Tony Banks – a little bit about the real me!
Firstly, I’m not generally comfortable being referred to in the media as “one of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs”. Truth is there is no airs and graces about me, I'm just a proud Dundonian who was brought up in a working class family. My Dad was an RAF logistics sergeant and Mum was a housewife. In 1961, we lived for a while in Aylesbury, Berks, and I was the youngest of four children but my parents moved back to their native Dundee when I was three and I went to St Vincent de Paul Primary School and then St Saviour's High School.
From a very early age I learned that I had to work hard to buy any "luxuries" that my parents couldn't afford. I guess that's where the strong work ethic that would later drive my career as an entrepreneur came from. I took my first job as a newspaper delivery boy at the age of 11 and went on to work as a refuse collector, supermarket shelf stacker, electrician's assistant and chicken catcher - I really have been Jack of All trades until I became Master of One!
I recall being considered a “bright” pupil and left school at 17 with seven O Grades and four Highers to study for a BA in accountancy at the University of Abertay. However, soon after starting the course, I spotted an advert in the local newspaper for the Territorial Army Parachute Regiment and I signed up to supplement my meagre student grant.
I loved every aspect of my involvement with the elite regiment, from the punishing physical training to the camaraderie of all my great mates who were fellow recruits, all were drawn from all walks of life. To my parents' dismay, I decided to abandon my university course to join the regular Army and in some way prove that I was worthy of the Parachute Regiment's maroon beret.
Within months of completing my formal training, I found myself with 2 Para fighting in the Falklands, where I witnessed first-hand the horror of war, including the death of one of my closest mates and the psychological damage suffered by several of my comrades. It was a life-changing experience that shaped my commitment to care for my fellow human beings. It's also where my drive to make the most of every opportunity that life presented to me stemmed.
When I returned to Britain at the end of The Falkland's conflict, I served with the parachute field ambulance before making another radical career move. In 1987, at the suggestion of a friend, I decided to become an insurance salesman in Aldershot. The experience opened my eyes to the world of commerce and finance and, having proved myself a success in the insurance sector, I decided to move back to Scotland and launch my own business.
I returned to my beloved Scotland and it was here that I made the decision that would take the next great leap of faith and follow my instincts and hunches.
While working as a medic on the oil rigs, I used my time off to research the provision of care for the elderly and I realised that the private care home sector did not have the capacity to cope with Britain's ageing population.
Using the money from savings, sale of my house in Aldershot and gifting from family, I bought my first care home, Balhousie Lisden in Kirriemuir, in 1991. From modest beginnings with a 31-bed care home, Balhousie Care Group is now one of Scotland's most successful residential care providers, with 27 homes in Scotland providing accommodation for up to 1000. We also employ 1100+ people which makes Balhousie Care Group one of the biggest employers in the region – a responsibility that I also don’t take lightly!
Apart from my working life at Balhousie Care, I sit on the board of the Scottish Entrepreneurial Exchange and Combat Stress (causes I’m very passionate about) and as a result occasionally get to rub shoulders with the likes of HRH Prince of Wales and Sir Richard Branson.
I’ve been flattered and honoured to be nominated for (and win) a number of entrepreneurial awards over the past five years, including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (I just won the 2011 Scottish award for Customer Service and am in with a chance at the National UK finals in October). Also, I have had the great honour to be a finalist for fundraiser of the year 2011 at the Daily Record Hero Annual Awards. Awards are only important to me when they serve to acknowledge that my peers and people I respect in business believe I’m doing a good job and working in a healthy, productive and valuable way that benefits society in general.
Mine is not however the story of a man born with a "silver spoon" in his mouth. Rather, it is a classic tale of a very normal Scottish guy, with a heap of healthy ambitions who found a way to make those ambitions become reality. I’d love you to have the same opportunity!
I had to be street wise to survive. Early in life I developed an ability to be energetic and focused in business and also found that I had raw, natural entrepreneurial flair that came about as a result of all the experiences I’d had before I had turned thirty
I’d like to think that my story can serve to inspire and motivate almost everyone that hears or reads it. Because, as I’m often heard saying “Every day is a school day – we never stop learning”. What I learned is that if you set your heart and energy and beliefs and absolute commitment to achieve something – the chances are you will succeed