Premiere Employment Group: Dorian Marks
Dorian Marks has persistently broken a golden rule of business, by recently buying back Premiere Employment Group, the business he set up in 1983, for the third time. Here he tells us why he couldn’t resist another crack
Like all entrepreneurs the company I founded in 1983 is dear to me – not just the business but the people. I know you should go forward not back but to me regaining control is going forward. To help understand this remark I think it would to trace the events since starting out.
I worked for Alec Reed as regional director of Reed Executive Selection in Manchester and had control of the Manchester branch of Reed Employment. We had offices on the 5th floor of a building in Piccadilly Gardens. One very rainy day, when the lift was broken, a small wet man walked in, having climbed five floors. He said he was MD of a Manchester based merchant bank and wanted to recruit a PA.
He had stumbled into the advertising board outside. My first reaction was he was just a tramp from Piccadilly Gardens sheltering from the rain. But he was indeed the MD of a merchant bank. We helped him recruit and some weeks later he asked if I was willing to start my own business, which he offered to finance.
So Premiere Employment was born. The early stresses and tension were immense but we built the foundation stones of the business today. We grew organically until in 1987 Burns-Anderson, the merchant bank, was effectively taken over and Sir John Harvey-Jones became chairman. With his backing and finance we grew Premiere into a 35 branch very profitable business. In return I sold the business to BA in 1988 and stayed on as MD and main board director. Working with J H-J was extremely interesting and some of the principles of business I learned during this period stay with me today.
However, due to over expansion and the economic downturn of 1990 BA Group hit difficulties and in August 1992 receivers were appointed. I was able to purchase 16 branches of Premiere for just £157,000 and started again on my own. Obviously quite dramatic times but we survived and began to grow again. Premiere grew by reintroducing the basic principles of running an employment agency: professionalism, honesty and sheer hard driving of the sales process. The knack is the ability to develop branch staff who will work hard at the above principles, and to give them as much support as they need while allowing them to express themselves as individuals within a large organisation. I reintroduced proper rewards to the successful staff and dismissed poor producing staff.
As a prelude to exit and to pay off bank borrowings we decided to float on the Stock Exchange. This we did in May 1996 with a market cap of £5m, raising £2.5m. The float had the desired effect of raising the profile and some 18 months later in December 1987 we accepted an offer of £12m from Sinclair Montrose.
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I retired for 12 months and to overcome boredom became involved with an OFEX-listed company RexOnline, which required money and management input. I was involved in floating it on AIM and raising some £1.5m. It was sold in June 2002 in a reverse takeover with Hot Group plc. During this time I became and still am Chairman of another AIM-listed firm, Interactive Digital Solutions plc.
However, my first love was always Premiere and when I learned Match Group, successors to Sinclair Montrose, were selling I could not resist the temptation to have ago at trying to buy back the business, which after six years was still very much in my thoughts.
The business has of course changed since 1983 and is now a £35m turnover entity. However, many senior managers from my last period here and therefore the culture I helped establish still exists. For me returning full time at Premiere after six years in the wilderness is a delight – although a shock to the system on dark cold winters mornings.
Do I have any advice? Get a good corporate bank manager. Raising the money, putting your house and other business interests up as security, means putting your family and those of others at risk. It’s not for the faint hearted. In the last buyout I was lucky. I worked closely with The Co-operative Bank’s Jim Clarke, who really understood what we were trying to do and supported us all the way. So get an understanding bank behind you and it will ease the pressure. Especially when things get tough.
As for the future; it’s always uncertain but I am sure eventually I’ll retire permanently even if it means having to sell Premiere again.
An understanding bank will ease some of the pressure