Ruth Percival’s storming stories at Rainmakers event

Ruth Percival

Ruth Percival, chief executive of Contollo stunned attendees at the Rainmakers lunch at Manchester Hall yesterday (19 June 2024) with stories from her career and her ambitions for her latest business venture.

She not only told the exciting story about how she started buy-and-build consultancy Contollo with entrepreneur Oliver Dennis, and the financial backing of private equity investor NorthEdge, but her own personal journey through some real challenges dating back to when she was the only female corporate finance partner in a top six firm.

She gripped the room when she recounted how she was often treated in her earlier career: “I was shouted out. I was threatened. I even had someone trying to bribe me with a considerable amount of money to get the outcome on a particular deal. I didn’t take it, by the way, before you are asking.”

She said some of the issues were particular to the way the corporate finance world is set up.

“The thing with business and deal doing is you’ve got some key ingredients to that. You’ve got Alpha personalities, you’ve got ego, you’ve got money and power,” she said.

“What you see there is a distortion of power. So men have it, women don’t. Which is, which has been true through a lot of my career. That’s where some of those toxic things start to happen.

“I could tell you some stories that would really make your make your hair curl and I have experienced things that you would not want your wife or your daughters, and certainly my daughters, to ever experience.

“I was on the wrong end of attention from some sexual predators and some bullies in my career, often for a sustained period of time, and they pop up in clients, in counterparties, even within senior leadership.”

Looking around the room and addressing a mixed audience of women and men, she said: “I can see there’s lots more women in corporate finance, certainly. But what we need is for those women to be seeded all the way through the upper echelons, not just in corporate finance, but within clients, within private equity houses, within banks all the way through. And then we’ll start to see that balance of power shift.”

She ended the on-stage interview with a plea to the Rainmakers network in the room that Contollo was open to doing deals. She explained what they were looking for businesses in cost management consultancy, quantity surveying and project management in the built environment, and mechanical and electrical engineering businesses.

“We want businesses with between 15 and 80 people.

“We are we want to strengthen sectors, so we are unafraid of customer and sector concentration. You might be really worried that a business has 80% with one client or in a particular sector. We love that, because what it does is it brings scale immediately to our sector offering. So that just does not put us off,” she said.

“We’ve got an ambition to grow to 400 people. That’s still quite a small consultancy practice across the UK, so it’ll still have some personality. Everyone should still know who each other are. That is a better proposition than selling to some massive, faceless multinational, and we can de-risk significantly for an entrepreneur so they can take the money off the table, but they’ve still got an appetite to grow their business, to get involved, to join our team.”

She added: “Our ambition is to help our clients achieve their net zero ambitions. We think it’s a really, really exciting and compelling place to work. So please, if you’ve got contacts from that area, then please do introduce us.”

Amy Salt, who works in senior sales at Datasite said: “It was really interesting to hear about Ruth and Oliver’s journey through the years and how they have reached where they are now. Incredibly inspiring for the younger generations starting their careers in the M&A industry!”

Suzie Goodfellow from Mills and Reeve, said: “Some might think the corporate finance world is dull and dry, or else that it’s all just about making money and egos. It’s good to hear the human stories behind the strategies and the deals.

“Thanks Ruth Percival for sharing your interesting and exciting highs and for being honest and open about the lows. I’m also glad things are changing for our kids, especially the women. Class venue, good food and company and brilliant to hear some of Ruth’s story.”

Joel Durkin from Freshfield said: “Excellent and insightful afternoon at’s Rainmakers lunch event in Manchester, hearing about Ruth Percival and Contollo’s plan to grow a buy-and-build consultancy from scratch as well as Ruth’s own journey in corporate finance.

“There were some really interesting perspectives on the different options for company owners looking to exit, including Employee Ownership Trusts.”

Mike Mesrie of MDM resourcing said: “Really inspiring to listen to Ruth Percival’s story of both her career and how she came to set up Contollo.

“Shocking to hear the behaviour Ruth experienced from men in power as she developed her career. God help any men who behave that way towards any of my daughters as they develop their careers. Hopefully the world is changing.

“Thanks to for an excellent event.”