Where do start-ups and entrepreneurs go when they need to hear the truth about the potential viability of their business plan? Or what about the management of small to medium-sized companies which desperately need to revitalise their current business model?

Many of them head to Camden, to the town’s Hill Street and the smart offices of Jean Claude Gonneau, in particular. As founder of Camden Associates, he heads up a decade-old international financing company with a corporate emphasis. It specialises in sectors such as biotechnology, IT, real estate, mining and exploration, but its real USP is the fact that it enables mid-market companies to access M&A and corporate finance on an international scale – hitherto practically closed to them owing to their small size.

Camden Associates has an ethos of ‘brash honesty’ which means telling the truth, however painful it happens to be, to the would-be entrepreneur or Company Director hearing it – whether it’s letting them know their current management team isn’t working or their finance dreams are just that, ie a dream, unless they adopt a different approach. A brutally honest take on the client’s market is another strategy.

“I really don’t believe in brushing problems under the carpet and pretending things are going to be alright when they patently aren’t,” said Gonneau.

“In order to do best by our client it’s important to be honest and get everything out in the open – even if we know it’s something he or she is not going to like hearing. After all, the client is paying for our expertise and has come to us initially for help, not reassurance.

It means we’re regarded as a rather ‘soft’ non-conformist boutique financing company in the way we approach deals, but if going against the grain means a better deal for our client, then I’ve no objections to that analysis.

Actually the sheer number of non-conformist and enthusiastic individuals in and around Camden Town is what prompted us to locate the business there in the first place.”

Commitment is the key to a client’s success

Underpinning any business plan Camden Associates embark on is the fact that the client’s goals are both realistic and achievable. The way to do that, says Gonneau, is to get the client’s management team to consider a Plan B, as well as an Exit Strategy. In addition, senior directors must all be committed to – and believe in – the same goal.

“For us here at Camden Associates, a company is not just about technology or innovation, but the people behind it,” explained Gonneau. “An established company trying to survive by pushing a tired business model is not as attractive to us as a group of very motivated people fired with energy and enthusiasm.”

Team spirit, after all, is something that’s very important to Gonneau and Camden Associates, where qualities such as friendliness and co-operation are prized as much as ability and knowledge.

He said: “Our role is to guide the client, in a friendly but firm way through the complex process of refinancing or restructuring etcetera. We enable their management team to do this, we coach them rather than take over the running of the company ourselves. It’s a learning process for the client, but one in which he or she has support and guidance every step of the way. We want them to mature in a well-balanced way – just like the tree in our logo.

What it comes down to on our part is knowledge about the market our client is in, how the finance industry in general operates and what the investor psyche is like at any given time.”

Gonneau himself certainly has plenty of experience to draw on, having worked in the investment and securities industry for more than 35 years. Much of that time was spent heading up Wall Street investment firm Donaldson and Lufkin & Jenrette’s French-speaking European office. Another position Gonneau held was Senior Vice President of Credit Suisse First Boston, while more recently he was General Manager at SG Cowen, an investment banking institution in Europe.

From potash in Africa to biotech in France and Russian industrial companies

The former French Chartered Financial Analyst and graduate of Sciences Politiques in Paris, has recently spent time helping Canadian company, Charbone Potash, access suitable markets in Africa. In order to do so Camden Associates first had to ensure that relevant local authorities had signed the necessary licences and that a number of local subsidiaries had been created – all before the financing package for the new player in the commodities market was given the green light.

Back in Europe, and it was Camden Associates’ job to help Paris-based biotechnology company, Theravectys, access finance. And it did so – to the tune of Euro 7.5 million. The development-stage biotechnology company deals in vaccines to fight infectious diseases and cancers, as well as other health conditions. Their initial focus is a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, which has already proven beneficial in non-human tests.

Meanwhile, Camden Associates are also happy to accept mandates from large companies like Russian industrial giant Rosatom, and Chinese down company, Snowbird.

Learning to lighten the load

It’s clear the Frenchman, who has lived in London for a number of years, enjoys a busy working life – which, of course, requires a lot of energy.

“I find managing a team very stimulating,” he said. “But a good coach is essential and one of his or her most important tasks is getting the right culture in place for their client. That means identifying an individual’s skills and abilities and encouraging them to utilise these for the greater good of the team.

Actually, switching off is part of the solution. If you practice switching off you

are more likely to succeed than if you don’t. In that respect I would suggest that choosing assignments you believe in helps make work part of your life as opposed to having your work define your life.”

Here at Business Worldwide Magazine we can’t think of a more fitting a winner of our 2015 Business Worldwide Corporate Excellence Awards – a point echoed by our subscribers who took the time out from their own busy working lives to vote for Camden Associates.