I’ve wanted to share some stories from the past with you for a while. As one or two of you know, I left EY in 1992 to join a client and over the next few years we built what was then a small construction company into a group of businesses with interests in food manufacturing, tech, consulting, and leisure. It’s the leisure part that I want to talk about today.
In 1995 we bought into a snooker club business in Falkirk. We quickly bought a second club, and then a couple of years later added a third, in Cumbernauld. We bought the Cumbernauld club from an Italian family, who also owned some hotels and another club in Livingston.
One night, not long after we’d bought the Cumbernauld club, we were having dinner with the previous owner at their hotel in Livingston, when he asked if we wanted to buy the club in Livingston. We were interested, but had used all of our resources to buy Cumbernauld. “Don’t worry”, he said,”I’ll help you”. And so 30 minutes later we found ourselves sitting in his living room looking over the accounts for the Livingston club. It was a big site, with a healthy bar trade, and we agreed a purchase price that evening of around £300k. Now we had to figure out how to pay for it.
We managed to find another £100k of our own money we could put in, and secured a further £100k by way of what was then called an Advance of Discount (AOD) from the brewery. That left us with £100k of a shortfall.
Again, we spoke to the owner and told him that as much as we wanted to do the deal, we were £100k short. That’s when he phoned his bank manager and basically told him to lend us the money and that he would personally guarantee it! So a couple of days later, we found ourselves meeting at RBS in Livingston, and listening to the owner dictate the terms to the bank, and confirming that he would guarantee the loan.
Quite incredible! I was pinching myself – we’d just bought 2 businesses in the space of 6 months for not far off £1m. I was only 27/28 at the time, and I was having the time of my life. I ended up being the licensee of that club in Livingston for about 6 months, which is a whole other story for another day!
Thinking back, these were different times. Raising money, provided you had a good idea, good people, and a solid business plan, was easy. Then the banking collapse happened in 2008 and everything changed.
Now it takes about a month, and countless forms and paperwork just to open an account, never mind buy a business!
That decade, from 1990, was a wonderful time for me. I went from being an accountant to a Financial Controller, then to Finance Director, and finally to Group MD. I don’t think there’s been a decade since when I’ve learned as much as I did back then, or had as much fun!