It’s a brave soul who’d walk into the helm of a company that had just lost almost £10m. BQ interviews the highly competitive brave soul who took on that challenge at Halewood International.
Stewart Hainsworth is a character. It's plain to see from the moment I see him descending a staircase in a hat, which means some of his own team don't even recognise him. His office is adorned with samples of all the Halewood products, a carefully arranged and scrupulously clean collection of glass vessels varying in size, shape and colour. Softly spoken, with a mildly confused accent (all will become clear on that front), he explains how he came to oversee this firm.
"I joined on 1 June 2015. I was headhunted for this role; they were looking for someone who had some experience in turnarounds – come in and look at the agenda, the strategy, and turn the business around. It was a very specific hire for the family."
Halewood International has always been a family business; originally Halewood Vintners, founding entrepreneur John Halewood started the firm in Yorkshire in 1978. When he died in 2011, the different parts of the business had gone in separate directions – like a ship without a rudder, Stewart describes.
The family wanted someone to create a corporate strategy, a corporate structure and return the business to profitability following a loss of £9.5m before tax in June 2015.
"This is not the first time I've stepped in to do a turnaround, and usually there are a number of factors," he says.
"Brands get past their best, or there's no focus, or the investment's going in the wrong area so it's not returning; the skillset or the management structure's not right, there's a lack of innovation...
"In general, we're not a huge business compared to some of the multinationals, we're a reasonable size family business but we weren't all heading in one direction. So, the UK was going in a different direction from South Africa, from Romania, from China. There was no brand strategy.
"I looked for areas where we could cut down on some costs, bring in better management – more talented people - and look at our brand strategy going forward."
In June 2016, a year into Stewart's management, they recorded a profit of £1.6m.
So, how does one become a 'turnaround' specialist? He cites a local paper calling him 'the accountant' as if it's a dirty word, but he is indeed a chartered accountant by profession and so describes himself as financially literate: "You start with the numbers to figure out why a business isn't performing, then try to change it so it does perform. It's a skillset you gain from trial and error, and one you gain from experience, like anything."
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