Probably the highlight of my week came right at the start, with a fabulous weekend in Monaco – a birthday treat for my wife. But on Monday it was right back to reality with our flash half-year results; I spent the day going through the highs and lows across our 100-plus business units, and then we had a brief management huddle to compare them all against their budgets and deal with the various challenges (and with the economy in its current state, there are plenty of them). I also signed off on another two acquisitions that we’re about to make. After all that I thought I deserved a treat, so I went for dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s in Chelsea, one of my favourite restaurants.
On Tuesday I was over in Worcester for a board meeting at a software company we own called Open GI. The business is going exceptionally well, so it was all very positive. Afterwards I had some very persuasive guys try to sell me a private jet – we have businesses all over the UK and at the moment we spend too much time travelling in cars and trains, so they were trying to convince me to invest in our own transport. It sounded exciting at the time – but on reflection, spending $15m on a jet didn’t seem like a very smart thing to be doing in the current environment. So we’ve let that one fly past…
Wednesday saw a very interesting meeting with some US private equity guys. We’re looking to make our first of three acquisitions in the US, but it’s proving to be a real challenge for us – not so much in verifying the quality of the targets, but in putting sensible funding arrangements in place (most private equity houses are not in the same shape they were a year ago, and not many banks are open for business). We also signed off on the funding for a new venture called Towergate Financial Services; we’ve managed to raise just over £100m. That was a big fillip for us, because we’ve spent the last 14 months working hard to get that away.
We’ve just bought a company in Bristol called HLI, so on Thursday I went to try and get a bit more into the bowels of the business. It’s run by some guys who used to work for me 20 years ago, so we had a big hug, then did a full review – followed by a thoroughly enjoyable celebratory dinner at Thornbury Castle. Then on Friday we spent all day in Cardiff seeing ProtectaGroup, another recent acquisition of ours. It was my first opportunity to meet the management team on their own patch, and it turned out to be a very uplifting day. There are some very good people there, with huge ambition for the business – and they’ve been very successful in a couple of other acquisitions they’ve done for us. Finally it was over to Alton Towers on Saturday for one of our Fun Days – a few times a year, we hire a big marquee and take all our staff and their families (about 2,000 people in all) out for the day.
And I can’t allow the week to go by without mentioning Norwich City Football Club, which seems to have been the only thing in the press in Norfolk all week! Ultimately Delia Smith really wasn’t for doing the deal, so we politely withdrew on Thursday evening. Disappointing, but there you are. She’s done fantastic things for the club, and she clearly wasn’t quite ready to hand over the reins. And my bankers think it’s a fantastic outcome!