A boss and her former employee reunited to form a business and in the process went through a successful role reversal
Lisa Hart If you're used to living with the stress of a family business environment every day, setting up your own company doesn't seem quite so scary. [Starting research company Acritas] was something I'd been planning since I worked with Maggie [at consumer market research agency Buckingham Research Associates]. I'd always wanted to run my own business, not just for the financial reasons but also for the challenge.
Maggie Drye Lisa came in as a graduate to Buckingham Research Associates. As soon as she walked through the door, I thought: "She's great, she's got something." Then she got headhunted, ended back in Newcastle and after that started Acritas.
LH I learnt my trade at Maggie's for nearly four years. She was a great role model; it was a small business and I was very much part of its growth once I got to learn the business. We lost touch when I left but she saw an article about me in the trade press. Over 18 months we had a few boozy lunches and talked about her setting up again. She still had a lot of relationships, particularly with the staff [at Buckingham Research].
MD I sold Buckingham Research in 2001 to a PLC, and then did a three-year earn-out. When I left in 2005 I thought that was it. But Lisa and I started to meet and talk about doing something together. We decided to set up Insitas, a separate, sister company to Acritas. I thought: "Actually I'm not that old, I'm not ready for retirement yet." Because I rate her very highly I thought that it could work well.
LH We conceived the idea together but it's very much her business [as managing director], she's driving it. I'm there [as non-executive director] to be part of it and offer the support for our business where I can.
MD Lisa's got her own business to run full-time. But her skills, experience and knowledge are all very valuable-she's dynamic and savvy. She wanted a role in the business. And this way [as NED], she's there when we need her and she adds dimension and value to what we're doing. It's a different perspective. And it's nice for her to see what's going on when she's got a share in the company.
LH The NED role is a much nicer role [than CEO] because you get to do all the nice bits: the strategy, reviewing the top-line figures, not having to worry about the day-to-day side of the company. I go and visit one day a month, but a lot of the support is often emotional support for each other.
MD The years have passed and Lisa's been through good and bad experiences. She's developed very nicely, nice enough for me to agree to have her as a partner. I'm quite particular about that and I wouldn't go into business lightly with anyone.
LH We're quite similar in our skill set. We worry about the same things and keep a very close eye on cashflow. One of the reasons I was comfortable with having this relationship and role with Maggie was because she trained me to worry about the same things.
MD Lisa's intelligent and energetic. I think we're ready [to ride the recession]. There are lots of obstacles. Clients used to pay in 30 days and now they want to pay in 60, which is awful. But that's the way it is. There's business out there—you just have to be the best to get it. You have to have your eye on the ball all the time, look for opportunities and grab them. Business development and marketing should be in your weekly agenda.
LH Maggie is very ambitious and confident, but also pragmatic, she's not gung-ho. She's realistic about the challenges in this current market. She's charismatic and that creates buy-in with the team you're working with as well as clients. It's quite infectious. People like to spend time with her.
MD I could not work in a big company, I couldn't be doing with all the politics. I have the belief that small is beautiful. You can develop good relationships with your team, look after each other and grow together. I'd rather be like that than a small fish in a great big sea. Because I'm quite strong-willed I'd be up against company politics all the time. I'd probably get myself fired.