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    High Life

    Will D’Arcy in Chamonix

    People — 26 February 2013

    Living the High Life:
    Will D’Arcy

    After 30 years at the top in finance, Will D’Arcy is scaling new heights as a mountain guide.

    By Charlotte Metcalfe

    ‘I haven’t been this fit since I came back from climbing in the Himalayas when I was 32,’ chuckles 55-year-old Will D’Arcy, referring to his new role as the principal of a mountain- guiding business in Chamonix. D’Arcy left the City for the mountains in September 2012, and his new company, Elite Mountain Guides, is already gaining a reputation – his first client arrived at his door with a bunch of tulips and a hand-written note after a day skiing with D’Arcy and his business partner and guide, Phil Ashby. ‘I’ve never been given flowers for services rendered before,’ he admits. ‘But then I’m working with Phil, who’s the very best.’

    Both Ashby and Mark Thomas, D’Arcy’s other partner, are IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) guides. Ashby was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal when a Royal Marine in Sierra Leone, has been a lecturer at the British Army Jungle Warfare Training School in Brunei and is on the motivational speaking circuit. ‘I’ve built Elite Mountain Guides around Phil – without him, it simply wouldn’t exist,’ says D’Arcy. ‘City people work in a team, superficially speaking, but many are out for themselves, so I’m enjoying being in a business run like the Army, in which you go into battle trusting the people alongside you.’

    D’Arcy arrived in Chamonix after a long City career that began in 1980, when he joined Phillips & Drew to sell gilts. He worked as an investment banker in fixed income for the next 15 years. He recalls, ‘I was 38, with six big clients, climbing the greasy pole and in the ofce at 7.15 every morning. When the bond markets sufered a meltdown in 1994, five stopped doing business and I was down to one client.’

    ‘I’d jumped, but had no lifeboat. I was 54, with responsibilities, and we were in the worst recession the world had ever seen.’

    What followed was a rollercoaster ride as D’Arcy bounced from one venture to the next. First, he tried his hand at media finance; then, after a brief stint in financial training, he turned to headhunting, setting up an investment- banking subsidiary for Hanover Search before going independent a year later with D’Arcy & Co. ‘We were very successful for a couple of years, but then came the dot-com crash and 9/11. So I studied for a law degree. Then Lehman Brothers collapsed. Suddenly, there was a huge dislocation of capital markets. I saw an opportunity and set up a fixed-income department for WH Ireland.’

    D’Arcy took redundancy in 2011. ‘I’d jumped, but had no lifeboat. I was 54, with responsibilities, and we were in the worst recession the world had ever seen. To cheer myself up, I went to Chamonix to ski and see my friend Phil,’ he recalls. On asking Ashby how he found his clients, he realised he had hit on something he really wanted to do next. So, last summer, he used his City contacts and knowledge of the SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) to raise finance. By the autumn, he had settled in Chamonix and set up Elite Mountain Guides to provide a premium guiding service for skiiers, walkers and climbers.

    ‘The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt from the City is that getting business is hard and it takes longer for it to come through than you anticipate,’ says D’Arcy. ‘The competition’s tough, but our guides are superb. We charge a lot, but it’s more fun for senior corporate types to spend three days with people who can talk their language, and the range of life experiences that Phil and I have between us is second to none.’

    D’Arcy is enjoying the challenge of a new kind of selling: ‘I’m used to business-to-business dealing, which is cyclical, whereas a business- to-retail company has a more dependable, if less steep, trajectory. People are always going to want fun, however dire the economic climate, but when businesses cut back, they cut to the bone. I was in recruitment and what’s the first thing they do when there’s a recession? Stop recruiting! But I’ll always have someone wanting an adventure.’

    D’Arcy describes himself as ‘humble but passionate’ and says, ‘My ambitions are to scale the business and build it up without losing the personal touch. It’s difcult but achievable and I’m prepared to work my butt of to satisfy clients. We’re already seeing results by exceeding their expectations and that’s a good feeling. There are plenty of mountain-guiding businesses making money, so we know the model works. It’s a matter of persisting and, after the City, no one can say I don’t have the necessary perseverance.’

    elitemountainguides.com