LONDON — When Alex Loudon retired from professional cricket in 2007 at the age of 27, there were disgruntled rumblings among the sport’s managers, pundits and journalists.
The arguments broadly followed one line: Why would a player in the prime of his career, just capped for the first time by England, want to quit the sport and go into the world of finance instead?
Cricket is a sport famed for its longevity, with players often continuing professionally into their late 30s and early 40s, and many in the game were, confused by Loudon’s decision.
As they saw it, Loudon was switching from earning a living playing the greatest sport on earth to sitting at a desk all day, filling in spreadsheets.
Loudon had been one of the most promising players in English cricket, coming through the ranks at Warwickshire and tipped to play Test cricket for his country. Why give that up, people asked.
Fast forward 10 years, Loudon shows no regret as he speaks to Business Insider following the launch of his new investment firm, Abercross Holdings, started alongside two partners, Andrew Woodhouse and Issam Hamid.
Why move from a career most kids would kill for into the world of business?
While many sportsmen go into punditry, writing or after-dinner speaking once they retire, Loudon always intended to go into business.
He has a family background in finance — his father was chairman of £1.9 billion investment trust Caledonia Investments — and so the world of business was always the plan.
“I always thought I’d take cricket as near to the top as I could get, and to a point where I still felt like I was learning a huge amount,” he told Business Insider in an interview at Abercross’s London office.
“At the point where I felt like I wasn’t learning — and also at the point where I felt like my life goals were being compromised — then I would need to make a decision.”
“I still had a huge amount more I would have loved to have done in cricket, but looking forward to all the things I wanted to achieve in my life, I felt that in my late 20s I still had time to transition into what I wanted to do next.”
While there was no single moment of epiphany, Loudon says that the 2007 county cricket season provided him with the clarity he needed to make the leap.
Having played in a single one-day international for England in the summer of 2006, Loudon started the 2007 season in brilliant form.
“At the beginning [of the season] I had one of my best starts. I got three hundreds almost in succession, and was, I guess, finally achieving consistent performance. They always say in cricket that you have more bad days than good days, and given I was having my good days, I just felt like I was very happy to be doing a good job for the team and all that.”
That success did not bring Loudon the happiness that he might have expected.
“From a personal fulfillment and contentment point of view I felt like it wasn’t going to sustain me enough, and that was a bit of a mental trigger.”
“I think when I reflect on it, I didn’t feel like personally and professionally I was going to keep developing with the same kind of speed.”
“When you get up a curve, then it’s about eking out those incremental improvements to become really and consistently good. In the context of having broader, longer-term objectives, going through those incremental improvements, it became the right time to move on.”
“When I looked at my whole career — what do I want to achieve, and how do I get there? By doing any more cricket I would compromise on the future. I made the decision based upon what I want to achieve.”
Loudon was concerned that if he stayed in cricket for too long, he would find the transition into the business world too much of a stretch, with an increasingly competitive jobs market proving a hindrance to someone already entering the world of finance around five years further down the line than is traditionally the case.
“In the old days you might have been able to transition a bit later in your sporting career, but I think it’s increasingly more competitive, in terms of people with qualifications, and there’s just a lot more job applicants.
“It is difficult to cut corners, and you’ve got to be there at the right time.”
“From people I spoke to it became clear that you couldn’t rock up at mid-thirties and say ‘will you employ me?'”
From cricket to mergers and acquisitions
“Where I’ve ended up was not necessarily the goal when I was retiring. The next thing I wanted to do after leaving cricket was get a masters, leave business school, and join a large corporate, and experience that side of things,” he told BI.
Loudon achieved that goal, graduating with an MBA from the London Business School — one of the world’s 10 best programmes — before transitioning in 2010 into a career in mergers and acquisitions with SAB Miller, the giant brewing firm which was the globe’s second biggest until its merger with ABInBev in 2016.
Brewing is an industry famous for its M&A, and threw Loudon into the deep end of a part of finance known for its long hours and gruelling schedules.
“I don’t know the exact numbers, but over 15 years they [SAB Miller] bought up over 100 entities, and it was a very exciting place to be. I was only in towards the back end of that story, but in within six months I was running, on the one hand, the disposal of a £10-12 million asset in Chile, and at the same time working on the largest acquisition — at that time by SAB — of £12.5 billion.”
“Admittedly taking a small role within that given that I was a new member of the team, a tiny cog in the machine.”
“Getting that variety and exposure was for me, fascinating, and a steep learning curve.”
Loudon left SAB in 2015, just before InBev made its first approach about a potential £100 billion merger, beginning the process of founding Abercross in 2016, after being introduced to Hamdi through a friend of a friend.
Founding Abercross Holdings
Abercross launched in June with the announcement that it has purchased a minority stake in Typhoo, the 118-year old tea brand ubiquitous across Britain’s supermarkets.
The firm will look to invest in similar businesses going forward, Loudon tells Business Insider, with a focus on British companies in four sectors: consumer goods, social infrastructure (education and healthcare), and business services.
“80% of what we have looked at so far has been in those four sectors,” he says.
While Abercross will be looking for companies with strong fundamentals based investment cases, the firm will also look to invest in companies with a storied heritage — like Typhoo.
“In all cases, there’s got to be a strong investment case. In addition to that where there’s also a heritage story, something interesting and meaty to believe in and get behind, that is the ultimate,” he says.
“Either you have that with an investment case, or you don’t have that with an investment.
“There are really things you evaluate in potential opportunities and one part is the heritage and story behind. It is probably icing on the cake, but fundamentally if there’s a good investment that nobody’s heard of but we deem it to be attractive, then that’s a very good thing too.”
Loudon heads up origination at Abercross, while Woodhouse, who Loudon worked with at SABMiller, is in charge of executing deals. Hamid deals with investor relations, and was responsible for the initial idea to start Abercross.
“Through Issam, we originated a mandate to bring foreign capital into the UK to invest in profit making, private, UK-based companies across most sectors,” Loudon says.
The four anchor families [providing Abercross’ initial capital] have already been property investors, mainly in London, but they know the UK well, they respect the regulatory framework, they like the UK, and for them, they wanted a diversification into additional sectors other than property.”
“He [Hamid] had become a trusted advisor for them personally and professionally, and so the mandate kind of originated through that.”
Stay tuned for the second part of Business Insider’s interview with Loudon, which will be published next week.