Smith & Williamson dumps Buy2LetCars founder from Entrepreneurs’ Hall of Fame

Following last week’s FCA shutdown of new investment into Buy2LetCars, Smith & Williamson has unceremoniously dumped CEO and owner Reginald Larry-Cole from an “Entrepreneur’s Hall Of Fame”.

Google’s cache shows that on Friday 19th, the day of the FCA’s intervention, the hall of fame entry was still up. At some point after it was quietly removed and now returns a dead link.

Until its disappearance, the Hall of Fame entry largely repeated Buy2LetCars’ origin story which may be familiar from a very similar 2019 hagiography in The Sun:

  • the original leasing business, Creditlab, founded in 2003 when the markets were awash with easy credit
  • the credit crunch induced collapse of Creditlab in 2008
  • the wilderness years including benefits and working for a Range Rover showroom
  • and finally the triumphant return in 2012 thanks to an angel investor recruited via an advert in the Sunday Times, which resulted in the founding of Buy2letcars.
  • (And then lots more investors recruited via radio ads, and local papers, and Facebook, etc etc.)

The Smith & Williamson story does however noticeably differ from the Sun version (which was printed about a year before). Larry-Cole’s rejection by 150 different professional and institutional investors was such a key point in his life story that it forms the title of his book: Compassionate Capitalism: How I Turned 150 Nos into 1 YES.

And yet the Sun and Smith & Williamson biographies differ significantly in what those 150 Nos were actually saying No to.

In the 2019 Sun version, the 150 nos came in 2010, when Larry-Cole was trying to get the new business that would become Buy2letcars off the ground.

“Range Rover was a source of inspiration where I would check my bank account to see if I could meet the electricity bill this month but then had someone buying one or two Range Rovers in cash. It gave me the evidence I needed that people are going about their business and that the world hasn’t ended.”

So in his spare time, Reg started to reach out to business angels – investors willing to take a chance by funding small businesses – and investment capitalists. Over four years, Reg had 150 such meetings.

2019 Sun article

But in the Smith & Williamson hall of fame entry, posted a year later, the 150 “nos” had suddenly travelled through time to two years earlier, when Larry-Cole was trying to save Creditlab from the credit crunch.

That all changed in April 2008, when he got a call out of the blue saying the bank was now refusing to underwrite the company’s credit. The business had no funding, overnight. Reginald tried to hold everything together: he spent the next few years speaking to 150 sources including banks, business angels and venture capitalists, getting 150 nos.

2020 Smith & Williamson “Entrepreneur’s Hall of Fame entry”

To be fair this was all 8/10/something years ago and Larry-Cole’s been very busy since. And it’s possible that around 150 investors rejected bailing out his old business and funding the new one. Some people are haunted by certain numbers. Sigmund Freud was haunted by the numbers 61 and 62 (so badly that at one point they cunningly disguised themselves as the number 31).

Anyway, now that one version of the story has been scrubbed from the Internet, in one sense the inconsistency no longer exists.

According to Smith & Williamson,

the profile was removed promptly so that there would be no possibility of confusion or a mistaken perception that we validate any of these company’s activities

It is worth noting at this point that as it stands, notwithstanding the FCA’s “concerns” over Buy2LetCars’ finances, the company is still trading. Comments on Bond Review allege that the company has had its accounts frozen and has stopped paying interest. At time of writing, whether Buy2LetCars is actually unable to pay interest is unclear. The FCA’s restrictions allow the firm to continue making payments “in the ordinary course of business” which would seem to cover existing obligations to investors.

At time of writing, there’s been no public statement from Buy2LetCars other than a minscule small-print notice at the bottom of wheels4sure.com (the website for leasing customers) – which defies the FCA’s edict that the company must announce the shutdown “in a prominent place on all its websites” by 22 February. (I.e. the Monday after last Friday’s shutdown of new investment.) On the buy2letcars.com website (aimed at investors) and social media channels there is deafening silence.

That means there’s as yet no public statement by Buy2letcars confirming that it has suspended interest to existing investors, and if so why. The FCA has been asked to comment.

Smith & Williamson declined to comment on why Larry-Cole was recognised with a spot in its Hall of Fame in the first place. Building a profitable business or achieving a successful exit for investors would be worthy of praise. Taking in investor money for 8 years while continually posting losses and net liablities in published accounts is not. S&W’s decision to add Larry-Cole to its Hall of Fame in March 2020 therefore seems premature at best.

Smith & Williamson confirmed that Buy2letcars and Larry-Cole are not clients of the firm.

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