The Altitude Interviews : Stephen Piper from The Care Division
In 2012 Altitude invested £2.25m, and exited the business in April 2016 in a transaction that returned 2.9x to shareholders.
Jane and Stephen Piper started The Care Division (TCD) in 2000 to provide quality agency staff to major care providers. The business soon moved to become a care provider in its own right, operating in Hampshire and Dorset with offices currently in Southampton, Poole and Dorset.
As Stephen has been through the full investment and exit life cycle with Altitude his thoughts about the process the industry and the exit are extremely relevant for all business owners thinking about going down the same route.
What were your perceptions and fears of PE when you first sought investment?
My perceptions were similar to those of many I suppose – a concern that an investor would be motivated purely by profit and ultimately selling the business, and that we would lose control.
This was heightened by the area in which we work, caring for the most vulnerable in society. Making profit is frowned upon in our sector where exploitation has no role to play in our approach or ethos. So it was - and is - a delicate line to tread as a business.
What persuaded you that Altitude was the best choice?
They had some understanding of the industry and a sense of empathy that sold them to me. Their experience was clear and they were convincing in claims that they did not want to run our business but would help us to achieve growth. Fundamentally we liked each other - in the end it was probably down to personalities.
What did you think of the efficiency and process for negotiating and agreeing the transaction?
The paperwork was incredibly complicated and while they said they would not take over control of the business or push us out, the paperwork said otherwise. I do understand now that there is no other way.
What value do you feel Altitude brought to your business, besides financial investment?
Simon and Jonathan were true to their word; they didn’t want to run the business and didn’t interfere. They were as hands-off as I wanted but they added more value - listening, challenging and offering sage advice. Equally they recognised that they were not experts in the industry and trusted us completely.
How supportive and collaborative do you find Altitude?
As you’d expect, we have had times where the business has not performed to budget. The last thing I needed was to be looking over my shoulder worrying about Altitude’s view of our performance. However, they have always understood the reasons and lived with the downgrading of expectations, giving us the time and space to get on with running the business.
People talk about “giving away” equity – do you feel you have done this? If not, why not?
No, because it was a shareholder who sold out his shares to Altitude anyway. Altitude wanted my wife and me to retain the majority share which we have done but equally there has to be joint working and collaboration between them and us to make the arrangement work.
What do you think differentiates Altitude from the rest?
Since the deal I have seen a number of other venture capital organisations. I would say that Altitude is set apart by its boutique, bespoke approach. They are going for a market not looked at by the “big boys”; in some ways they are pitching at businesses in need of the funds to get to the next stage of size and growth to then be of interest to those bigger funders.
What would you say to other businesses considering an investment from Altitude?
I genuinely cannot fault Altitude and have happily been a referee for them. Simon and Jonathan each offer something different, but both adopt a straight-forward approach which means that you always know what you’ll get and when. From reports I have gleaned from others, I would say that Altitude is significantly better than the majority of its competitors.
Armed with the knowledge I now have I wouldn’t hesitate to do the deal again – indeed I think we would struggle to have found a more suitable investment partner.
Read more about The Care Division.