the forefront of the industry, in 2016 both Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions and Hilton-Baird Collection Services gained full authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority, and in 2017 the Group moved to larger premises in Southampton city centre, with the potential to further expand the workforce in line with a sustained increase in demand.
Indeed, investment in the team continued with a number of appointments, including Jocelyn Duffield, Head of ABL Services, to oversee the day-to-day running of our range of collection services.
Such appointments added to the quality of the companies’ services and client satisfaction, and, in 2018, both Hilton-Baird Financial Solutions and Hilton-Baird Collection Services gained further recognition on the national stage. The brokerage was voted Invoice Finance Broker of the Year at the Business Moneyfacts Awards, winning again in 2020, 2022 and 2023, while the collections business was voted Third Party Debt Collection Team of the Year at the CICM British Credit Awards, winning again in 2019.
So here we are today, having passed a quarter of a century in business.
It’s been a fantastic journey, and one that has only been possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of our wonderful team, the unwavering support from our partners and colleagues across the industry – and, of course, our clients. We’re incredibly grateful to every business which has trusted us to support them along the way, and we honestly wouldn’t be here today without you.
We hope you can join us on the next stage of our journey.