Beginning his career as an environmental health officer, Stephen Shutler grew frustrated with the local government service and saw an opportunity to start his own consultancy company dealing with asbestos. But after taking the brave step to enter the hazardous world of business ownership, he was a little apprehensive about a business sale.
Where it all began
Stephen’s first job gave him an in-depth knowledge of the sector, primarily dealing in food hygiene and health and safety legislation. After initially making strides in his career, he quickly reached a stage which meant it would be a long time before he would be promoted further.
Ambitious, he turned his attention to a relatively small company in the private sector. It was in this role that he began to identify a potentially lucrative area overcoming the challenges associated with asbestos.
So he decided to have a go himself.
“To begin with, building my own company was terrible. I was very naïve and didn’t realise how difficult it would be to get work. I became quite despondent on several occasions and I thought I had made a bad move.”
Stephen soon purchased a large box trailer, which he towed with the family Land Rover. In the trailer he had various pieces of testing equipment, which really helped him get going.
“I gradually managed to build up a small client base and then it started to move along reasonably successfully. At that time, I was purely a one-man band, working in my spare bedroom with just a phone.”
“I managed to secure a contract with the county council for surveying their buildings and managing the process of asbestos removal. That was a 12-month contract and really helped me take off.”
Highs are higher and the lows are lower
Stephen had many highs throughout his business journey, even with the lows. “The main high was the feeling of satisfaction when you’ve managed to secure a contract and you are working for yourself. After a number of years, I used a business mentor and he used to say, ‘In business the highs are higher and the lows are lower.’ That is quite correct. When things are going badly it is easy to get despondent.”
It took Stephen around five years before he really started to feel comfortable with the company. “There is always a nagging suspicion that one day customers just don’t come through the door and it is difficult to do anything about that. In my business, asbestos surveys and removal isn’t a purchase people make unless they need to. Quite often with a client, once you have identified their asbestos, explained the significance and erased it, there is no repeat business. It was always a matter of looking for new clients.”
“Over a number of years, we expanded from the spare bedroom, into a small office, then a major move into a much bigger office. By that time, I was up to 60 staff and we had about 15 company vehicles.”
But as the success of the business continued to grow, Stephen found himself moving further away from the role he created and pushed into taking further risks.
“To move further would have been a large step change, potentially buying an office somewhere else in the country, either North Wales, towards London or up in Scotland, and that would have been a major risk at that time. I was making a reasonable amount of money and didn’t really want to risk it, I had risked my future on a number of occasions, and I had reached where I wanted to be. One of the other issues was as the firm got bigger, you end up being an administrator and personnel manager rather than the initial job that you started out doing. So, I didn’t do any asbestos work for quite a few years, I was just dealing with problems, personnel and those sorts of things.”
It was at this point Stephen began to consider an exit.
Stephen saw a BCMS flyer and attended a masterclass at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham. “I thought the presentation was good and I remember coming back to speak to my external accountant about a sale. He was very apprehensive, so I arranged for someone from BCMS to come over and meet with us again. After the meeting he too was impressed, so we signed on the dotted line and started the ball rolling!”