The challenges of family business (Part 4): A deeper resolve to succeed

The complexion of life in the business had changed considerably by 2012. The acquisition from 2011 had gone well, and instead of a constant struggle against the pressures of cashflow, we were able to develop a new, and more constructive, outlook. It was a rapid, and very welcome, transition for us.

Amongst all of the other benefits that spun out of the deal, I will take a moment to explain one significant (and perhaps interesting) consequence.

Strong partnerships are vital in business, and our suppliers welcomed what they identified as a demonstration of intent. They want to trade with partners who are going to get a lot of their product into the market and this was an encouraging sign for them. In light of the news, many decided to support us to a greater degree, offering better trading terms and extending our levels of credit.

This immediately improved our options for sourcing product (meaning that we could offer better prices to our customers), and dropped an amplified level of cash into the business. This in turn gave us greater buying power, increased our competitiveness and gave us more options again. To a degree, it was self-perpetuating, with a relatively small level of success creating a fertile environment for more success.

In the spring of 2012, information on an opportunity to acquire another competitor was passed to me by a colleague (a tremendously talented corporate lawyer called Neil Kennedy who, other than my dad, has been the biggest influence on my career). Quickly, we sat down together to discuss the prospect; it was a good business, but it was arguably overpriced (overpaying for the asset is a fundamental error – as you are permanently fighting against the tide to make the deal worthwhile).

In the circumstances it might be nice to say that we agonised over the decision, but being honest, we agreed to pursue the deal in minutes. Whilst as a standalone entity the target did not justify the price, we had a clear plan of how to integrate the business and maximise value. A few months later we completed the deal.

As we moved from 2012 into 2013, we had transformed the business. We had come through a terrible phase, but with profit, cash and a plan we now had a real basis for excitement and optimism for the future. Whilst the years between 2008 and 2011 had been exceptionally difficult, there was also something special about coming together and using our combined strength to overcome adversity. I will always be proud of us for that.

Since I started writing these blogs, I have debated with myself about how I would tackle the next part of this story. Ultimately, I have decided to be honest and open. I apologise for the sentiment, but I have no other way of expressing it.

Life can be cruel and twisted. On 10 March 2013, dad died suddenly and with no warning. It was devastating. He was a force of nature. A wonderful man, unlike any other I will ever meet. Unstoppable, unchallengeable and unforgettable. As our dad, he was loving, compassionate and warm. In business, he was our beating heart; the genesis. Experienced and ambitious; the voice of calmness, courage and belief; his significance and influence on the business and on each of us is impossible to accurately express. Despite the relative success of the previous two years, I have never felt sadness like those following months.

If I could also explain one of the perverse consequences of a family business in that scenario. My two brothers, Kevin and Christopher, work in the business on a full-time basis. Together with dad, they ran the company on a day-to-day level. It was simply not possible for them to take any real time to grieve. Instead, they returned to the office, where dad’s desk now lay empty, and went through his handwritten notes and his handwritten diary and fulfilled his commitments and meetings. I have to acknowledge the strength it took for them to do that.

My dad wanted to leave a legacy and I believe he did. Before 2008, none of the brothers involved in the business had any real intention of working together. We had our own respective careers and plans. By virtue of this business, we joined together and as dad passed away in 2013, we were left with the opportunity to create something really valuable.

In my next blog, I will explain how we recovered from that period with a deeper resolve than ever to make the business succeed.

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