Posted: 14 March 2023

Finding the ideal cultural fit

Finding the ideal cultural fit

Steven Nanda led a secondary management buyout of Alpine Fire Engineers in December 2022. A firm believer in the power of company culture, he sets out how he first got involved with the company and why he chose WestBridge as an investment partner.

Although I initially trained as a quantity surveyor, I decided to pursue a career in the corporate world and held senior positions with P&L responsibility at a number of global companies, including SPIE and Carillion.

After two decades, I felt ready for a new challenge and moved into consultancy where I wanted to make a difference by helping SMEs maximise their potential.

Almost immediately, I was approached by the founder of Alpine Fire Engineers, who asked me to help find a trade buyer or private equity investor to facilitate his exit.

Established in 1992, Alpine designs, instals and maintains complex mechanical fire suppression systems.  With a list of loyal blue chip customers including DHL, TK Maxx, L’Oreal, Tesco, GSK, Superdrug, Wincanton, Decathlon, M&S and John Lewis, it was of obvious appeal to me and I was confident we would be able to attract an investor.

After the usual round of beauty parades, we secured investment from Soho Square Capital who then asked me to stay on as CEO to help professionalise the company and deliver on the five year business plan.

That was in 2018 when the company had revenues of £14.2 million.

Within four years, we had exceeded the target revenue of £35.5 million so it was time for Soho to realise their investment.

Although we did consider a trade sale – and received several approaches – I am emotionally invested in Alpine and I was keen that we didn’t lose the culture we’d worked so hard to build by being absorbed by a large corporate entity.

So, we set about finding the right investment partner for the next phase of our growth.

After meeting with no less than 28 interested parties and receiving several substantial offers, we chose to go with WestBridge and completed the MBO in December 2022.

Why WestBridge?

If we are honest, from a transactional perspective, there’s very little to distinguish between private equity investors – they are all there to offer support with the ultimate aim of making a return on their investment.

While percentage points are obviously important in a transaction, for me, it also had to feel right. When we met the WestBridge team, there was an immediate rapport and we knew we could do business with them.

They clearly recognised the effort we had put into establishing strong foundations on which to grow and also appreciated how hard we had worked to nurture strong customer relationships.

We were impressed with their Value Creation Model, which provided a practical way of identifying improvements and growth opportunities in all areas of the business.

Company culture is king

Since joining Alpine in 2018, headcount has increased from 30 to 104 and revenues have just hit £60 million.

I have successfully grown a number of businesses and people are often interested to learn how.

It starts with a well communicated vision and then a happy and engaged workforce who are motivated to play their part in the journey. We conduct regular employee surveys which consistently reveal that over 90% of our workforce would recommend Alpine as a great place to work.  While this figure might not be unusual in the service industry, it is exceptional in the engineering sector.

Recruitment is one of our biggest challenges so having strong values and an appealing culture is especially important if we are to stand out from the crowd and attract the best talent.

Given our ambitions for growth and scarcity of talent in the engineering sector, we have created our own programme to identify and nurture talent from within.  This is being delivered by five in-house trainees and is proving to be extremely popular and successful.

Aside from recruitment, there have been other challenges – Brexit, a global pandemic, the outbreak of war, hyperinflation and supply chain issues.  Again, having a great culture and united team spirit is immensely helpful in overcoming such issues.

The future?

We are already comfortably ahead of plan which is always encouraging but complacency has no role to play in business.

Alongside organic growth, we will certainly be looking at geographic expansion, entering new vertical sectors and adding complimentary service lines.  Pursuing strategic M&A activity is also on the cards, provided we stick to our core sector of the market, complex and regulated environments.

Although I enjoyed corporate life for over two decades, the past five years have been the most satisfying and rewarding of my career.

I have two pieces of advice for any business owner considering a corporate transaction – choose your advisers wisely and listen to your instincts, they are invariably right and I’m pleased we held out for WestBridge who have proven to be a compatible and supportive partner.

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