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Entrepreneur starts up new headhunting firm; has big ideas for Bermuda’s future

A former Wall Street headhunter, who now calls Bermuda home, has started up his own recruiting and consulting firm here and has big ideas about Bermuda’s economic future.

Stafford Lowe spent the last four years living in New York working as the managing director and head of human resources and recruitment for Benchmark Solutions, a private equity-backed financial service technology start-up. Before that, the Cambridge graduate spent eight years working in the financial services industry in London.

He and his Bermudian wife, Laura, moved back to Bermuda earlier this year and he has since launched his own company called Castle Lowe — an executive search and HR consulting firm servicing the financial technology and big data industries.

Mr Lowe joined Benchmark at its inception in 2009 from pricing analytics provider, Julius Finance, and hired more than 100 staff before Benchmark shut down after failing to generate enough business to sustain itself. While with Benchmark, he recruited staff from both traditional financial services companies and “Silicon Valley-type” companies serving the financial technology industry. He also has extensive experience in recruiting for the derivatives, fund and finance sectors.

Mr Lowe says his new advisory firm provides recruiting and HR consulting services to companies in need of quantitative analysts to support the build-out of “next-generation” data processing technologies such as predictive analytics.

“Ideally, I would like for companies to know that there is an alternative headhunter on the Island, one with significant Wall Street experience,” Mr Lowe said. “I’m very interested in working with the financial industry as it exists — perhaps helping promote the financial industry bringing new hedge funds to the Island, helping any new company that’s looking to incorporate.

“You know, people are coming to the Island — not in great droves I don’t think from what I can tell — but hedge funds, fund managers or reinsurance companies involved in non tradition reinsurance activities like the ILS market — I would be very keen to help them.

“If there are new companies who are literally appearing here and say, ‘we don’t know anything about how to set up a company or set up the back office of our company, but we do genuinely want to have a team of people here rather than it just being a brass plaque on the wall’, then that is certainly something I can help with — taking them through the process. All they have to do is bring the idea and we can do the rest,” Mr Lowe said.

But it’s not just the financial services industry he has a keen interest in. Mr Lowe is also an advocate for promoting Bermuda as location for technology start-up companies — a sort of Silicon Valley in the middle of the Atlantic — and would like to work with Government and other key stakeholders to help make that happen.

“Ultimately I have an idea around creating an incubator where really it could be a full-service holistic sort of product offering — everything from helping people go through the incorporation process, finding them office space, setting up their back office, providing them marketing and PR support and ultimately perhaps even introducing potential investors,” Mr Lowe said.

“It’s only as I talk to more and more technology people in North America that I start to think more and more about the possibilities for Bermuda,” he said. “Everybody wants to know about Bermuda.”

Mr Lowe says most people he speaks to in the States think he’s now living somewhere in the Caribbean and don’t realise just how close Bermuda is to New York.

“Nobody knows where Bermuda is — it’s remarkable.”

He says Bermuda’s accessibility and the availability of both commercial and residential real estate make the Island a perfect spot for start-ups right now.

“For prospective companies coming and setting up here and getting a hold of both commercial space and places for their employees to live, I think that makes this a great place right now — you can kind of come in and invest at the right time.”

It might also behove many tech companies to set up shop in Bermuda. Offshore tax avoidance has become a hot-button issue as of late, particularly for tech companies. Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have all been criticised for moving portions of their profits offshore through places like Bermuda to avoid billions of dollars in income taxes — many, through the use of shell or “brass plate” companies here on the Island. Mr Lowe says those companies and others should just consider actually bringing people here.

“Obviously, there’s the tax advantage and, it makes much more sense for companies to have brick and mortar operations here from a PR perspective. But also — why not? I mean engineers would like, I think, to hang out in Bermuda and come up with ideas. I don’t see what the difference is, frankly, between doing this in Silicon Valley and doing it here,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s just about making it legit, I think it’s actually somewhere where you could set up a little R&D operation. You’ve actually started to see this already with some more forward-looking technology companies where their chief scientists are in various places. I was talking to one guy in New York last week who was telling me their chief scientist was in Thailand and doesn’t actually tell them where he is because he doesn’t want them to know. Now that’s wacky and extreme, but many of them are. You can see some of the eccentric geniuses wanting to come here, gather a little team of people around them and actually work from here — I don’t see what the difference is — the tech industry has become a lot more global now,” he said.

Mr Lowe also believes that Bermuda could be very appealing to smaller start-up operations from a cost-perspective.

“Say you’re a technology company and you’ve just been given initial funding by a VC (venture capitalist) — you effectively want to make that runway last as long as possible before you’ve got to go back to the well to get some more money. Bermuda, even though everybody thinks it’s a very expensive place to do business, I can tell you is no more expensive than Manhattan. I’ve been shopping in the grocery stores in Manhattan — it’s no more expensive than in Lindo’s or Supermart.”

Mr Lowe thinks the low-tax environment here and lack of income tax for employees could help start-ups do more with less.

“Your employees could afford to take a slightly lower salary than they normally would do and you can keep the IP in Bermuda, which has all sorts of corporate tax advantages to it. There are all these advantages — why wouldn’t you do it?”

While he has had very casual conversations with people in Government, Mr Lowe says he would like the opportunity to discuss his ideas more in-depth.

“I would love to have more discussions with Government about it,” he said. “Just in general, I would like to be a part of sort of the Bermuda resurgence.”

“I do feel like this theme of bringing technology companies to the island is one that is really worth developing and really worth pushing hard at. There needs to be a lot more thinking done about this, but in talking to people in New York, there’s interest. People are saying, yeah, we hadn’t considered that — that is a new angle and there’s actually nothing standing in the way for it to happen. And when it’s like that, you never know what you might achieve if you just try.”

Mr Lowe says he and his wife have made a “personal investment” in Bermuda and want to see the Island’s economy flourish.

“We want to be here long term. This isn’t just a sort of we’re expats and we’ll spend five years here and then we’ll sort of leave again having enjoyed life in the sunshine with favourable tax advantages. We’re actually here for the long haul and we would like to be a part of Bermuda getting itself back going again.”

For more information on Castle Lowe, visit www.castle-lowe.com or call 504-5693.

Stafford Lowe, founder and managing director of Castle Lowe Ltd. Bermuda (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published May 03, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 02, 2013 at 5:48 pm)

Entrepreneur starts up new headhunting firm; has big ideas for Bermuda’s future

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