The My Ambition series, developed in partnership with private equity firm LDC, shares the personal stories behind successful businesses, uncovering how business leaders realised their ambitions and what they learned on their journey to success.
“When I told my old boss I was leaving to start my own company, he told me I should go and sit on a beach. He was shocked. He believed I was burnt out. But I knew if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it.”
Jan Steele, co-founder of Lucid Group, had wanted to run her own business for years. She had worked in big pharma for two decades, starting in the lab and progressing into commercial roles at the likes of GSK, AstraZeneca and UCB.
In 2007, she spotted a gap in the market for a healthcare consultancy that could help pharma companies work effectively with medical experts. “There were healthcare consultancies out there, but they were very poor at this, making it transactional rather than trying to understand why a medical expert would be interested in partnering on a pharmaceutical project. I had worked with medical experts for 10 years – and loved it. And so Lucid was born.”
After years working within the corporate machine, being an entrepreneur was “liberating”, says Steele. She believes two things helped her to make Lucid a success in those early days: her extensive network and the support of medical experts. “I had worked in a lot of big pharma companies, so I pulled on that network for work,” she explains. “But the best catalyst for growth was the medical experts. They were strong advocates of Lucid from day one.”
After growing the business for 10 years, Steele realised that the company was missing some vital capabilities. “We always had a vision that we wanted to be the best global communications consultancy changing patient outcomes. We knew the best way to do that was to acquire complementary companies but we didn’t know how to go about it,” she says. “We also really needed to invest in digital and I decided that we needed to acquire the expertise to allow us to be a truly global partner, delivering programmes from A-Z.”
The chemistry of growth
Steele knew she needed to secure investment to support her vision, but initially she was set against private equity. “I had heard some really bad things,” she says. “So we thought we’d just do a trade deal and grow as part of a bigger organisation.” But when Steele realised that she could use private equity to grow while staying in control of her business, she explored a potential partnership with leading mid-market private equity firm, LDC.
“When we met LDC, the chemistry was there. They were all really interested in the healthcare space we operated in, and they understood all that was positive and unique about Lucid. It felt like we could develop a true partnership where they would back us to grow the business.”
LDC invested £11m into Lucid in 2017, which allowed Steele to make her first acquisition, a digital agency called Bluedog. “If we hadn’t bought that company, we would have been badly affected by Covid-19, but Bluedog gave us the ability to shift to online engagement and marketing.” Since that first acquisition, Lucid has made two more, which helped to broaden the group’s market share, expand its talent pool, and extend its geographic footprint. “We are truly global now, and turnover has risen.”
On the role private equity played to support Lucid’s growth journey, Steele says: “We were naïve about strategic acquisitions back then. Without a private equity investor, we would have met the management teams of target acquisitions, felt the chemistry was good and that would have been it. LDC brought real rigour around how we assessed our acquisition targets, helping us follow a process so that we knew we were making the right strategic decision.”
Earlier this year Lucid attracted new investment from alternative asset manager ICG. “I have only got more ambitious over the years,” says Steele, who moved into a non-executive director role in 2021. “We are living through such a period of innovation in medicine, and I feel like Lucid is supporting that innovation. We make it happen faster, bigger and better. This year has been stellar for the business, and I can’t wait to see where the future takes us.”
Leading mid-market private equity firm LDC is sharing inspirational stories from across its network to mark 40 years of backing ambitious business leaders across the UK. Read more about Jan Steele’s story, here.