Not long ago, doggie products maker Cosipet was a suffering sub-subsidiary - but then came the management buyout. Geoffrey Foster reports.
There is no shortage of female golfers around these days. Even so, not very many businesswomen play golf socially, and that is the problem for Kate Worthington and Carol Legg. It is not that they are keen players and pushed for partners or opponents. On the contrary, they have rather different interests to occupy them out of working hours, such as looking after horses and dogs. Unfortunately animals do not provide quite the same opportunities for business people to combine relaxation with possibly productive discussion of commercial matters. Compared with many of their male counterparts, Worthington and Legg are less able to exchange notes with other managing directors about market trends, or the merits of their respective bank managers, which is what comes naturally to golfers. It is a disadvantage which Worthington acknowledges more than half seriously.
However, a thorough understanding of the details of one's business is infinitely more important than casual conversations beside the fairway. And in this case an empathy with animals is by no means irrelevant. For Worthington, aged 34, and Legg, aged 25, are joint managing directors (and owners) of a small company which makes pets' accessories - dog beds, beanbags and the like. Cosipet, which is close to the little town of Crewkerne in Somerset, also boasts the distinction of being Britain's biggest manufacturer of dog coats. If the name sounds a bit mawkish, and the claim faintly ludicrous, the humorous aspects of the business are not entirely lost on its joint chief executives.
Nevertheless, this is a serious business, which happens to be run by two women and may be all the better for that. Twenty years ago a well known academic wrote about the difficulty experienced by Anglo-Saxon men, unlike those of Jewish descent, in working for companies that made female underwear rather than, say, aircraft components - as if clothing manufacture and engineering were not parts of the same economic process. Cosipet, too, is dedicated to the cause of wealth creation. Besides, Worthington insists, Cosipet is a good name.
She is the better able to say it since the name is neither her invention nor her partner's. Worthington and Legg are not Cosipet's founders, and they lack a founder's usually strong proprietorial instinct. Indeed, less than a year has passed since they took on responsibility for the company (and acquired their equity stakes) in a management buyout which was at least partly intended to keep it in existence, along with more than 30 jobs including their own.
Their stay at Cosipet, moreover, is quite likely to be limited. Having secured venture capital backing for the buyout, their medium-term aim is to bring the company into a state in which it can be sold for a good price. While any such sale would probably make them rather better off than they are now, it might or might not leave them without jobs. In any case, says Worthington, "we don't see ourselves being here at 65".
Were Cosipet to fail, on the other hand, the consequences would be even more devastating for the two principals than for their employees. Since the buyout took place only last summer, when the British economy was sliding ungracefully into recession, the initial auguries are not altogether encouraging. At the end of their first financial year, in December, the company turned in a whopping £80,000 loss, on a turnover which had slipped to £850,000 after two years of bettering the £1 million mark. The main reason, Worthington claims, was the disastrous high season for pet products: "Christmas (when bewildered family pets have gifts showered upon them just like children) didn't happen."