Entrepreneur Series – Interview with Simon English

January 23, 2018

This month, we get to know Simon English. Simon is an experienced entrepreneur and former Managing Director of Fleet Assist, one of the UK’s leading supply chain management specialists in the Fleet Market.  Fleet Assist was recently sold to US-based investment fund Eli Global and Simon and his fellow shareholders were advised by Bluebox.

 

  1. You have been in the Automotive sector for most of your career. Any reasons you picked Automotive as a sector to move into?

Pure pot luck I suppose! I was 27 years old and had been in the police force for a good number of years. I wanted a career move and managed to get a job working for a Finance House in their Automotive Finance department. This was my first step into the Automotive sector.

  1. How long were you in the Police force for?

I worked for the police for four years and prior to the police, in a manufacturing company having left school with a modest couple of A Levels.

 

  1. What was your motivation behind launching your own business?

I had been an MD in three separate business and realised that I enjoyed change and change management so decided to go into a consultancy based role in this field. However, in a consultancy role, the jobs are inconsistent and I wanted a steady actuarial income that would also mean getting paid whilst on annual leave.

I started to think about creating a business of my own. I wanted to own an internet based, people light business. At the same time, Mike Smith (Simon’s Co-Founder of Fleet Assist) was also thinking about setting up a business so we put our ideas together and came up with the concept of Fleet Assist.

My other motivation was that I had a very young family and wanted to be very much part of their life growing up. I didn’t want to be the career Dad and just be there for just the key moments.  I thought that starting my own business and becoming my own boss would allow me the time and flexibility to be able to make this happen.  

 

  1. How has the Automotive sector changed since you started Fleet Assist?

Twenty years ago, it was a very slow-paced industry and nothing seemed to change. Automotive is now a very dynamic and fast changing industry. Cars are a manufactured item which have an incredibly long-life cycle. There will be plenty of people driving a car that’s only 3 years old, but that was designed before the first iPhone was even launched.

With all the new technology coming into play in the future within the Automotive sector such as electric cars, autonomous driving and AI, it will be most interesting to see what happens in the future.

 

  1. It must have been challenging to set up your own business. What were your greatest concerns about becoming a business owner and how did you get over them?

Bizarrely I didn’t have any concerns. I knew that if all else failed I was confident enough to go back into ‘corporate life’ so at least I had a cushion and wasn’t taking too many risks with money. The business model meant that we didn’t need to invest hundreds of thousands into the company. Instead, we invested some seed money in and decided not pay ourselves for a while……

 

  1. When you set up Fleet Assist did you always have an exit plan?

No – we didn’t think like that in those days. However, on reflection, building a business with an exit plan in mind would have been very valuable and worthwhile. It is fair to say that Bluebox ensured that the exit moved very smoothly in the end so I suppose that we got away with the lack of planning in our case.  ?

 

  1. Bluebox advised on the sale of Fleet Assist last year, but what were the biggest challenges you faced during the sale process and how did you get past them?

The biggest challenge was that we had quite a lot of interested parties that came to the process at different times. It was hard to manage such a high level of interest and to decide who was going to be the best fit for the management team and for Fleet Assist going forward.

Bluebox were instrumental in not only introducing these parties, but also maintaining the interest of all these parties up to the point when we decided to select the best party to move forward with.  It was great that we didn’t seem to lose anyone along the way!

 

  1. What advice would you give to someone who was looking to start their own business and build it for a sale in the future?

Have a really defined plan upfront which all of the equity holders sign up to. Know the market you are going to approach and have an exit plan/strategy as far in advance as possible. Obviously, using an Advisor to advise on the sale can add considerable value.  We were really delighted with what Bluebox achieved.  

I would also advise shareholders to think big and seek external funding early. It can add a lot of value. We didn’t have private equity money in Fleet Assist, but I have been exposed to private equity in other areas of work that I do and can see that they can really add value!

 

  1. You are still working at Fleet Assist now in a Consultancy role, where do you see the business going in the next 10 years?

Fleet Assist are definitely looking to grow organically and through acquisition. They now have an increased appetite for risk in the vehicle rental market (which we really just explored and were very cautious about) so I am sure the business will focus in this area. They have also got some new products planned in Business Intelligence, Telematics and some ‘rent to buy’ type products in the rental sector. They are hoping to make a couple of automotive acquisitions a year with a view to grow that Automotive exposure.  These are exciting times for Fleet Assist!

 

  1. Can you think of what your proudest moment is so far in your career?

No. I have had this conversation with my wife multiple times. I have never really looked back with great pride but I think that this is part of what drives people on – wanting to do the next big thing. I suppose I must be proud of some of the things I have done but I don’t really have a proudest moment in my career – only the achievements of my kids and in my personal life.

 

  1. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would take more risk

I would bring in private equity earlier

I would become a qualified accountant. I have run four different business and have been on a couple of different private equity boards and there are conversations that take place where I am always playing catch up because of my lack of technical knowledge. I see that as a shortcoming. I think that if you’re a qualified accountant you have always got that skill to fall back on which aids in your financial and technical understanding.

 

  1. Finally, what is your dream car?

For someone who has worked in the Automotive industry his whole life it is strange to say I really am not interested in cars.  My business partner Mike, who exited with me this year has bought himself an Aston Martin DB11. I have still got the same car that I left the business with 7 months ago. I generally don’t have a dream car.  I like driving, but don’t care what car – within reason!

Quick fire

Golf or Rugby?Rugby

Ferrari or Lamborghini?Ferrari

If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go and why?  I’d cycle solo through the Middle East. I don’t think it’s that safe at the moment, but I would love to see all the history. A change in the political environment there would be hugely positive thing.

Where you upset when Top Gear was cancelled? What’s Top Gear? ?

Quick cure to get over the January blues? We all have the January blues but January is an exciting month and we should be looking forward to the year ahead in terms of our careers and also getting fitter!

What is one of the things you would put on your “bucket” list?  Cycling across a continent solo.

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