Guest blog by David B Horne
It was the 4th of July 1987. Independence Day in the USA. I’m from Canada so we don’t celebrate that. In fact, we sometimes tease those treasonous former colonials who broke away from their mother country, proud of the fact that we’re a part of the Commonwealth and they are not. But I digress.
That afternoon, my wife and I embarked on the first of three flights, which would take us from Victoria BC, on the west coast of Canada to Zürich, Switzerland. Both sets of parents and most of our siblings lived in or very near to Victoria, and they came to the airport to say goodbye. We were venturing out into the big world. We had one-way tickets and I had a two-year employment contract with the global accounting firm, PwC in their Zürich office. I remember my nephew saying to his mum at the time that he was three years old and would be five when we returned - clever chap, he’s now 35 and is a maths teacher!
We never returned. At least not to live there; we go back to Canada every summer for a month to visit friends and family, and to re-charge the batteries.
Life offered us opportunities, and we took them. At the end of my two years with PwC Zürich, my largest client made me the proverbial offer you can’t refuse. I took it and began the next stage of my career which lasted for 8 years and brought us (including our two daughters who were born in Zürich) to London, where we’ve lived since 1993. London: the coolest city on the planet, and one that I’ve been in love with since my first family holiday to Europe in 1974, aged 12.
Other opportunities came. My next two roles were advertised in the jobs section of the Financial Times. I remember it was always exciting to get the Thursday FT and see what jobs were on offer. Bear in mind this was before the advent of online recruiting. Interestingly, I was made redundant from both of those jobs – one due to a restructuring of the company and the other because our company was taken over and merged into the acquiring business.
The second of those jobs was with a very acquisitive PR agency group, and it was my first exposure to the world of M&A. When my role as European CFO was made redundant, I decided to launch a consulting business. I had never been a consultant before, never worked in sales, but hey, I was young and ambitious. After a couple of fallow months, I got lucky and had a couple of opportunities referred to me from people in my network. One led to a non-executive director role for 7 years and ultimately a sale of the business. The other led to me being CFO of a company listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM). There I learned about fundraising and really got to hone my nascent M&A skills. A few years later, I moved to be CFO of another business listed on AIM. We raised more money and did a huge global acquisition. Right before Lehman Brothers went bust and the global financial crisis hit. That was a very challenging time in business, and I learned a huge amount. I also burned out, had a mid-life crisis and launched a wine business.
Wine. What a wonderful product and so many wonderful people, but one of the worst business models I’ve ever come across. Nine years later I still have the wine business but it’s a hobby business and I’m its largest customer by some measure! As one of my best friends says, it’s a tax effective way to enjoy my hobby and I get to drink really good wine at wholesale prices.
After a couple of dark years when I was in denial about the wine business, I re-launched my consulting business. Looking back, for several years after the re-launch it was more like a collection of part-time jobs. That is often reality when building a portfolio career, but it wasn’t what I wanted. As ever, opportunities came and went. At the end of last year, I finished a long-term gig with a client that had been running for more than six years. What felt like a big blow at first turned into a great opportunity. Funny how life works.
The income shortfall was a drag for a few months. More importantly, I had time to re-purpose my professional life. I finally had time to write the book I’d been talking about for four years. Amazingly, in the first few days after it was released it became an Amazon #1 bestseller! Here’s a link to the book. If ever I wanted a sign that I was on the right track, this was it. As of today, I’ve terminated all but two of my part-time jobs, and these two are different because I have equity in both businesses.
Now I’m focused on building my consulting practice around the theme of my book. I’ve developed a methodology called FACE, which stands for Fund, Acquire, Consolidate, Exit. I work exclusively with founders who want to scale their businesses by raising capital, buying other companies, putting them together and ultimately exiting. Everything in my career to date led me to this point, but I could never have predicted it. That’s the way life happens. You can only connect the dots backwards.
Here are my three takeaways from this journey: