Entrepreneur-turned-chair Mark Mills talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about his journey and why he believes that Super Non-Execs are the future.
Mark Mills first caught the entrepreneurial bug at the age of 8, when he started selling bags of broken biscuits to his friends which his aunt brought home from the factory where she worked.
He moved on to making and selling bags of popcorn, then when he was at senior school he made money by supplying the tuck shop with a new type of crisp it couldn’t get hold of, after persuading his father to buy boxes of them at a discount using his Cash and Carry card.
He says: “I couldn’t see the sense in giving something away if people were prepared to pay for it, and I kept spotting opportunities. Even as a child I could see that the more effort you put in, the more you got out.”
By the time he was 18 Mark was organising parties in nightclubs, hiring a room for £100 and then charging £5 entry fee for up to 300 guests, often making a profit of up to £1,400 in a single night.
When he left school he turned down a place to study Business Law at university and instead began a succession of business ventures, some more successful than others. Selling mobile phones lost him a lot of money but more successful was his idea of putting adverts on the side of postboxes.
Royal Mail told him it couldn’t be done but Mark discovered a quirk in the Telecommunications Act that allowed it and in a nice twist the business was ultimately sold to Royal Mail, netting him about £1 million.
He eventually hit gold with his business Cardpoint, which operated privately-owned cash machines. He started the business in 2000 and just two years later floated it on AIM with valuation of £7 million. By the time he sold his stake and exited the business in 2007 the business was valued at £175 million.
The secret to achieving success, he says, is having the confidence to take risks. He has a sign above his desk that reads: “Failure cannot live with persistence.”
Since then Mark has built a reputation helping other business owners achieve their goals, such as a sale or capital raising, in return for a slice of the value he adds to the business.
His successes include Mini Cam, a business which manufactures cameras to go down drains and sewers. Mark came in as a Non-executive Chair in 2013 and together with the business owners spent two and a half years getting it into a good shape before private equity firm LDC invested in the business.
Less than three years later LDC sold Mini Cam to Halma plc, a FTSE 250 company, for £85 million. He is currently Chair of Velocity Composites Plc, an aerospace business.
Mark is a great believer in the value that an experienced Non-Executive Director can bring to a business and thinks that the role could be strengthened in order to deliver a better outcome for both sides.
He suggests that the best Non-Execs could become Super Non-Execs who are given specific goals to achieve and then rewarded for delivering them.
He says: “Non-Execs have a huge amount of executive experience to share but at the moment this experience is being wasted. A Super Non-Exec can provide a more thorough version of the Non-Exec role by transforming the business and being rewarded for their efforts. The business owners will be happy because they will be getting good measurable demonstrable outcomes and the Super Non-Execs will be happy because they will have a far more interesting, enjoyable and rewarding role than simply turning up for a board meeting once a month.”
Indeed Mark says that Super Non-Execs could also play a very useful role in preparing businesses for sale to private equity, which would expand the number of businesses that private equity might potentially be interested in investing in.
He says: “At the moment there are a lot of un-investable private businesses because there is too much risk involved. Private equity don’t mind investing in businesses where there are challenges, but they don’t want to go into something where they literally have to start from scratch."
"But a Super Non-Exec could go in beforehand and ensure that the business is ready for investment by tidying everything up and dealing with all the things that might stand in the way of a transaction, such as lingering litigation, getting patents in place, dealing with anything anomalous in the accounts, and ensuring there are up to date customer agreements in place. If you have got all those boxes ticked then the private equity industry could do more deals.”
Drax sector lead: Rob Lanham
Tel: 0203 949 9563