“A South African business came over to have a look. We also knew one company in the UK was interested but they wanted to shut us down and we didn’t want to do that.
“Then we started speaking to the AA and that was the way we went.”
After working in the industry 24-hours a day, 365-days a year for 23 years everyone involved was tired and had different views on what they wanted to do.
“James wanted to exit at the point the sale completed and we had a discussion with BCMS about that and they advised us that someone would need to stay on to help with the transition. It was decided that Barry and I would remain,” he says. “There were big, painful negotiations between the AA and BCMS about how long we would have to stay. We settled on 24 months and had a bit of pressure to deliver the results for the final earn out for all of us.”
Spreading the news
The fact that some customers had been through acquisitions and mergers before made it easier to tell them than the staff.
“We got all the staff together to tell them,” Neil says. “Some thought it was great, but some thought it wasn’t so good.
“But 12 months on, a lot of those staff were still with the business. The finance team and call handlers were initially upset but they mostly went on to work for the new business, some with better pay.”
Life after AutoWindshields
Neil and Barry became AA employees immediately after the sale.
“It should have ended in November 2011 but Barry stayed another year and I stayed until June 2013, when the AA was being restructured for an IPO,” Neil explains.
“It was quite an interesting, but difficult time. Suddenly I found myself in a bigger business, with bigger health and safety issues, more staff. We had been very agile in how we ran the company, but as the bigger business came in the agility was lost.
“We built the business up from 75 staff when we sold it, to 280 staff when I left in 2013. They did things differently, but it was now their business. That loss of control for me was nice because I had been fully involved 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Neil now works in a communications company. “My friend had a communications company and asked me to join, so I left the AA on the Friday and started in the new job on the Monday,” he adds. “I started as an employee, but in 2014 I bought a third of the business from the other two directors.
“The skills you have running your own business are fully transferable in to other business sectors, which I was quite surprised at.”
“The most extravagant thing we did was build a house. We have built our dream home and we wouldn’t have been able to do that without the sale.
“My wife was really pleased when we sold as I was away a lot before. That was one of the other benefits too; we had a young family and so my wife was able to take time off and look after the children because that financial pressure wasn’t there.
“Being able to go and watch the kids play football or sport at school during the working day is a fantastic benefit. In the past, this would not happen. The business was in control of my personal life rather than the other way around.”