August 17, 2020
My career started in the reception of Saatchi’s. I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to do having been in economic intelligence, and I decided I wanted to work for Saatchi. So, I sat down in reception, stayed there for three days until someone asked me what I wanted, and I asked for a job.
I had an interview with a chap that told me to leave even after I had offered to work for him for free for two weeks! Just as I was leaving his office, he got a call to say that he had won a huge contract. Following that call, he decided he would need some help for two weeks. So that is how I started – right place, right time.
We started the Chronic Foundation in 2004. I was having dinner with a business partner whom I had set up two previous businesses with and he saw me surreptitiously injecting myself and started laughing. I asked him what was so funny, and he said that “all this time we have known each other and worked together so closely, I had no idea that you were diabetic. I am too!”.
Following that conversation, we started to focus on diabetes and how people were in denial about it. We wanted to raise awareness. We ended up advising firms big and small who were in that space or who wanted to enter the space around tech support of behavioral change and helping worthy innovations.
I only chair boards of small, fast-growth companies or companies with potential for growth. They are all under 70 people and the smallest firm I have worked with was just two people.
How I add value? Firstly, I have a very broad network. This was strengthened when I became a Sloan Fellow of London Business School and I have also consciously builtn strong relationshipss with exceptional people who help small businesses.
The second way I help is by bringing the right teams together, both at a board level where it is really important to have chemistry and respect, but also helping management teams find the right people who are prepared for the long haul that an early stage business can often present.
Thirdly, I like to think I can be very valuable in strategy and negotiations. I have worn many different hats in my life; I have been an entrepreneur, I have co-founded businesses with a number of people, I have been a consultant, and I have been a coach. As a chair, I think I add value by understanding when to change my hat. When you are a chair in big companies there may be less flexibility, but in small companies, I believe it is appropriate to sometimes roll your sleeves up and get stuck in if there is a critical task, get involved with management at a closer level, or to coach business leaders.
Without doubt the most challenging thing is seeing wonderful small companies, often with excellent ideas and an excellent team, die, or begin to die. That could be a result of coronavirus, bad debt or having insufficient funds or significant people gaps. It usually comes down to two things: “cash or talent” (to quote UK “Strategy man” Deri Llewelyn Davies). I found this particularly challenging in a health business I worked with recently, which improves the lives of children, and is having a tough time. It would be very upsetting if I thought we could not re-treat children who had experienced a life-changing therapy and if we could not scale this to reach many more children who could all benefit hugely from the innovation.
Survival for me is about a couple of things. It about not being in denial about what is happening and meeting the reality head on as quickly as possible. A great mentor of mine once said, “Hugo, if you see a crisis coming bring it on early, don’t pretend it is not happening”.
I think it is also about adapting quickly. That might mean radically changing your cost structure but equally, it may be about seeing new opportunities, in new people, in new products, in new markets or in M&A activity. It is not just about cutting costs. You need to adapt to the times.
Largely, I think the pandemic has presented a significant opportunity, especially for digital health businesses, and this is since doctors are seeing less people face to face. As they have always done this historically, it provides a great opportunity for many of the digital innovations that have been held back by conservated doctors’ old habits. We are learning more and more that doctors do not have to see patients, and that patients can become far more responsible for their own health. I was recently talking to a previous lead of health at PwC, who was saying the same thing. I have a lot of doctors in my family and although they are extremely bright, they can also be some of the most conservative people when it comes to changing habits. This crisis has brought it on and forced change.
In Chinese, the word crisis combines two words; ”Catastrophe” and “Opportunity”. I think this is very true for healthcare. Whist it has been critical and dreadful at the same time, it has been an enormous opportunity for positive change.
Yes, I have. These have all been small, fast-growth businesses and it has been a fascinating journey. You never stop learning.
I think corporate finance can really help to bring about “joined up thinking”. Helping small companies better understand their business model, future customers, future investors, and possibly future acquirers can potentially accelerate a company radically. I say that with some caveats. Aligning a business more closely to its exit strategy is often about knowing the end game, having a clear picture of that end game, and then working backwards. I did a fantastic interview once with a champion salesman who outsold everyone in his sector and who later became CEO. He said exactly that.
Extremely positive. I have not only used Velocity once, but I have used it a second and a third time too! This is a service I have looked for, for some time, because I think larger corporate players are increasingly looking to do more corporate investments involving earlier stage businesses. I know a fair bit about this as I have worked with some large, mainly American, companies on long term programmes to look for smaller companies where they see much more value than the original entrepreneurs might have. In healthcare, this can be very important as it can mean getting a vaccine or a diagnostic out to the market quicker, and to more people to save more lives.
I think Bluebox Velocity addresses a gap in the market, especially at this unsettling time. People might want to raise funds or sell quickly, and they perhaps don’t want to pay the traditional upfront fees they were paying previously. I think the pricing is right and it has proved a phenomenal service and worked very well for me. I am very confident it will work very well for other customers.
Far more people are going to be working from home on Zoom, etc. and I think it will change the structure of homes, and indeed, families and relationships. A short example of this is that I advise one company that had annual rent and services of £340,000. They are going to reinvest these savings back into the business. While they will provide an office with seven well-spaced hot desks and two conference rooms, they are going to invest the difference in their employees. A worker who might live in a one-bedroom apartment will be gifted the finance to rent a two-bedroom apartment so they can call it a home office. They have also investigated adding a home office into families’ gardens. It is about being imaginative and changing the way we work but possibly for the better.
I do think it is still important for teams to meet on a weekly or monthly basis and when we do meet, it is important not to lose the social connection, and not just meet about business – whether that is face-to-face or virtual.
What was your go-to lockdown pastime? Discovering cycling and cycling to my country office four miles from my home.
When travel restarts properly, where is the first place you’d like to visit? Where I am now, my house in the Black mountains, Wales.
Three things you would take to a dessert island. A knife, the works of Shakespeare and a cappuccino machine.
Life motto. My Grandfather’s poem. “Help us to be masters of ourselves that we can be the servants of others”.
“We were delighted with the services that Bluebox offered us. Bluebox’s attention to detail through their Diamond Programme ensured that we were well prepared for when the business was taken to market and that the sale process itself was managed expertly.
We challenged Bluebox with finding the right strategic buyer and thereafter negotiating a deal that met our requirements. In helping initially to identify and to secure the deal with Mountville Mills they accomplished just that. Communication throughout was excellent and professional, managing each stage of the process. I would have no hesitation in recommending Bluebox to any corporate shareholder or private business owner looking to divest their business.”
Richard Millward, Former Client
“We were delighted with the services that Bluebox offered us. Bluebox were challenged with finding us the right strategic investor and, thereafter, negotiating a deal that met our complex requirements. In identifying and securing the deal with LGC they have done exactly that. The process itself was efficient and smooth, largely due to the excellent communication from the Bluebox team, who also demonstrated excellent experience at managing a very engaging auction process. I would be delighted to recommend Bluebox to any corporate shareholder or private business owner looking to divest a business.”
Helen Dickinson, Former Client
It has been a real privilege working with the team at Bluebox over this last year or so. Bluebox’s attention to detail ensured that we were well prepared for when the business was taken to market and the sale process itself was managed expertly. Starting the process, I had no idea exactly what this would entail and the volume of work that has been produced by everyone and the result reached today is nothing short of brilliant.
Hugh Morris, Former Client
We are delighted with the services that Bluebox was able to offer. They showed an intimate knowledge of a deal cycle, managed a tight auction process and were highly communicative from the start. I would happily recommend Paul and his team to business owners contemplating a sale of their business in the next 24 months. Experience is key and this has paid off for us.
Laurence Seward, Former Client
Aligning ourselves early with Bluebox, and entrusting the team to guide us through their process proved to be a highly rewarding investment from all viewpoints. Bluebox’s support significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years. The earlier the engagement the better so far as I am concerned.
Mike Minett, Former Client
We began working with Bluebox in early 2015 through their Blue Diamond Programme, as we were contemplating an exit. We found that the process focussed our minds on the key areas of growth in the business, and prepared us well for the inevitable rigours of due diligence. During the sale process itself, the advice offered by the Bluebox team was invaluable. We found them to be helpful, straightforward and honest.
David Stokes, Former Client
When selecting our adviser, it was extremely important that they had access to international buyers and were experienced in cross-border M&A. The team at Bluebox proved to be invaluable by identifying a strategic acquirer from America who was not known to us and by negotiating an excellent deal for all parties. I was also impressed with the process management from Bluebox, which ensured that the deal was closed in a timely fashion.
Jeff Weinstein, Former Client
When I first engaged with Bluebox, I was hesitant as to the benefits of using an advisor to firstly, find a buyer for my business and secondly, to get a deal over the line. However, now that the deal has completed with KPM, I can honestly say that the finer negotiation points handled by Bluebox and their overall management of this process has been nothing short of first class. I would be delighted to recommend Bluebox’s services to any entrepreneur contemplating the sale of their business.
Bill Ballard, Former Client
Bluebox worked closely with us over the following six months and helped us to implement some key initiatives which made InferMed a more attractive acquisition target. Once we decided to sell the business, the Bluebox team were very diligent in ensuring that no stone was left unturned. They negotiated expertly on our behalf to ensure we got the best deal possible.
Alan Montgomery, Former Client
The pre-sale planning programme that we signed up for with Bluebox made us develop our strategies and focus on the bigger picture. It proved to be a very rewarding investment from all viewpoints and significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years.
Nigel Parsons, Former Client
I have experienced first hand the value that can be created through highly structured pre-sale planning. It amazes me that it is not something that everyone does. It is so disappointing to see around 90% of transactions collapse before they complete and pre-sale planning will not only enhance your price, but also significantly enhance your chance of a closed deal.
James Caan, Investor
We worked incredibly closely with our advisers who provided expert knowledge of the sale process with which we were not familiar. We were truly delighted with the results.
Marten Nielson, Former Client
We appointed advisers to manage the sales process after we had received a number of unsolicited approaches for the business. I was incredibly impressed by the immense value that could be created by expertly negotiating with a group of already interested parties.
Paul Duckworth, Former Client
I was delighted with the service that the team offered and their real attention to detail. The deal was not without its complexities and it was reassuring to have such experienced advisers assisting me throughout the negotiations.
Peter Bennett, Former Client
Truly delighted with the way my sale process was managed. The fact that the team I worked with achieved such a great multiple is testament to their experience and their ability to create some true competitive tension.
James Averdieck, Gü, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided invaluable support in negotiating this complex transaction. Their access to international purchasers, and exceptional knowledge of cross border M&A ensured that the deal was concluded efficiently, achieving a highly successful outcome for us all.
Jon Parslow, Former Client
“We selected Bluebox after a fairly long round of evaluating potential advisors because of their scientific, yet challenging approach to maximising value. During our initial meetings they showed us how far short of “ready” we were and consequently we completed more preparation in the early stages which meant we were equipped for what was to come. We were delighted with our choice of Corporate Finance partner. I do not hesitate in recommending Bluebox for any SME to consider.”
Simon English, Former Client
Bluebox provided invaluable advice in managing the negotiations with incoming investors. Their skills in handling these discussions were evident from the outset and the vital interface that they provided between the incumbent team and the incoming investors was truly beneficial.
Henry Braham, Former Client
Bluebox have a professional, dynamic and experienced team that is greatly assisting me with my focus on my exit within the next 24 months. Their structured approach is very refreshing and their ‘Blue Diamond’ programme is adding immense value.
Matt Evans, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided me with a seamless service from the start of the engagement until our deal was completed. Attention to detail was commendable and their understanding of corporate M&A very impressive. I could not recommend them highly enough.
Victor Lewis, Former client
Having tried to sell my business previously – and failed – I was only too aware of the importance of pre-sale planning. This is a talented team offering a service that most people find out about, but too late.
Simon Hulme, Former Client
Bluebox are a quality outfit. Their access to International acquirers and relationships with the highest quality domestic investors was impressive. My shareholders and I received excellent service from start to finish and it was refreshing to be dealing with a senior team throughout the sale exercise.
Michael Clapper, Former Client
I cannot recommend the team at Bluebox highly enough. Their expert guidance throughout the entire sale exercise resulted in my shareholders securing an excellent deal with which the entire team was delighted.
Mark Rodol, Former Client
I’m really pleased with the service Bluebox provided. The team demonstrated excellent knowledge of the process to follow and led negotiations for the hospital in a way that allowed us to ensure we received appropriate value whilst focusing on reputational risk. Communication and service were of a very high standard.
Steven Davies, Former Client
With Bluebox’s expert advice we were able to find the right buyer that will benefit our business strategically. We’re delighted with the outcome and look forward to starting our new chapter
Clive Hillier, Former Client
The advice offered by the Bluebox team throughout the process was invaluable to the shareholders. We strongly believe that participating in Bluebox’s pre-sale planning programme was a significant driver behind the success of the deal. Their project management and negotiation skills throughout the sale process itself resulted in an exceptional deal being delivered to all parties involved.
Harpal Singh, Former Client