Drumming up a storm
Business is in my blood.
I grew up in a family that over several generations owned a variety of businesses: food manufacturing, high tech engineering, soft drinks manufacturing, hotels and property.
The joke in my family is that my first words were “cash flow”!
I hated school, and couldn’t wait to start my own business. I was a rebel, always in trouble. I tried hard to be a rock star as the drummer with Titus Oats (I'm the one at the front in the photo), but in spite of enjoying an enthusiastic following, we couldn't get a recording contract that was essential in those days. We used to practise at the “The Tunnel” rehearsal studio near Waterloo. I spotted an opportunity to rent sound equipment to other bands that rehearsed there.
From Frank Sinatra to The Jam
And so my first business was born: Muscle Music.
It grew quickly. We supplied PA systems to artists as diverse as Colosseum II, Frank Sinatra, Motörhead, Ella Fitzgerald, Iron Maiden, Bay City Rollers, Heavy Metal Kids and The Drifters. Our biggest client was The Jam; I accompanied our equipment as their live sound engineer for several years, travelling all over the world with them.
One day The Jam’s manager made me an offer to buy Muscle Music, lock, stock and barrel.
I accepted the offer (more about that story here), and invested the proceeds in creating a manufacturing arm of Turbosound, which had by far the best PA system designs I’d ever heard. They’d built a terrific reputation in the industry from supplying the PA system at Glastonbury for many years.
Queen's Award for Export
Over the next 10 years, Turbosound scaled up, becoming a leading brand around the world. For some of the time I lived in New York establishing the company in the US market. During that period, we merged with BSS, a leading professional audio electronics company, and formed a group, Edge Technology, to act as an umbrella to acquire other premium professional audio brands. We added Precision Devices soon afterwards.
The group’s products were used by Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Abbey Road, BBC, Oasis, David Bowie, Dire Straits and many more. I sold Turbosound speakers to The Grand Ole Opry, Carnegie Hall, and The Apollo, against stiff US competition.
In 1987, Turbosound won the Queen's Award for Export, the first in its field to do so.
By the end of the 1980s, we had around 100 people in three factories and a head office. And in 1990, the group was sold to AKG, a leading Austrian microphone manufacturer. I left to try something new.
"What do you mean you've done a BIMBO?"
I became a business angel, joined 3i’s MBI network, and explored dozens of deals.
After looking around for a year or two, I invested in and joined an early stage hospitality sector training business, Stuart Scher Associates (later rebranded Scher International). We repositioned it from a general management training company to the only company in its field to offer a holistic view of customer service: measurement, advice and training. Clients included Hilton, Café Rouge, Caprice Holdings, The Savoy Hotel, Pret A Manger, Chewton Glen and Whitbread. The business scaled up over a number of years, and was sold successfully to TNS.
Through that period, I missed “my baby”; when an opportunity arose to buy Turbosound back, I led a Buy In Management Buy Out (a "BIMBO"), and organised equity and loan funding from 3i and Bank of Scotland. But I did no due diligence, it was a heart over head decision. I soon realised the industry had changed, and the company lost money. That’s when I learned the amount of work and stress involved in a turnaround; a few years later the company was sold again to a trade buyer.
One man band
After leaving Turbosound for the second time, I decided to start anew with a blank business card. People started to ask me for business advice and consulting. I found that I had a knack for dealing with whatever came my way, and what’s more, I really enjoyed it.
I discovered the effectiveness of coaching while working with the charity Pilotlight, where I became a trustee for a number of years. Also during that period I became a CEDR accredited mediator, which has proved useful for supporting my clients when they have strong differences of opinion (I call it “partneritis”).
I felt I’d found my vocation in life, but the problem was, I had no training. So I joined Shirlaws, a leading international coaching organisation, and spent many years learning the principles of coaching, working with businesses of all shapes and sizes.
A stroke of luck
In 2016, my right leg and arm suddenly stopped working. Doctors in A&E told me they didn’t know what was wrong; worst case I may not come out of hospital alive.
While waiting for a diagnosis, I resolved that if I did make it out, I wanted to do everything I could to inspire and support as many entrepreneurs as possible – particularly those ready to scale up – to help them maximise their own and their business's potential.
After six weeks in hospital I did make it out OK. I was diagnosed with a stroke, from which I’ve made an excellent recovery. I learned the importance of managing my energy. I’m now doing exactly what I resolved to do in hospital, namely on a path to empower as many entrepreneurs as I possibly can.