Think positive, aim high

Managing Director of Active Financial, recently made chair of the Institute of Directors North East (South)
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Active’s Karl Pemberton is a glass half full man…

A well respected face on the Teesside business scene, and top ten in the most inspiring business leaders list for the second year running, Karl Pemberton is the MD of Active Chartered Financial Planners in Stockton and also the chair of the Tees Valley branch of the Institute of Directors (IoD).

In discussion with Dave Allan on Tees Business’ Talking Business feature, Karl tells us about his journey so far and how he thinks Teesside will pull together and come out fighting post-Covid.

At the tender age of 18 and having just finished college, Karl harboured dreams of being an RAF pilot or a police traffic cop. In fact, he was part way through the RAF application process, but needed to earn money in the interim.

“Me and my mates sat with the Yellow Pages applying to anyone we could think of for a job,” recalls Karl.

“Being ok with figures I applied to Yorkshire Bank and was fortunate enough to receive an offer of interview and then a job. I had to choose whether to take that or carry on with the RAF. I chose the former and even though I do sometimes think ‘what if’, I can’t complain how things have worked out.”

Karl was incredibly successful at the bank and saw his career progressing there until his dad Glyn became dangerously ill. Glyn’s company, Active, was based in Guisborough and was pretty much a one man band. With Glyn in intensive care, Karl and his brother had to decide whether to sell up or take over.

“I took the plunge and joined Active in 2007. I call it an ultimatum, or perhaps a golden opportunity”, he laughs.

On a serious note, Karl knew that if his dad’s illness was hereditary then he could be facing the same future at 50.

“I knew we had to evolve the business so it wasn’t reliant on one person. It needed to be secure so that if I wanted to retire or that, God forbid, I became ill or passed away it could still operate and my family would be ok. Dad thankfully did recover, but he hadn’t had that opportunity.”

Karl has worked hard for 13 years growing Active, offering a bespoke service to clients planning ahead for the what if’s, or for retirement. Active have a stable of incredibly talented people.

“Team mentality is so important”, admits Karl.

“I don’t believe you can be a jack of all trades. You need structure and expertise and knowledge across the board. This was something that the IFA didn’t have 10 years ago. It was a choice between one or two man bands such as my dad’s company or large corporate entities. There was a gap in the market for the middle ground and Active filled that.”

As a person, both professionally and personally, Karl is known for his positivity, his quest for perfection and aiming high.

“Some may say I’m too overbearing or wear rose tinted glasses, but I’m a strong believer in bettering myself. With Active too, it’s all about how can we improve, how can we get better at what we do, it’s what drives me.”

As for Teesside, Karl loves the region and believes in giving back.

“I consider myself a very lucky person and I know not everyone is as fortunate. Active believes in doing the right thing. We have always been a charitable firm and while at first we chose a charity to support each year, it became hard to choose.

“It’s morally hard to say no, yet impossible to support each one, that’s why we chose to support the Philanthropic Foundation. By many companies joining together the Foundation can help 20 or 30 different charities, or to discover individuals who desperately need our help.”

In a business sense too, Karl believes that joining forces is the way forward. He has been chair of the Tees Valley – or to give it the correct name – north east south region – of the IoD for over a year, having taken up the challenge when it became clear that Teesside was missing out on important support.

“The IoD was very centrally run from London. They saw the North East as Newcastle and Yorkshire as Leeds, so we got bypassed. I would always moan that they never did anything for Teesside members, so when they gave me that challenge, it felt right.”

Karl has put his expertise to great use, and membership had grown by 30 per cent pre-Covid.

“That growth has obviously slowed now,” he admits.

“But what’s pleasing is that we’ve moved to online platforms in lieu of being able to meet, and membership has still grown in our area which bucks the national trend for memberships.”

Karl believes that if Teesside businesses are better connected, supporting each other across all industries and all sectors, then the community will pull even closer together.

“It’s about getting those parochial barriers down, where one business can’t speak to another because they see themselves as competition. In my opinion those days are long gone, especially with what’s happened with Covid and what might happen with Brexit. We need to put all these things aside and accept there is enough business to go round and if you’re running a great business you shouldn’t be worried what the competition are doing.”

Karl is optimistic that our local businesses, with their fantastic managing directors, good strategy, good structure and good people will succeed despite recent set-backs.

“The great thing about Teesside is that our business leaders are great on paper and in person too. Just take the Tees Business leaders list – I can guarantee that you pick up the phone to anyone on that list and they will help you. That’s what Teesside needs.”