Cofounder and Former Commercial Director at The Access Group
Chris was a co-founder of Access Group, a UK-based enterprise software company, in 1991. Chris left in 1995 and returned in 2005 during a management buyout to lead M&A with a private equity sponsor. He led over 18 acquisitions during 2005-11 and helped the business grow in 2005 from £25m revenue to over £240m in 2019. Access is owned by TA Associates and Hg Capital and is valued over £1bn in 2019. Read moreView Profile Page
Looking post-acquisition, and you mentioned that one of the key drivers of success and scaling the acquisitions was the sales unit. Some businesses tend to stay pretty small, because they don’t like to scale the sales unit. Can you elaborate on the impact that sales had on some of these acquisitions?
One of the fundamental numbers in our acquisition, would be the cross-sell opportunity. One of the things that we were always looking for in an acquisition is, how much of their software can we sell into our user base, which was massive? And how much of our software could we sell into their user base? When we were working out what we were willing to pay in the valuation, we would be looking at that cross-sell opportunity.
We would impress that upon the target because if they’d said they were going to do 1.5 million and we said, well maybe you could do 1.8 million, we’d say, we’re going to bring a sales team of 70 people to sell your product. What you’re going to do, is you’re going to present to our sales people, at the next sales meeting, and show them everything you’ve got. Then we’re going to dedicate a pre-sales person to that product and we’re going to dedicate a sales person to that product, who will be a specialist and they will be called in. All our account managers, in Access, all carried a target to sell other products and they would visit the key customers and they’d say, look, we’ve got this new product; it’s an absence tracking. I think it would benefit you to see it. That cross-sell would be a very important part and, again, it helps because they can then see that, well, that earn-out’s pretty easy to make, isn’t it? Suddenly, I’ve gone from two sales people to 60.
You’ve already mentioned the synergies that you typically achieve, in these types of businesses. The admin role, the marketing role, the finance division. Anything else that you would see? Clearly, there is cost synergies and revenue synergies that you have already mentioned.
Further down the track, you do get consolidated offices. We bought 18 businesses and I think we ended up with 12 offices, by the end of the four years. That’s gradually come down now, with relocation, but sensitive relocation. As far as I’m aware, nobody has lost their job, unless they said, I don’t want to travel more than 20 miles to an office. There are synergies, ultimately, and they do come through. If you go with private equity, our journey was 2011 to 2015. The second journey was 2015 to 2019. During that time, you’re trying to boost your percentage EBITDA. We were achieving 17, 18 million, on 60. By the time you get to 250 million, you’re trying to break that 100 million, 125. So getting to more like 48%, 49% EBITDA. To do that, you do have to do some restructuring, as well. Hopefully, without losing employees because you need them. They are the life-blood of the business, anybody who is any good.