Growing dms into a lucrative business

dms is one of Cayman’s true success stories. With a  staff of over 175 in its various divisions, the company is the brainchild of president Don Seymour, a CPA who started out with PriceWaterhouse as an accountant.

Originally from Cayman, Seymour spent eight years studying and working in the United States.

“Like any other expat, I was thinking about my future and where to lay down my roots,” says Seymour.

“In the US you get three years to work and a three-year renewal, then you have to decide whether to apply for citizenship. I started thinking about my options in my last year, 1996, which included moving to Canada or going back to Cayman.”

Seymour thought he some saw interesting opportunities in Cayman and made the decision to move back.

“At that time I had an idea that I would build maybe five small businesses,” says Seymour.

“Having spent time in the US, I saw that some areas in Cayman were underserved presenting opportunities for growth.

He started his entrepreneurial activities as soon as he arrived.

“I had a friend who owned Chelsea’s bar and invited me to be a partner and as I had saved about $50,000 living in the US, I was able to do it.” Seymour says that his mother helped by putting up her house, and he was able to obtain a loan from Atlee Ebanks at First Cayman. Seymour says he was the only one who seemed to believe in his potential, commending his character.

During the day, Seymour was working full time at PriceWaterhouse and at night he worked at the bar until the wee hours, even picking up deliveries on his lunch hour. It was exhausting, but Seymour was hooked.

“When the bar started to become successful I bought my partner out and took the cash flow and invested it in a swimming pool company, Cayman Pool and Spa, with the objective being to bring in professional practices,” he says.

In those days, according to Seymour, it was possible to become successful simply by being professional, which was a distinguishing factor for any business.

“All you had to do was return phone calls, show up at the time you said you would, that kind of thing,” says Seymour.

The company subsequently won the contract for the pools at the new Ritz-Carlton in Jamaica, which proved to be a challenging experience.

“We borrowed money to finance that project, which did not go well. We lost money and we had to work to repay our investors,” says Seymour.

The issue, which has not been resolved to this day, has provided a forthright lesson in the world of business.

“All my life, all I have really emphasised in business is free cash flow, staying away from debt,” says Seymour.

“We run our business very conservatively and our emphasis is on cash.”

Moving on with his plan, Seymour then used money from the pool company to start Athlete’s Foot with Naul Bodden around 1999, eventually buying him out.

By that time Seymour had changed jobs, having been appointed the first head of investment services at the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority in 1997.

Seymour says a pivotal moment came after the Y2K scare, which really had an impact on him.

“At that time the future seemed so uncertain,” says Seymour.

“I was thinking that I really wanted to be a full-time entrepreneur, with my five businesses supplementing my income, but at the same time I was wondering what the point might be if Y2K was going to have a major impact,” he says.

“At the same time I wanted to be doing my professional career, with the businesses on the side supplementing my income.”

But as things started to go well, he realised his foray into business ownership could be more successful than he thought and started to rethink his plan.

“I got up on January 1, 2000, and saw that the world was still going on as before,” he says.

“There were no issues and everyone was having a good time and I said well then I might as well get on with it!”

He marks down his decision to leave his position as head of the Investment Services Division at CIMA in 2000 as the most pivotal moment in his career. 

“I had been very successful at CIMA, establishing the Investment Services Division, hiring and training the  staff, developing the regulatory policies and implementing the policy direction. I truly loved that experience,” he says.

“Getting the regulatory touch correct can either make or break an industry and we were clearly getting it right at CIMA, as Cayman was rapidly ascending up the league tables to eventually become the No. 1 hedge fund jurisdiction.”

He says all of that success was heady stuff and it was difficult to leave a recognised, respected position to toil in obscurity pursuing an unproven idea, but he was confident that fund governance would eventually become a valued service.  

Seymour says the biggest challenge was persuading others of this vision. 

“It was very difficult to attract people, employees, investors and clients,” he says. “Several of my best friends turned me down and my family was unhappy with me. It was hard to keep motivated to continue without the support. 

“In 2001 there was one person in the company, me,” says Seymour.

“Today, dms is the unquestioned market leader in fund governance. Our business model is widely accepted and has attracted many imitators.”

While the dms organisation works in primarily in financial services, it also has a stake in media and real estate. dms management alone has offices in Grand Cayman, Sao Paulo, Dublin and Hong Kong and about 55 staff just working in client services.

“Our growth is based on opportunity,” says Seymour.

“We made some good decisions to move into fast-moving sectors like fund governance for one. I could see it was going to be important.”

He notes while his company has been doing fund governance for the past decade, some law firms only started doing it in recent years.

“David Bree and I had a meeting of the minds on this, while other friends were not so convinced. They did not see the opportunity in the same way,” says Seymour, noting the firm now has two more partners, Roger Hansen and Ronan Guilfoyle.

“Our financial services grew, we now have dms corporate services, Offshore Business Solutions, Cayman Institutional Bank and Saxon Administration,” he continues.

“To diversify our holdings, we also looked to media in the form of radio (dms Broadcasting) and commercial real estate.”

Seymour offers some wry pearls of wisdom.

“I say in business there are three types of entrepreneurs: Innovators, imitators and idiots. We try not to be the third kind,” he says with a laugh.

“The last group I refer to people who go into a market that is already so well done that there is no way you could do it better,” he says.

“We try to find areas through vision and professionalism that either had not been done or that we thought we could do better,” noting one more recent area of innovation is Cayman Institutional Bank, which is catering to the institutional market. 

“In terms of fund governance, when we opened the Hong Kong office I was so humbled to hear industry practitioners say we had created something so good that it could be exported to Hong Kong,” he says.

“It is just so successful, almost like the iPod of the fund industry, thanks to innovation, the core part of our philosophy at dms.”

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