How we staged a management buyout

Overview

I joined CEL in January 2008 as chief executive.  The co-founders, Ian McCrae and Kenneth Spencer, who began the business in 1987, were planning to retire and myself and our new financial director, Mohammed Ramzan, saw a unique opportunity to purchase a strong public sector services business with a very exciting future.

The challenge

Our challenge was steering the Management Buyout (MBO) successfully during a period of increasing turmoil within the financial markets. Having a willing buyer and seller does provide a good foundation for any MBO. But the current credit market conditions changed dramatically during the course of our negotiations and we had to revisit the structure of the deal.

The solution

We remained focused on two key facets - working capital availability to fund our growth and affordability of debt.  Striking the right balance between these two variables was key to the success of the MBO.  Despite the increasingly difficult credit markets, both myself and Mohammed Ramzan guided the deal through to a successful completion with the backing of HSBC.

Key lessons

There were many learning points to be taken from the MBO process:

  • Invest time in a business plan that can be understood by your potential funders.  Clearly demonstrate your understanding of your markets and how you will drive growth.
  • Don't underestimate the time it takes to work on the process and remember you have a business to run at the same time!
  • Choose your advisors carefully - always best to go on personal recommendation.  If this is not possible, take up references.
  • Negotiate a cap on your advisor's fees at the outset.
  • Raising capital in the current markets is incredibly tough - you need to educate your funders about your business, markets, risks and your personal and organisational competence to effectively deal with all of these!

Top tip

We have close and long standing relationships with many of our customers, which gives us fantastic insight into their organisations and the challenges they face. If I had to give one top tip to any business it would be: really understand your customers, get to grips with the issues they deal with, their aims and plans for the future. It's been this simple but vital tactic that has provided CEL with a unique opportunity to evolve its services to meet our customer's challenges. And this approach will boost your bottom line. We are already seeing the benefits of our customer relationship management within the first quarter following the MBO.

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