By Claire West
Jonathan Halford is the current Chairman of Silver Spring, one of the UK’s oldest drink brands behind such names as 1870 Mixers and Perfectly Clear. Having spent many years working to turn around the fortunes of businesses, here Jonathan discusses the work he is doing with Silver Spring, who were bought out of administration in September 2009, and gives general tips on how to revitalise businesses.
Do you think you have to have an in depth knowledge of an industry to turn a business around?
No, I think the dynamics within businesses are often very similar irrespective of the industry sector that they operate in. It’s often the same principles that drive successful businesses, and therefore the skills of turnaround are very much applicable across lots of different sectors.
What are the key things you look for when you are looking to turn around the fortunes of a business? (e.g Management, Sales, Distribution, Branding, Marketing)
I seek to understand very quickly what the strengths and weaknesses of the business are, and then interpret those strengths and weaknesses into what the imperatives are for both the short and long term. Often this means getting the day to day good service proposition into place as quickly as possible as well as asking questions such as ‘have we got the right management?’, ‘can we leverage our market position?’. I think the initial priority is to really understand the strength and weakness of your business as it sits today.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
I think the biggest challenge is often getting the right management in place, so that the rest almost takes care of itself. You can focus on getting the right sales strategy and the right distribution strategy, but fundamentally it comes down to getting the right people doing the right things.
What would be your timeframe for turning around a business?
There isn’t a specific timeframe for turnaround, because in my experience this is very much determined by the state the business is in. What I would say is that for me, you can’t produce a true turnaround in a matter of weeks. In reality they do take at least a year, and probably a lot longer than that to fundamentally turn a business around. You might be able to ‘dress it up’ in the short term, but in reality if you’re going to truly turn a business’ fortunes around it will be across a much longer timescale.
Over the years what have been your proudest achievements?
I think one of them has to be with a business called Forest Garden, which is a £60million business that manufactures timber products for DIY stores. With Forest Garden we earned the RBS nomination for private business turnaround of the year, which was off the back of a £5million turnaround in profitability within 12 months. I’m also really proud of what we have achieved at Silver Spring in such a short space of time.
What interested you about working with Silver Spring 1870?
The people that were involved in the investment are people that I have worked with before, and their philosophy and outlook is very complimentary to mine. Secondly, a first look at the business told me that it had fantastic opportunity and potential, it just needed good leadership, and that’s a pretty good place for us to start.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Convincing the stakeholders on day one that we were here to fundamentally turn around the fortunes of the business. We had to show that we weren’t just going to come in and cosmetically change things, that we were here for real.
Did you think that was more difficult because of the history of the brand? Did you find it hard to convince stakeholders of a new direction?
No, I think in terms of talking to stakeholders about a change in direction, they were ready for it. As is often the case, a lot of the stakeholders already recognized that the business was broken. The fact is the business has got a lot of “goodwill” with its stakeholders; it’s just that in the more recent past it had let them down.
What was the first thing you did?[b]
Initially, we had to get measurement back into the business so we could understand the key business drivers and whether or not we were meeting people’s expectations. This is a bit of a cliché, but unless you measure it you can’t manage it. Without that measurement we couldn’t give the business the clear leadership that it was crying out for.
[b]What have you achieved to date?
We’ve identified a very clear and exciting future for the business with a plan of how to get there. We’ve brought all the key stakeholders on board and we’ve brought discipline and rigor back into the business. The key factor of any turnaround for me is the relentless attention to managing the day-to-day detail, and we’ve definitely got that back into the business. We will relentlessly pursue making sure that the business delivers on its promises.
You mentioned a clear future for the business; what are your plans for Silver Spring 1870?
The clear and exciting future is actually about recognizing that we’ve got the opportunity not just on 1870, but on other brands as well, for us to take to market. We’ve already proven through the recent re-launch of Perfectly Clear that we’ve got a fantastic flavoured waters brand, now 1870 represents our next major launch into the drinks market. We want to take on people like Schweppes and have a clear run at it, and then beyond that we have ambitions to launch at least another two brands over the next 12-18months. We see having fantastic brands underpinned by a good strong service proposition as the way forward.
Do you have any general tips or words of advice for struggling businesses?
I would advise to never be satisfied, relentlessly manage the day-to-day detail to deliver on your promises and have a healthy paranoia of your competition!