How to lead when your business is for sale

In the midst of uncertainty and a global takeover, the boss of Formica Group EMEA has been able to increase turnover.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 28 Mar 2019

Formica Group prides itself on stability. The global manufacturer was founded over 100 years ago and is credited as the original inventor of laminate, which is used as a protective coating for anything from kitchen worktops to flooring.

Yet the conditions under which CEO Peter Rush has had to lead have been far from steady.

Since joining the group in 2016, Rush has overseen a three-year investment plan to turnaround the North Tyneside-based business after "years of neglect''. Now it’s in the final stages of a £664m takeover, after its New Zealand-based owner put the global group up for sale in April 2018.*

It’s a challenging and potentially chaotic period for any CEO to face. And yet the company has seen its turnover increase from £77.5m to £79.5m for the year ending June 30 2018, while operating losses fell from £7.1m to £2.3m.

Rush shares his top tips on how he's been able to maintain a steady ship.

Stay visible

When a company is in flux, it’s really important that you’re seen to be leading from the front. Employees at all levels want to see their leader actively guiding the way, not observing from an ivory tower. Accessibility really is key to this; I have an open door policy and try to be as approachable and reassuring as possible.

Communication is key

No business is likely to get anywhere without communication. During a sale, it’s even more important. It’s so easy for a divestment process to become nebulous so the less opportunity there is for miscommunication and the spread of false information, the better.

We try to hold regular forums with all employees to ensure everyone is up to date on the important information - this also allows senior management to gauge the mood of employees.

Too many chefs spoil the broth

Involve as few people as possible in the strategic side of the process and don’t be afraid to keep things on a need-to-know basis within the senior management team. The CFO and I have handled the majority of the work, which has helped to keep the project on track. The last thing you want is feedback by committee because it can muddle objectives and ultimately draw the whole process out.

Plot your course

A transition of this scale is a piecemeal process and you have to accept that cannot do everything in one go. Therefore it’s crucial to keep track of clear objectives and set milestones that you can celebrate along the way. Any distraction - of which there are potentially many - causes delays and derailment, so you’ve got to keep a clear end goal in sight.

Avoid tunnel vision

That being said, it’s easy to pigeonhole your focus solely on the acquisition, but you've got to keep the business moving forward - the market doesn't wait. So despite the sale, we’ve continued to invest in headcount and facilities to grow the business.

Overall, we’ve been lucky. We’ve been aided by a well-appointed investment bank which has helped to minimise delays and additional costs. The internal team has also shown a great level of enthusiasm and optimism - that can’t be understated as a reason why the process (so far) has been successful.

Further reading

*The December 2018 acquisition by Dutch firm Broadview Holding BV is still going through antitrust reviews, but is expected to be complete by the end of the 2019 financial year.

 


Image credit: NiroDesign/gettyimages

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