Sean Walton-Carroll is one of Syscap’s longest serving employees. During 20 years of working for us, his job title has evolved from Customer Services Manager to Head of Asset Manager & Customer Services, and now to Asset Management Manager. Following our recent silver jubilee celebrations, we asked Sean for a few minutes of his time to talk about his background, hobbies and experience working for Syscap. And it appears that we have another Crystal Palace supporter in our midst…
Sean grew up in Warlingham, Surrey, and was the youngest of four children. “My parents pushed us all into paper and milk rounds as soon as we were old enough, and I spent many school holidays working with dad who was a painter and decorator.” His dad’s meagre wages were further eroded by deductions for food and petrol expenses, so Sean helped by packing his own lunchbox and cycling to his jobs.
It was Sean’s mum who found him his first full-time job after spotting an advertisement for a drayman in the Croydon Advertiser. The job paid £60 a week with 7am starts every morning. Sean learned how to carry heavy loads and this, together with his painting and decorating skills, served him very well having just moved house.
After working as a drayman for several years, stoppages forced Sean to look for another job and it wasn’t long before he landed a role working for The Worldwide Visa Shop; a private Passport and Visa agency based in St Martin-in-the-Fields. The firm specialised in short notice applications, so aside from the general public Sean regularly dealt with journalists, celebrities and sportspeople. Armed with a briefcase and ginormous Panasonic c10, Sean’s job involved visiting foreign offices and consulates in the capital.
Sean’s specialist area was the old Soviet Union, particularly dealing with those traveling with Intourist and on the Trans-Siberian Express railway. He tells us: “I spent many a long afternoons sitting in the consular section of the Russian Embassy at Kensington Gardens while some demure chain-smoking official scrutinised my applications for hours before finally issuing the required visas. It was very John le Carré, but I loved it.”
After a few years, it was upwards and onwards for Sean and he joined Unilever, working in Sales and Marketing Operations for Brooke Bond catering in Croydon. The division looked after household brands such as Flora, Walls and PG Tips, overseeing supply and demand along with product launches and campaigns into the cash and carry wholesale sector.
After a short while of working for Unilever, Sean started to realise that bigger isn’t always better. “It was an extremely rigid environment and a stark contrast to what I’d previously experienced.” But the job did have its perks, particularly for Sean’s mum, who was given plenty of free tea and coffee.
It was at Unilever where Sean first gained experience working in the leasing market. “I looked after Bravilor Mondo coffee machines, where customers would get a free machine if they purchased a predetermined amount of coffee.” If those customers reneged, Sean had to persuade them to either buy more coffee or, failing that, recover the equipment. Dealing namely with the pub sector, Sean admits: “It was difficult. Big, tough landlords didn’t want to buy more coffee, they just wanted to see you come and try to take their machine away. I lost far more than I won, but it was a good experience.”
At the time, Sean’s company ran a programme for Sankey and Wittenborg vending machines in conjunction with Anglo Leasing, who were based in the building next door. Sean applied for a position there and was successful. “The fact I still work and have contact with a number of former Anglo colleagues is testament to what I learned there and the culture they deployed.”
From Anglo Leasing, Sean then moved on to Syscap and has been with us ever since. “Actually, quite a lot of people warned me against working for a mainstream funder, given the bad reputation of brokers at the time.” Sean admits that his reason to apply was part in the face of those who advised him not to.
“From the unorthodox interview methods of the then Managing Director, I did wonder for a moment if those people were right. Let’s say the interview process was definitely not one you’d find in any HR manual, but the MD sold me the dream and almost 20 years later I’m still here, so I reckon I’ve made the right choice.”
We ask Sean why he believes Syscap is the success it is today. “As a company, I think we’ve helped change the reputational image of brokers for the better. The open-door policy of management and directors over the years has lent itself to the convivial working atmosphere that largely remains today.”
When speaking of the challenges and rewards his role brings, Sean says: “I’d say the greatest challenge is ensuring the Asset Management function continues to meet the ever-evolving needs of the business. The fact it largely does is the reward.”
So, what does Sean like to do in his spare time? Well, as previously mentioned, he’s an avid Crystal Palace supporter. “I’ve been following the club for 42 seasons, home and away,” he says, admitting that he’d “dodge parties, weddings and gatherings if it clashes with a home game.” Sean even neglected usher duties at his brother’s wedding, choosing instead to stand at the back of the church with a pair of earphones in, listening to updates. “I got my comeuppance though… we lost 7-1 at Huddersfield.”
Sean’s wife, Claire, used to be the Croydon Advertiser Blue Bear mascot on the pitch before home games many years go. “You could say it was a marriage made in heaven. And yes, we still have the costume!”