The Altitude Interviews : Phil Jones from James Tobias Limited
In May 2014 Altitude invested in the buyout of James Tobias Limited.
The business is led by Phil Jones and is focused on designing and manufacturing high quality storage products for offices from its own factory in Bridgewater, Somerset.
The business was set up 25 years ago and now employs around 50 staff.
Investing can be a stressful business and Altitude wanted to ask Phil about not only the process but also his thoughts about private equity.
What were your perceptions and fears of PE when you first sought investment?
PE houses have a bad reputation as being hardnosed, pushy and demanding in the pursuit of their pound of flesh. To a degree this reputation worried me.
What persuaded you that Altitude was the best choice?
I met two firms and Altitude was the second. The first was a typical accountant type in a grey suit who didn’t understand the business. Jonathan and Simon were lively and asked pertinent questions - I immediately saw they would add something.
When you have “skin in the game”, your own money, there’s a fear but what really put my mind at ease was when the bank asked for my house as security and Jonathan just said “no”. At that moment I thought “we’re on the same team”, this is a partnership that can create some real magic.
Why did you consider Altitude a better choice than bank or other finance?
Altitude’s investment was in addition to bank finance.
What did you think of the efficiency and process for negotiating and agreeing the transaction?
Discussions with Altitude began in January 2014 and the deal was done by May. The transaction was arduous at times but Altitude very much helped us through, showing real pragmatism.
There was a lot of paperwork with a few scary terms but on the whole it was standard stuff. In particular, underperformance and swamping clauses stood out to me; at that stage you don’t know how quickly the investor would act on them. In the end you have to trust your legal advisers and recognise that it’s not in Altitude’s interests to act on them.
What value do you feel Altitude brings to your business, besides financial investment?
They bring an objectivity and focus on the longer term. They work well as a duo and are different characters but between them cover operations, finance, IT and marketing. This holistic view is very valuable and as a pair they have a real dynamism.
How supportive and collaborative do you find them?
They have been very supportive in good and bad times, not the bad guys but two decent people who understand there are more pressures to running a business than just profit and loss. I can categorically say they’re never overbearing. If they ask for information it’s for a purpose. There’s an open door policy to talk and we don’t need to write everything down to cover our backs - we agree and have mutual trust.
People talk about “giving away” equity – do you feel you have done this? If not, why not?
At the start, yes you feel that. You think you know more and will do more work and they’re just putting in money so you’re entitled to a bigger percentage. But this lacks realism and as time goes on the percentage is less important because I have seen what else Jonathan and Simon bring to the business, in terms of objectivity, focus and experience.
What would you say to other businesses considering an investment from Altitude?
I fully believe they’re good guys not private equity baddies looking over your shoulder, and I want others to experience Simon and Jonathan too. A bit like a good builder! They have a light touch on the running of the business but provide pertinent input and it’s always worth listening to what they say.
Read more about James Tobias.