M&A

Rob Sims thought he knew how he’d feel when he sold his business for a life-changing amount of money – but he was wrong.

The year was 2017 and he was 52 years old when Leeds-based Nexus Telecommunications was bought by Chorley-based Elite Group for an undisclosed sum after a six-month sales process.

“You spend 12 months building up to the moment when you sign a piece of paper and the next day you go back and start all over again,” he recalls to TechBlast.

“Everything has changed but everything is the same. It’s a peculiar feeling and only someone who has been through a sales process knows what it’s like.”

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Sims is extremely grateful at the financial security the deal gave him but said his over-riding feeling at the end was exhaustion.

“For six months you’re trying to run the business as fast and as hard as you can while at the same time you’re having discussions over an exit,” he says.

“You can’t bring your management team in because you don’t want to spook them so you’ve effectively got two full-time jobs.

“It was a stressful and challenging experience. It was a very tiring time and it got to the situation when I thought I wanted to retire.”

Sims agreed to oversee a six-month transition period and was preparing to leave when Elite Group’s founder Matt Newing made a surprise suggestion.

“At the end of the sales process I was determined to take some time out and discover a new industry and try something different,” he says.

“I was physically and mentally exhausted. I wasn’t looking at a calendar – but my mindset was ‘every day I am one day closer to freedom’.

“As I prepared to leave at the end of the six-month transition period, I thought Matt and I would shake hands and he’d say ‘we’re done, it’s been great and goodbye’ – but instead he told me to take a couple of months off and come back for a chat.”

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Sims came up with ambitious plans for his ‘retirement’ but they quickly came to nothing.

“I was off for two months and it went in the blink of an eye,” he recalls. “I’d resolved to be a reborn person. I was going to lose three stone in weight, become fitter and more educated.”

However the reality turned out to be somewhat different.

“I’d wake up and have a coffee at about 9.30am,” he says. “I’d look at my watch and it would be 12.30pm and I’d start thinking about lunch. By the time I next looked at my watch it was 5pm and I hadn’t got off the settee.

“I’ve always been a self-starter but it was like my power source had been unplugged. With hindsight it was probably burnout. Selling a business is a war of attrition and it takes a lot more out of you than you realise.”

When the two months were over, Sims drove over to Elite Group’s offices in Chorley in the expectation that it would be his last dealing with the company.

“I put on a suit for the first time in two months and decided how the conversation was going to go,” he says.

“I remember getting to the office and catching up with some of my old team and some of the Elite Group team.

“It’s difficult to explain but it’s like someone switched my power back on. I suddenly had all these new ideas and could see the business with a fresh set of eyes. I did a complete 360.

“I’d been due to speak to Matt but I couldn’t wait. I phoned him and told him I had lots of ideas to take the business forward and let’s get together.

“Elite Group has been through a lot of change and I jokingly said to Matt ‘I’ll be the man who brings boring back’. What I meant by that was that acquisitions are sexy but it’s only by doing the basics properly that you can do the acquisitions well.”

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After six months working as the strategy and business transformation director, Sims was formally appointed group CEO in November 2018.

Today Elite Group employs 220 people, has a turnover of £46m and 56-year-old Sims has never been happier.

“I’ve got the perfect combination of doing something I want to do rather than because I have to do it,” he says. “It allows me to be objective.

“Matt and I have a really good relationship which means we have robust conversations. He brings a lot of energy and my job is to bring as many of those ideas into the business as possible.

“We don’t agree on everything, but it’s all good.”