Jonny Shingles, a former Tornado jet pilot in the RAF, talks to workingwise.co.uk about the twists and turns of his working career and his current role as a financial advisor, working for himself.
It’s hard to be a good financial advisor if you haven’t had a bit of life experience, says Jonny Shingles. He should know. He has had several careers – in the RAF as a fighter pilot then as a trainer, coping with illness, starting his own business, recovering from the recession and starting again. All of that has, he says, made him better at his job advising others on their finances and planning for whatever life might throw at them.
Jonny grew up with a fascination with airplanes so at university he joined the air squad which meant he got free flying lessons with an airforce instructor. It gave him an insight into the military and into his aptitude for flying. On graduation after three years and 150 hours of flying he applied for the RAF in February 1991.
Jonny was lucky to avoid active service in a prolonged conflict. At the time he was doing his training the first Gulf War was finishing and the only conflict that happened during his 10.5 years in the RAF was in Kosovo where the airforce played only a small part. The main threat to the military at the time was the end of the Cold War, which had led to the airforce shrinking.
During his 10.5 years, Jonny was based in Hong Kong, Cyprus and Germany and was flying fast jets, including the Tornado – only four in 10 of those who completed training were chosen to fly fast jets. Over the years Jonny also flew in display flying teams, doing low-level aerobatics, and taught those piloting Hawk jets similar to the Red Arrows team as well as flying instructors.
However, after being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and being seriously ill, Jonny temporarily lost his ability to fly. Although he was able to return to flying, his illness forced him to rethink his life and he decided he could not put all his eggs in one basket. He and his wife also wanted to start a family and the “crazy” hours he was working was not conducive to family life.
So Jonny headed to London Business School to do a two-year MBA – for which he won a scholarship – which showed him that a lot of the soft skills – a strong work ethic, versatility, leadership and problem solving abilities – he had honed in the RAF were valuable to employers. “At the age of 23/24, I was flying 30 million pound planes full of bullets and bombs. That is a tremendous amount of responsibility,” he said. London Business School gave him access to a good network of contacts.
When he graduated, it was just after the dot-com bubble had burst and it was not the best time to find jobs. However, through his network Jonny ended up working for a start-up where he got a lot of experience very quickly. The finance media company which specialised in the merger market – and was acquired by ION Investment Group, having been initially taken over by the Financial Times – was growing fast. When Jonny joined it had around 50 staff. around six years later, when he left the company, now called Acuris, it had over 1,000 and had diversified its product base globally. Jonny ran the accounts management team which grew from five to 40 people. It was a big learning curve for him and he got a lot of exposure to different parts of the business and to senior management.
After the business was sold to the FT, Jonny stayed on for a year and a half before a contact in the RAF approached him to work on a private jet business. The job appealed to both Jonny’s business head and his heart – his love of jet planes. He set up the firm’s commercial team and built the company’s presence in Eastern Europe and Russia until the global recession hit and he was made redundant when companies cut back on extras.
At the time, Jonny and his family were living in Portugal. His wife, a British Airways pilot, was on maternity leave with their third child. The family decided to return to the UK where Jonny’s network was strongest. Through his contacts, Johnny got a job at Egencia, the corporate travel arm of Expedia, and “landed on his feet” as managing director of the UK business. After two years and a business merger, however, he lost his job. It was a turning point. Jonny decided he needed to have more control over his life.
A former colleague suggested he should look into becoming a financial advisor so he joined the St James Place Wealth Management Academy [SJP] in 2012 to train. The course lasted six months and his fellow students were from a diverse range of backgrounds. Jonny was taught everything he needed to know to become a financial advisor, including understanding the SJP products and services and creating his own business plan, and he was coached to pass all the diplomas he needed. He has a listing on the SJP site.
Since leaving he has also been able to draw on the cohort he trained with for support and help and has worked hard to build his business through his personal network, word of mouth and reputation. SJP’s name and brand has helped get him work as have other changes over the last few years, including banks cutting back on the financial advice they provide and people working longer, having more choices and therefore needing more advice on planning ahead for their retirement.
Jonny was 44 at the time he did the training and a couple of his cohort were over 50. At the time his children were eight, six and four and he says being a financial advisor gave him the flexibility to be around for his children, which has been important given his wife is often away on long-haul flights. Jonny loves the lifestyle and the work and says he is happy to keep working as an advisor for as long as he can, saying he could easily reduce his hours as he gets older. He was worried at the start of the pandemic that work would dry up, but in fact he has had the best year ever over the last year as people have wanted more advice on planning.
Jonny has built a broad range of clients from CEOs of FTSE 100 companies to actresses, writers, vets, lawyers and business owners. “It’s a very diverse and eclectic bunch of clients,” he says and he says he acts in part as life coach, mentor and sounding board. The work is varied too – he can be helping people with secession planning or setting up trusts as well as with all the aspects of their lives that involve financial decisions. “You have to understand family and people’s motivations. It’s a technical role, but not overly so and people need to trust you,” he says. A little life experience makes all the difference.