Behind many marketers, even those working in blue-chip multinational corporations, there’s an entrepreneur trying to get out. Carefully calculated risk is, after all, often the difference between a successful product launch and a lame me-too.
The problem is most of the reward for an imaginatively conceived and delivered product goes into the corporate coffers. A six-figure salary (if you’re lucky), bonus, generous pension, and so forth, are all very well, but how do you bring about serious capital accumulation; how do you become seriously rich?
Herein lies the siren attraction of the management buy-out/buy-in, of which there have been a spate recently. Examples are legendary: Paul Judge was reputed to have pocketed &£45m personally when Premier Foods was sold to Hillsdown back in 1989. The management of Taunton Cider made a tidy penny twice over, once when the company was floated in 1992 and a second time when it was sold to Matthew Clark. Most topically, there is Future Publishing, whose founder Chris Anderson has just bought himself back into a company which, when floated, is likely to make him a millionaire 125 times over.
But how easy is it to make a fortune? There are, in fact, formidable obstacles in the way of the would-be entrepreneur. First, leveraged buy-outs of this sort are not generally engineered from inside, but created by circumstances which are difficult to predetermine. The Taunton situation, for example, came about because of a strategic U-turn imposed by the Beer Orders.
Then again, even if the rationale is compelling, corporate politics may ensure the project is strangled in the cradle. It was for this reason the Mills & Allen MBO never really stood a chance; and the same thing will probably apply to Whitbread’s brewing interests.
Next, assuming the deal has gone through, there are shareholder interests to be considered. These are time-consuming and stressful in themselves, but they also have far-reaching repercussions for marketing strategy. Namely, that it will be severely constrained by short- to medium-term profit objectives. Failure to perform often results in savage remedies, as IPC recently demonstrated when it was forced to make 200 redundancies. It’s not an environment for the marketing purist.
Lastly even if the strategy – corporate and marketing – is competently devised and implemented, there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. Only a stock market flotation or trade sale as a going concern can release the hoped-for asset value. But, as Tetley has shown, there’s no telling how the market will behave.