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James Robins – a man of many talents…

Not only is James Robins a Broker Relationship Manager but he’s also a former full-time rugby union professional, now playing for Sale FC in  National League 1. We caught up with him to find out how he balances his careers and what he enjoys most about both.

You recently joined the Business Finance team – what does your role entail?

I joined as a Broker Relationship Manager, which is a new role. I have my own portfolio of brokers across the North-West who I look after and work with to create and maintain close relationships. I work closely with Credit and Operations colleagues to ensure all broker requests are managed efficiently, resulting in a seamless experience.

It’s going to be interesting to see how it shapes up over the next six months because it’s such a new role, which will evolve very quickly.

How have you prepared for the role?    

Having come from Close Brothers Leasing, I’ve immersed myself as much as possible in the broker world, doing research on the brokers I will inherit. I have also had to digest the subtle operational changes between Leasing and Business Finance.  

Tell me more about your time in Leasing 

I worked in payouts which was extremely valuable as it gave me a broad view of the business and how it works across the Wholesale Finance, Renewable Energy and Core teams.

We’d receive work from all three teams, which gave me a detailed insight into the different types of deals we do and the products we offer, which I got to know in detail.

Why did you make the switch?

It’s something I really wanted to do but not before I got a good grounding in how payouts work and a thorough understanding of how deals are structured. The opportunity with Business Finance became available and I decided to make the switch, which is one of the brilliant things about Close Brothers – you can move around and they’ll accommodate you where they can.

I’m really excited to see where I can take the role.

How does the prospect of being home-based appeal to you?

I started in Leasing at the beginning of the pandemic, which was an interesting introduction, but I’ve adapted to that.

I’ll be going to the Hessle office at least three days a week as it’s a big priority of mine to integrate myself fully into the team, and a large part of that is meeting people in person.

Tell me about life before Close Brothers

I went to university in Manchester in 2016 and spent three years studying physiology (human biology) before moving on to play rugby full time.

It wasn’t something I planned on, but I played rugby throughout university, both for the university and for the Chester semi-professional team who were in the National 2 North league.

I then got to spend some time training at Sale Sharks in my final year. It was an amazing experience to train with the first team, including the international players who you see on TV, and all of a sudden you’re training with them.

That then gave me the opportunity to join Yorkshire Carnegie a year after I finished university and play in the Rugby Championship for a year before Covid struck.

I now get to do a job I really enjoy and play rugby, which is the ideal scenario for me.

How do you balance rugby with a full-time job?

It can be tough – you could be playing away at Cornish Pirates at 3pm on a Sunday then have to be at your desk early on a Monday morning.  

Yes, it’s tiring, but you learn to adapt; training is predominantly in the evenings three times a week with gym and conditioning on top of that.

You get used to balancing work and life - you just get on with it, and I’ve learned a lot about managing my time and finding a balance that works for me.

When did you start playing rugby?

Pretty much all my life – since I was four. Growing up, I played at my local club, Waterloo, here in the North West after which I was fortunate enough to play at school at Merchant Taylors’ School.

I carried on at university and Chester Rugby Club, which is where my interest really took off. We had a couple of really successful years, making the play-offs in my second season to go into the National League.

After that I went to play on a full-time basis having gained a lot of confidence from our success.

What is it about rugby you like so much?

I like that it’s a team sport – you can’t beat playing and celebrating with your mates and going through the ups and downs together.

I’m a keen sportsman and enjoy golf but find the individual nature of it challenging

I like the camaraderie and banter of rugby – you just can’t beat that. When you’re winning, the bus journeys back from places like Cornwall are unbelievable. On the flip side, it’s a long way if you are on the wrong side of the result, but that’s the beauty of sport.

What has rugby taught you that you can apply to the work environment?

Teamwork, despite working from home. The team is in constant contact and it’s done deliberately to ensure everyone feels part of the group.

Also, communication and leadership and not being afraid to put your head above the parapet and taking control when the situation calls for it. This has made some average players good, and made good players even better.

Of course, there’s also the discipline side of things, whether it’s turning up to training or work on time – it’s the same thing.

When you were at Sale Sharks, who impressed you the most?  

The brief time I was lucky enough to train there, you had the likes of Chris Ashton, James O’Connor and Faf de Klerk part of the team.

Even though I was only going in there a couple of days a week, just in that short time I got to learn not only how good these players are, but also how you hear people talk you never expected to.

The team is now effectively run around Faf de Klerk and that’s because of how vocal he is. Obviously, the talent comes with it, but he will lead everything from team meetings to training sessions.

You really get to notice who the leaders are – for example, him and James O’Connor who were the only two to take notepads into meetings and take notes. It’s these finer details that set people apart at the top, top level.

What position do you play?

I’m predominantly a fly half but I’ve turned into a bit of a utility back and have played pretty much every position in the back line.          

Being versatile helps but it can also hold you back because you don’t have the consistency you’d like.

It does; however, make you more open-minded and adaptable when things are thrown at you and to not panic under pressure.