Digital Executive, Chris Worle, on his meteoric rise to the Hargreaves Lansdown boardroom
As a search firm which specialises in the digital growth & transformation space, the evolution we’ve seen Hargreaves Lansdown go through over the last decade has been phenomenal to watch. There is no doubt it’s one of the UK’s greatest success stories of a home-grown business, based in Bristol becoming a FTSE100 digital first business and pioneer in online stockbroking and investments.
Chris Worle is the guy behind the last six years of digital transformation and innovation at Hargreaves Lansdown and he has had a meteoric rise to the boardroom after joining the Board as Group Digital Marketing Director in 2015 at the tender age of 32. Chris let us fire some questions at him based around his career as it’s very rare these days to see someone stay for such a long tenure at any one company.
Chris has been driving both the digital marketing agenda and the digital strategy of the business since 2010 and as digital leadership headhunters we are impressed by his meteoric rise, one that has kept up to speed with the impressive growth of the company he joined as a very young man over 10 years ago (aged 21!).
What falls under your remit at Hargreaves Lansdown?
I have two main briefs; I drive all the group digital marketing efforts as well as the overall digital strategy reporting directly to the CEO, Ian Gorham.
When you reflect on being in the driving seat for all things Digital, do you feel that you have been the driving force behind a standout single outcome?
It’s hard to say. I never realised this at the time but when I look back, this business has changed incredibly fast over the years since I joined and at Hargreaves Landsown we are increasingly trying to think of ourselves as a totally digital business and less like an FS company; we’re on that journey where it’s less about being a digital team within the business but the firm as a whole being a digital business.
Can you think of a moment that was catalytic in your career progression at Hargreaves Lansdown?
One of my greatest frustrations back in 2010-2013/14 was there was nobody responsible for digital on the Board driving the agenda. Everyone on the Board knew digital was important but nobody understood it then, as it was so new. Dharmash Mistry (x Balderton VC & NED at Dixons) joined the Board as NED and gave me and the team external validation we needed to get us going firmly in the right direction.
Did you have a career plan when you left university?
I studied business and economics at university and wanted to get into “business” but didn’t know exactly what that meant or how and where I was going to do it. The opportunity with Hargreaves Lansdown came up and it seemed perfect. There was no plan B so I jumped at it.
What was HL like when you joined? Size, population, type of business?
I joined in 2003 when we were around 450 people. Now we’re over 1000 and a proud member of the FTSE100. We’re also based in Bristol where we’ve always had our roots albeit the business I joined was very different to what one might imagine.
When I joined, we were just getting into the pensions side of things. Stock-broking was not digital then of course and we had someone solely dealing with new online capabilities for the first time within the business.
In regards to technology and the website we were nowhere but the environment and culture was young, entrepreneurial and full of grads who were working hard and playing hard. We tried things and it was fast-paced but the young energy very much drove the early digital activities that since totally transformed the business into what it is now.
How was Hargreaves Lansdown different to any other stock broker when you joined in 2003?
We had a culture of putting the client first. HL is built on the belief that we can do it better than any other stock broking firm and in regards to the investment platform, there was no marketplace for it, HL created this market for ourselves.
Is there anyone in particular who you can say helped you personally get to where you are now as a board member of a leading FTSE100 business in your early 30’s?
Peter Hargreaves bought me in and we have always had a strong relation. I’ve been careful not to build my career behind any one person as when that person leaves or moves you can quickly become like a fish out of water. I’ve always been keen to maintain a wide internal network as there is so much to learn from others and the great thing about my role in digital is that it requires me to speak to lots of people across functions. In the early days, I was involved in the insurance category and it didn’t work out but gave me a chance to work with Stephen Lansdown (one of the founders) and Adam Norris (the firm’s former advisory director). If I had my time again I wouldn’t do anything differently.
What advice would you give digital professionals and subject matter experts who are c5 years into their careers and becoming masters of what they do?
I think it’s harder now. Patience plays a big part. I see some people who aren’t patient enough to build up that experience and knowledge but at the same time you need to be sure in yourself that you’re not treading water, it’s a careful balance. When I’ve been at the point where I’ve thought, my career has plateaued I’ve always made sure I’m learning something. It’s incredibly important to be observant around the business and listen to what’s going on. In digital, there is the opportunity to be the business and not just a small team within the business.
What’s kept me at HL is the culture fit; it works so well and it’s important to find an environment and business that you’re truly happy in. Financial services isn’t an industry I’d ever choose to be in voluntarily but culturally and environmentally HL is a great place to be. It changes so fast and just when you think it’s calming down or settling down something happens and it all changes again – that’s what I love about it.
Chris Worle was interviewed by Rupert Jupp, MD of Princedale Partners in November 2016.