I was MD of CIPFA Computer Services when the opportunity arose to mount a management buy-out. MBOs from the private sector were unheard of at the time and this was charting new territory. Leading the MBO was a brave decision of some magnitude and risk, and I remortgaged my home to finance the personal stake I required. We completed the buy-out in 1987, renamed the company Capita and in 1989 floated the business on the unlisted securities market. People can get very worried about transferring from the public sector, but these concerns are more in the mind than about the reality. Had we stayed within CIPFA's ownership, Capita as it now exists could not have happened. It would have been impossible to create a company with an annual turnover of over £1 billion, as we are now, because the investment needed and the ability to assume responsibility for large contracts would not have been possible. My approach is straightforward: if you think you've got something to go for, you should go for it; if you don't, you live to regret it. It's been an exciting journey and remains so today.
MY WORST ...
Capita focuses on white-collar outsourcing, covering professional support services across areas including IT, finance and property. We thought we could do the same in the blue-collar market, and in 1996 we signed a contract with a health trust on the Isle of Wight. The contract was a success, but we knew instinctively that in terms of a business strategy it wasn't the right direction for us. Suddenly, we were dealing with catering, laundry, ground maintenance and portering. Culturally, it wasn't the right fit.
After two and a half years, we handed the work back and decided we didn't want to pursue the blue-collar market further. It was a forerunner to other, bigger decisions we've since made, such as not to expand outside the UK. You have to get the 'no' decisions right as much as any other decisions. If you get management decisions wrong, then management time and focus can be misdirected. A lot of energy went into bidding for, implementing and handing back the health trust contract. I see that as a lost opportunity, as the time invested could have been better spent pursuing new avenues.