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Chris Conroy and Gordon Maclean

Chris Conroy and Gordon MacLean – Prior Diesel

Chris Conroy and Gordon MacLean from Prior Diesel, a multi-discipline, multi franchise diesel engineering company specialising in the manufacture and service of oilfield equipment, did not make the decision to sell. But previous Managing Director Tony Yates did. He decided to exit the business and wanted to talk to BCMS about what options were available to him.

The interest in BCMS

“We had found out about BCMS through getting a letter through the door one morning. Tony found out about a BCMS event taking place locally and asked us to go with him," explained Chris and Gordon. “We all went, liked what we heard and decided to follow it up with a meeting. We went down to Cambridge and met up with Steve McGuigan, a BCMS Business Manager. We talked a few things through, asked some questions and went away with a full pack of information.

“It was quite funny because in the early stages, before we signed up, we got the distinct impression that we were being vetted, just as much as we were vetting BCMS! But we realised it was just as important for BCMS to have confidence in us and our saleability, as it was for us to have confidence in you as advisors.”

The two explained that they were mainly drawn to the BCMS ethos, and were impressed by the simple logic of this approach to selling a business. “The fact that you didn’t put a price on the business was important to us; it had great appeal. Actively selling the business rather than simply listing the company was the bit that really drew us in.”

The effects of the sale process

Even though both Chris and Gordon felt that the process was done in a very professional manner and handled very well there were some difficulties along the journey.

“We thought filling in the initial briefing document was hard and required lots of information, but then we realised that that was just the beginning! We had also made a definite decision to keep working and to try to avoid taking our eye off the ball, but obviously with the amount of time involved in providing the volume of detailed information required, it was quite a challenge. But both our Project Manager and Lead Advisor were excellent and dealt with our issues at all times day or night.”

“We didn’t enjoy keeping secrets from our people; it seemed strange because it’s not our style.”

Confidentiality is key

The staff at Prior Diesel work together as a close-knit community, and even though it is not a family business it operates with the same philosophy. When it came to a sale going ahead Chris and Gordon wanted to maintain confidentiality.  “It was very important to us that everything was kept confidential. Our company has a definite ‘family-run’ feel and many of the staff have been with us for a very long time. We were very keen that nothing got out that would jeopardize that. These people are like family and some of them are good friends. We didn’t want to run the risk of unsettling people or generating any kind of insecurity, which would impact the business.

“We didn’t enjoy keeping secrets from our people; it seemed strange because it’s not our style.”

The day to tell everyone

“We announced the sale on the first day back in the New Year, and when we told our five managers they were all shocked – most had no idea the company was for sale!” explains Chris.

“Gordon and I went round and talked to every member of staff personally and explained the situation, outlining the new opportunities and advantages of being part of what is essentially an international group. In fact we were able to reassure them that their jobs were actually safer than before.

“I think the staff appreciated the fact that we’d taken the time and trouble to reassure them that it was actually a really beneficial move for all of us. Many of the staff had been employed by Gordon’s father Archie MacLean [Chairman] and the fact that we were staying made a big difference.”

Not ready to move on

In the run up to the deal Chris and Gordon didn’t feel ready to retire. “We bought the business through an MBO, we’d grown it to about three times the size it was, through a lot of work, sweat and blood!

“We’ve both been in the business for over 20 years, helping to build it up and through the sale there’s now a real opportunity to see it expand and develop even further with a parent company that has an international reach.”

Prior Diesel was purchased by Suretank, global manufacturers of cargo carrying units for the offshore oil and gas industry.

“The Suretank approach is that they don’t buy companies – they buy management teams. Crucially they’ll help equip us to achieve the goals we want much more quickly. In the end, it’s proved to be a very attractive proposition, and it helps knowing that Suretank are very much a family-run business with similar values to us.

“We can see that the new owners are keen to really drive things forward quickly, in a positive way. It’s exciting but it’s obviously a bit of a challenge for us; we’ve now got bosses and targets! Plus, a seemingly never-ending supply of emails, but it’s all good.”

“We would have never taken the time-out to stand back and ask some of the questions that BCMS asked us during the sale. It made us realise strategically where the business was strong and where it was weak.”

Overall happiness with BCMS

“All-in-all we were very pleased with the service we received. Once the process eventually came to an end and a successful conclusion was achieved, we both agreed that even if the business hadn’t sold, we’d learnt an awful lot. We would have never taken the time-out to stand back and ask some of the questions that BCMS asked us during the sale. It made us realise strategically where the business was strong and where it was weak. It gave us a clear focus, where we recognised weaknesses and the need to get a handle on them and sort them out.”



Prior Diesel