Posted: 10 August 2021

A CEOs view

A CEOs view

John Howard is CEO of WestBridge portfolio company Channel 3 Consulting, which helps health and care organisations use technology to transform working practices and patient care. Here he tells us about his first encounter with private equity and why he has found it to be such a satisfying and rewarding experience.

I took a fairly circuitous path to get from a degree in Spanish, Latin American Studies and Economics from the University of Arkansas in the USA to leading a healthcare consultancy in the UK.  However, having the privilege to lead the fantastic Channel 3 team and work alongside WestBridge has certainly been the highlight of my career to-date.

Looking back, each career step gave me experience that serves me well in my current role.  After university, I moved to Houston, Texas and took on a Latin American procurement role at Cemex, a Mexico-based global cement manufacturer.  By a stroke of luck, I got heavily involved with the company’s rollout of new IT systems.  I used that experience as a platform to move to EY, where I helped companies implement new systems ahead of Year 2000.  My work at Cemex and EY was my first glimpse into what organisations can achieve with tech-enabled transformations.

After EY in Houston, I got the opportunity to help BMC Software set up their professional services business in Europe and spent time in Madrid before moving to London in 2001 and returning to EY, where I got my first exposure to the healthcare sector.  My first digital health experience came at Hedra, a UK public sector consultancy that was playing a huge role in leading business change in the NHS’s National Programme for IT, the world’s largest civilian IT transformation programme at the time. Hedra was on a massive growth journey and eventually went through a trade sale, giving me great insight into what it takes to scale up a business and take it through a successful transaction. From Hedra I moved back to Big 4 consulting and spent seven years at KPMG, where I was a partner and led the UK’s healthcare commissioning and analytics businesses.

In late 2018, I was approached by the owners of Channel 3 Consulting who wanted someone with management and leadership skills, coupled with a solid understanding of the digital healthcare sector, to scale up and professionalise the business, and lead them to an exit. By happy coincidence, it was the perfect role for me to use all the experience I’d gained since university.

Channel 3’s owners had assumed their exit would be via a trade sale but I tabled the idea of a management buyout instead.  This was mainly because I saw lots of untapped potential to further grow and shape the company as an independent business.  The owners agreed and we appointed Clearwater International to help us find an appropriate equity investor. After informally engaging with around 15 interested parties, we made a number of formal presentations which resulted in five offers, including one from WestBridge.

We chose Westbridge for a host of reasons, not least because they came across as really great people who were genuinely interested in what we do rather than just what the business looked like in a spreadsheet.

Six months on from completion, we remain confident in WestBridge and delighted with our choice.  Of course, we realise our ultimate collective goal is to deliver a return to investors, so we all keep a keen eye on the numbers and performance of the business.  However, WestBridge does the ‘business side’ of things with a deft touch.

If we’ve got a challenge, I can be completely open with them.  They’re a great sounding board and if they can harness their experience to help us, they will.  If they don’t have the expertise, they are invariably able to introduce me to someone who does.  It’s a very comfortable and collaborative relationship. They have integrity and do what they say they’re going to do.  This includes keeping us on our toes and pushing us to get things done!  They do this in a supportive and encouraging way, and genuinely have our backs.

Our plans for the future are ambitious.  We are aiming to double in size over the next five years.  To achieve this, we have to get a lot of things right.  I’m confident we’ll get there and this will be in no small part down to the support we get from the entire WestBridge team.

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