My conversation with Martin Irisarri made me think about the different kinds of knowledge you absorb during your career. His story might make you see your own expertise with fresh eyes and how you come across when you talk about it to customers.
Martin Irisarri (pictured above with his wife and fellow director, Sarah) is the founder of Sabio MI Limited.
‘Irisarri’ is a Basque name. Martin’s paternal grandparents fled Franco’s Spain during the Civil War and married in London. As Martin puts it, “My swarthy Mediterranean looks (!) come from my mother, Kathleen Patricia Dunleavy, born on March 17th”. (Go on. Look at the photo…)
Kathleen’s mother was one of 13. Her father was one of 14. They had to leave Ireland and come to England because the farm would not support a family of either 13 or 14. I’d love to talk more about Martin’s family, but I need to get back to business…
When wisdom catches you unawares.
‘Sabio’ reflects part of Martin’s heritage and means ‘wise’ in Spanish. Like Martin, you will have developed a deep wisdom in certain parts of your business. How do I know? From the way you talk about them when I interview you.
Those parts of your conversation will be impressively surefooted. You really do know what you’re talking about. You’ve done it. You’ve had the guts to look at what you’ve done with a critical eye and accept where things have gone wrong. The next time you’ve done things differently and you have learned valuable lessons. Over the years that learning consolidates into deep wisdom.
This is much more than theoretical knowledge from books or online courses. This is first-hand know-how. You’ve got stuck in, working directly with other people. You won’t be aware of it, but it really does come through in your delivery when you talk about it. That tried-and-tested conviction confirms you are the genuine article with potential clients. They will see your integrity and they will trust you.
And this rich wisdom, grown from hands-on experience and hundreds of conversations, is what stayed with me after I interviewed Martin. The Sabio approach is all about face-to-face learning from other people: sharing experiences, swapping ideas, being inspired… As Martin says:
It is your network that is the key. It’s who you know, not what you know. I do that now with businesses in a variety of ways.
When your CV sells you short.
Before he set up Sabio MI, Martin spent more than 30 years in the banking sector. At a superficial level this is the basis of his business, supporting SMEs with their finances:
If you want to put me in a box, I’m a broker. I worked for the bank and I now broker on behalf of other businesses. But I don’t want to be a broker. A broker is a transactional relationship. The bit I loved most at HSBC is the training and development of people. If you can make a difference in someone’s life, in just one person’s life, then I think that is a fantastic achievement. It is better than any money.
The skills I draw on today… I don’t think they are the things to do with work. Sport was very important to me. The ethos and culture of rugby: teamwork, that working together, comes from that.
I also hold incredibly dear my time in the Scout movement. I would say the biggest influences on my life were the people who raised me through that. There was one time when we trekked across the interior of Iceland. We were 18 or 19. We got on a plane, our parents waved us goodbye and didn’t hear from us for two weeks. For 11 days nobody knew where we were! The mountain rescue team had a route map of where we were supposed to be but it was in the days before mobile phones or satellite phones. So interacting with people in a real personal way taught me everything that I use today in terms of the skills I use with businesses.
So Martin’s knowledge is not just financial. Yes, of course, he has the paper qualifications but for him the most precious knowledge comes from putting theory into practice. He was offered a place on the Lloyds graduate scheme straight from school. Tellingly, one of the early tasks he remembers was having to interview a customer who was coming in to talk about a bereavement. It was a set up training exercise, but for an 18 year old fresh out of the classroom “it was fairly daunting”. Conversations like these taught Martin that money was more than just figures on a page: it also comes with emotional baggage, shaped by the different milestones in our lives — new job, marriage, promotion, new home, redundancy, children… and of course, bereavement.
When conversations last for years.
There are many other anecdotes I’d like to share about Martin’s life, but I know you’re short of time. So I’m going to jump to the second half of his career, which was with HSBC. For more than two decades he took on various business development and commercial management roles. In practice that meant he was having hundreds of meaningful discussions, either with colleagues on their career aspirations (the training and development he loved) or with business owners on their entrepreneurial aspirations (the SME support he still loves).
I say ‘meaningful’ because they went well beyond the money. If you talk to an entrepreneur about how they can secure more finance, you quickly move from money to the human heart of their business: what they really want to achieve and the obstacles they need to overcome to get there. So all those conversations have given Martin deep insights into how business owners manage their work and what keeps them awake at night. And that shapes Sabio MI: using money as a starting point he becomes your wise sounding board, ready to explore all the supplementary questions thrown up by your finances, from your current USP to your long-term business strategy.
Someone wise, on tap.
So he’s good at the figures, for sure. And he’s also very, very good at putting those figures into a broader, human context. And because he becomes a trusted sounding board, you’ll want Martin by your side as you build your business.
This is why his best working relationships are not transactional. They are absolutely not one-off brokering deals. They are about checking in with you regularly, listening to you carefully and passing on the distilled wisdom that he’s grown from lots of other conversations:
I always think, “Who do I know that can help them to achieve that?” rather than, “What do I know that will get them to where they are?” The ‘who’ is much more exciting.
I now like to drive down the road and point at lorries and go, “I helped those guys to get to where they got to”. It’s not that I lent them £10 million. It’s a journey where they are getting from A to B and you are part of that journey.
And that’s why, on his LinkedIn profile, Martin says, “I am pleased to help in any way I can”.
And he will.
Martin doesn’t have a website. Why? Because all his work comes from referrals. Word of mouth. Yes, more meaningful conversations. I say no more.
Actually, I lie. One more thing. I found it incredibly hard to sub this post down because it meant cutting out several of Martin’s stories. They were all rooted in first-hand experience, featuring people he’s worked with directly. They were at turns funny or poignant and because of that, they are still vivid in my mind. The same applies to the first-hand stories you tell about your work: you will be engaging and memorable, which means you will draw more customers to your door.
So I’ll feature some of the stories I’ve had to cut in my Pick My Brain series. If you’d like to see them, just put yourself on my reader list here: mirandabirchmedia.co.uk.