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Darren Cairns – Intrinsys

When he started Intrinsys Limited, his PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) software and support services business, at the end of the 1990s, Darren Cairns had the weight of 12 years’ experience in engine design behind him. His background allowed him to seize an opportunity that combined new design technologies with his extensive industry know-how.

Darren’s background is as a mechanical engineer. “I got involved in engine design and joined a company called Cosworth – famous for Formula One engine design. Cosworth was bought by Volkswagen-Audi and became part of the larger German parent company. Myself and three colleagues decided to leave and start Integral Powertrain, with the idea of designing and developing engines for the UK car industry.

“Intrinsys was a spin-off that came along during that journey.”

Darren and his partners started out working with Dassault Systèmes, a leading French PLM and design software company. Intrinsys sold and supported the deployment of Dassault’s CAD software. The business soon showed dynamic growth.

“I think the reason the company grew at such an extreme rate is that the market came to us,” Darren explains. “There were four other partners in the UK and we were number five. Over the years, that product has become much more complex, with a bigger portfolio of functionality.

“Other partners were primarily software-sales companies; we were an engineering consultancy that moved into supporting software, so, as the product became more complicated, it lent itself to our strengths.”

Darren quickly understood that the big challenge would be to maintain and build on that growth.

“This company is very much a people business,” he says. “We’ve been able to attract some people and keep them because of the continuous job development and career progression, and you can only keep doing that if you’re growing as a business.”

“Entering into trying to sell a business on our own was not something we would consider, and I’m surprised that people do try that.”

“Everyone at BCMS was committed…”

Intrinsys had a large market share in the UK, but was yet to make an impact overseas. As Darren explains: “I saw that as the next challenge: how were we able to take the company forwards to support more global business?”

Darren knew this was something he couldn’t do alone. “We engaged BCMS to help us to take the company on that journey. None of us had sold a business before – so you rely heavily on someone to take you through the process.

“What particularly pleased me was that we were introduced to a team of people from BCMS that would be working with us, people on the research side, people on the finance side, and so on. There weren’t people who were introduced and then disappeared, everybody worked with us, and very much appeared to be committed to working just for us.”

Like many business owners, Darren was concerned that his buyer would be the right fit – a true partner, in terms of business culture and approach. “I had an interest in making sure it was the right company to be part of going forwards in the longer term. There was no doubt we needed to engage somebody professionals to help us find the right company. Entering into trying to sell a business on our own was not something we would consider, and I'm surprised people do try that."

Darren is clear on the value of BCMS profiling a wide range of potential buyers. “Just like anything in this world, people are professionals at doing what they do. That was shown by the fact that, when the research was done, there were about 60 or 70 companies put forward. 70% of those were companies I had never heard of. So, that tells me there were people we would just not have approached; we didn’t know they existed. In fact, the company that ultimately took Intrinsys on was not somebody I was aware of.”

“I genuinely wake up in the morning and have to pinch myself, it’s that good. The new owners are a perfect fit for the business!”

Light after the darkness

The sales process is necessarily secretive, and maintaining confidentiality at all times is key. So how and when do you tell the staff you are selling up?

“When I made the announcement, the new owners flew over and we had an Announcement Day. People knew something was coming up.

“I found out afterwards that the perception was that we were about to announce that we had acquired a business – something we’d done three years earlier. So, I don’t think anyone got the news that they were expecting, and there was a bit of an intake of breath when the announcement was made!”

That initial shock was replaced by a new sense of purpose, and the promise of a brighter future, both for Darren and his staff.

“I’m pleased to say, I genuinely wake up in the morning and have to pinch myself, it's that good. The new owners are a perfect fit for the business and I have no doubt they are now going to take this company on the next part of the journey, something the existing team couldn’t do.”

Now, Darren is the manager of the UK operation. His responsibility is not only to manage that, but also to integrate it within the wider group.

“It’s a challenge and I’m learning, but so far it’s good and, most importantly, the customers have all seen it positively.”

Don’t go it alone!

Darren’s experience of selling has left him even more certain of his original conviction that professional help is required for the process to be a success.

“My first bit of advice would be, don’t consider doing it yourself. Get a professional company to help you. And I think there are two reasons for that.

“You can’t possibly know who is best suited to buy your business. It’s probably a company you don’t even know or haven’t heard of.

“And then the second point is that the whole process of selling a business and the discussion that goes on between the buyer and the seller, is not something that’s easy to conduct.

Darren is really pleased with the new way of working. “The new owners have been fantastic. It’s been tremendous and I think all the employees are seeing the benefit.”

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Company name
Intrinsys
Location
UK
Founded
2001
Business activity
Specialist provider of PLM software and support services
Reason for sale
International growth
Sold
August 2017
Acquirer
Addnode Group
Intrinsys Addnode