Why I sold and bought back my company three times

Dorian Marks bought back the business he founded three times, he explains why


Like all entrepreneurs the company I founded in 1983 is dear to me. I know you should go forward not back, but to me regaining control is going forward.

To help understand this I think it would be an idea to trace the events since I started the business.

I worked for Alec Reed as regional director of Reed Executive Selection and had control of the Manchester branch of Reed Employment. One rainy day, when the lift was broken, a small wet man walked in. He said he was MD of Burns-Anderson, a Manchester-based merchant bank and wanted to recruit a PA. We helped him 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 grew organically until in 1987 Burns-Anderson was effectively taken over and Sir John Harvey-Jones became chairman. With his backing and finance we expanded to 35 branches and became very profitable. In return I sold the firm to Burns-Anderson in 1988 and stayed on as MD and main board director. Working with Harvey-Jones was very interesting and some of the business principles I learned during this period stay with me today.

However, due to over expansion and the economic downturn of 1990, Burns-Anderson hit difficulties and in August 1992 receivers were appointed. I was able to purchase 16 Premiere branches for £157,000 and started, once again, on my own. Obviously quite dramatic times, but we survived and began to grow.

Premiere grew by reintroducing the basic principles of running an employment agency: professionalism; honesty and a highly motivated sales team. The knack is the ability to develop staff who will work hard at these principles and to give them as much support as they need while allowing them to express themselves as individuals within a large company. I reintroduced proper rewards to the successful staff and dismissed those who didn’t make the grade.

As a prelude to exit and to pay off bank borrowings we decided to float on the Stock Exchange. We did this in May 1996 with a market cap of £5m and raised £2.5m. The float had the desired effect of raising the firm’s profile and in December 1997 we accepted an offer of £12m from Sinclair Montrose.

I retired for 12 months and became involved with an OFEX-listed company, RexOnline, which required money and management input. I was involved in its float on AIM and raising £1.5m. It was sold in June 2002 in a reverse takeover with Hot Group. During this time I became, and still am, chairman of another AIM-listed firm, Interactive Digital Solutions.

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 a go at trying to buy back the firm, which 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 are still here and the culture I helped establish still exists.

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 buy-out 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.

As for the future; it’s always uncertain, but I am sure I’ll eventually retire permanently, even if it means having to sell Premiere again.

Dorian Marks founded Premiere Employment in 1983. The company has a turnover of £35m.

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