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Tom Woodard – Show Data Systems & Interchange Communications

BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR

For as long as he could remember, Tom Woodard wanted to be an entrepreneur. In 1993, at the age of 29, Tom set up Show Data Systems in Oxfordshire, an event registration software business targeting the UK’s burgeoning trade show circuit.

“From a young age, I knew I wanted to work for myself, but I had no idea how to go about it. After doing a science degree I spent several years travelling before joining my father’s business. His business was selling ID products for the event industry, and I developed a computerised registration system. I was perhaps more ambitious to grow than he wanted, so we agreed that I would run my own business. He gave me my first customer, and the rest is history.”

Tom started his business as a sub-contractor to his Dad, but soon took on new customers; within a year he had taken on his own premises and begun to employ his own staff.

In 2007, Tom saw the opportunity to grow even further by acquiring public show ticket expert Interchange Communications, and in 2010, he acquired a 75% stake in the company. By 2012, when he decided to sell both ventures, Tom was employing 18 people and 70 casual workers to manage more than 230 shows a year.

ENTREPRENEUR VS MANAGER

Like many business owners, Tom found that after a number of years, his role had become that of a manager than an entrepreneur, and he found he was no longer enjoying running the day-to-day aspects of the business. He felt that he could easily be replaced by a competent General Manager. He had also been in the business for 20 years, and he no longer enjoyed the 24/7 mindset. As Tom tells us: “I’d had enough. I was running my own business and had acquired another one en-route (Interchange). I was ready for a change. Events are very tiring, and I didn’t have the same level of energy I had 20-plus years ago.

“Show Data Systems was running 230 events a year, and while they invariably went well, I was always conscious that I needed to be on hand. A lot of customers know me personally and wanted to deal with me, so I took steps to resolve that by hiring account managers.”

It was time to let go and try something new.

“I knew I wanted to sell, I just didn’t know how to go about it.”

CHOOSING BCMS

Tom had been considering an exit for five years, but decided that the business wasn’t big enough to generate interest. Then he received an invite to a BCMS seminar. Tom says: “I knew I wanted to sell, I just didn’t know how to go about it.”

MEETING THE BUYER

The process was a long one, taking almost three years to reach completion. Tom remembers “We met Jonas Software a year earlier and they had signed the non-disclosure agreement and made an initial offer, but we couldn’t reach an agreement at that time.

Jonas Software had a UK subsidiary, Gladstone Health & Leisure, based locally in Wallingford, so I met the managing director for a beer, and he said he would take it up higher in Jonas, which took about six months. Show Data had a cracking year that year, growing turnover by 30%, and more importantly we got on incredibly well. So, they took it back to their M&A guys and things progressed from there.

“Jonas Software was a straightforward company to deal with. Its business model is to acquire software houses with recurring revenues. As we had a slightly different business model the due diligence took a bit longer than usual.

“Gladstone had a number of senior people looking for career development. One of them was put forward as the new Managing Director and we had a month-long handover before I left the business.”

TELLING THE STAFF

Tom had had to keep the sale a secret from the majority of his team, and was only able to tell them once the sale had completed: “I was under non-disclosure agreement so I couldn’t tell them. I could only tell two people who were involved. For the rest of the team, we had a meeting on Monday morning and I saw their jaws drop. Then Jonas arrived an hour later.”

“I am thinking about starting a new business. But for now, I’m enjoying my freedom…”

LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE

Tom is enjoying his life post-sale: “I am particularly interested in peer-to-peer lending at the moment, and I’ve invested in a few small projects.”

When asked if he planned on becoming an entrepreneur again, he answered: “I’m only in my fifties, so I am thinking about building up a new business again. But for now, I’m enjoying my freedom.”

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Company name
Show Data Systems
Location
Oxfordshire, UK
Founded
1993
Business activity
Event registration software
Reason for sale
Lifestyle change
Sold
April 2015
Acquirer
Jonas Software
Showdata Systems & Interchange Communications