Tony Banks: In the business of caring
WRITTEN BY: Matthew Staff
Throughout his life; consisting of numerous career changes, significant life affirming moments, and complex challenges, Tony Banks has maintained one overriding ethos: to care for his fellow man. Whether it was on the battlefield in the Falklands or in relation to his thriving Balhousie Care Group, it is this core outlook on life that has made him one of the most successful businessmen in the UK, and such a personable character to talk to.
Don’t let the friendly persona fool you though. Alongside his warm-hearted nature exists a cut-throat eye for success, and a determination to achieve each goal he has ever set for himself. “I spot opportunities and when I see one I’m willing to take risks,” he declares.
“It’s all about having that eye for spotting opportunities and I think it’s an entrepreneurial thing. Others can’t see it, but I can.”
TA over BA
The long and diverse journey that has taken Banks to where he sits today began as a teenager when he made the controversial decision to quit his University degree in accounting and to join the army.
He recalls: “I initially joined the Territorial Army to supplement my grant and get some extra cash, but ultimately I enjoyed the TA more than the BA.
“I saw it as a challenge and as an 18 year old guy, it was just something I had to get out of my system.”
Despite this, Banks never felt that this would become his career path and following the arduous training, he was firmly in the belief that he had trained for job he would never have to do. As he explains though, “Little did I know that six to eight months later I’d be involved in the Falklands War”.
The idea of being a ‘bean counter’ for the rest of his life had filled him with dread and horror at University, but the genuine dread and horror experienced on the battlefield turned out to give the Scot more life experience and mental toughness than he could have ever received in the classroom.
“When you survive that situation you very much count your lucky stars and think ‘I’m not going to waste another day.’ Life’s too short.”
A knack for business
Upon leaving the army, Banks turned his attentions back to studying; this time with a physiotherapy degree in mind. Once again though, circumstances shaped a change in direction, in what proved to be the unveiling of Tony Banks: The Businessman.
“A friend of mine said ‘my wife works for an insurance company, why don’t you go along and see what happens.’ The guy there said ‘if you make four or five appointments a day, you’ll earn a grand a month’, and this was back in ’86. I followed a formula and was very successful.”
Needless to say, physiotherapy seemed a much less appealing option once the money began rolling in, and Banks thrived off the daily challenges that the business world presented.
“Coming from the army which was a very secure environment and very structured, to the life insurance business which is commission only was a big change. If you don’t sell, you don’t eat, so that was a very different environment.”
Balhousie Care Group
As Banks looks back, he reveals that his boss then shot himself in the foot upon relocating him to Croydon in South London. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally, as the case may be), Banks and his then wife suddenly felt a move back to Scotland was in order.
“Her being a nurse and me understanding a fair bit about business and properties, we thought the Balhousie Care Group would be the ideal start for a family business.
“We built our first property with a bit of inheritance and some money that we’d saved; we built this first property and refurbished it with the help of a bank loan. It was ideal.”
For the first 12 years, the Group went through the motions without much innovation, but following a self-confessed mid-life crisis, Banks re-assessed and began the revolutionary development now displayed in all its glory across the North of Scotland today.
“I could see a lot of rubbish in the industry, I saw people come and go, I could see people going bankrupt. People didn’t care about the individuals they were looking after. We wanted to provide an exceptional standard of care, not just a good standard of care.”
At present, his most prized asset consists of 25 care homes, employing 1,100 staff and caring for 1,100 people, with varying ailments, at any one time.
The Secret Millionaire
It was his success with the Balhousie operation which brought him his millions, and while he is always looking for a new challenge, he could not have foreseen the opportunity that landed on his door next.
“You don’t think of yourself as a millionaire. Yeah, you’ve got a nice house and a nice car but you don’t think about your money. You’re just doing your job.”
Perhaps it was this philosophy which originally put Banks off appearing on the television show, ‘The Secret Millionaire’. However, after deep discussions with family and friends, he finally agreed that there could be no losers as a consequence of his appearance on the show.
The premise of directing donations to specifically chosen sectors of the community really suited Banks’s ideas of ‘giving’, while being exposed to inner demons he had suppressed up until that point.
“It made me look at what I was doing, what I was contributing, where I was contributing. I’ve always had a motto, ‘if you’ve got a lot, give a lot’ but the show made me really evaluate my life,” Banks explains.
“It was a case of taking a step back and asking ‘what do you want to do for the next 10 years’? You build a business and continue the business daily but ultimately, what other areas did I want to get involved in?”
A caring ethos
That question is still open-ended as Banks continues to search for ways to help the people and communities around him.
Essentially, it all boils down to one overwhelming character trait. Tony Banks likes to care for others.
“If you look at the things that I’ve done, I’m a caring individual. I’m very much a people person and I care about my fellow human and that’s so important in what I do.
“It’s not just the residents but it’s our staff as well. I wanted to be seen as a professional in the care market; doing a good job and providing high standards of care to people, so when you walk about the community you live in – and I’m quite a networking, gregarious type of person – you can hold your head up high.”
Banks concludes: “If you look at everything I’ve been involved in there’s always been a care element. I’m a proud scot, I care about my country, I care about my staff, I care about the people I look after, and I care about the charities I’m involved in.
“Yes you’ve got to run a business and make some difficult decisions in running that business, but ultimately there is a total ethos, and when there are people around you, it rubs off on them.”