Dubai-based, Bristol born entrepreneur and investor, Mark Nutter, shares his secrets to success with Business Leader Magazine.
How was your early business career formed?
I worked in various jobs – that included selling books and running a coffee shop – and I started to form an entrepreneurial spirit.
During this period I also ran a vending machine business and worked as a branch director at an Estate Agency.
I then started working for – eventually becoming CEO – a business called Isys Group and we eventually sold it to Capital Plc. It was a workforce management software company.
When did you first start to think about selling the business?
I became divorced when I was 40 and at that point I had been growing the business for my family. I went travelling and met my current wife in Los Angeles. We agreed to move to Dubai and that meant I could then come back and look after the children and the business too.
Capita had previously approached me about selling the business, but I had not wanted to sell at that point.
What advice would give to somebody thinking about selling their business?
When you’re running a successful business a lot of people will ask you ‘when are you going to sell?’ The best time to sell a business is when people approach you – rather than you approach them.
You’re negotiating from a stronger footing then.
Another piece of advice is that if you run a business from whole viewpoint of selling it, then you’re not running it properly. The best approach is to run the business as best you can- focusing on developing your products and staff and then it will become a business that is worth selling.
How did the sale end up happening?
Capita had been in touch again and I’d informed them that I was living in Dubai and my situation had changed. I spoke to my management team, who had equity in the business, and I was surprised when they said they were happy for the business to be sold.
The sale process went on for six months and it was the worst six months of my life.
Why was that?
When you are selling your business, the acquirer will always look to find reasons to try and lower the price. But I was in the fortunate position that I wasn’t worried whether I was going to sell or not – so I could hold firm and the price was the price.
Then comes the worst part of it – the day it happens. No amount of money in your bank account makes up for the guilt you have of feeling you have let people down – who have worked hard to make the business successful.
Do you look back with regrets?
It was the right decision when I look back. Several people, who had worked in the business, became millionaires but having said that I never did it for the money – that was a by-product.
I always maintained the core principle in the business that my one job was to give everybody in the business the opportunity to earn more money than they had in the previous year.
When I look back now and see some of the people I was worried about, flourishing in new roles – it makes me happy. They have gone on to have successful careers, which is great.
Where does your entrepreneurial instinct come from?
It comes from wanting to be successful but wanting to do it in the right way. One of the things about being an entrepreneur is that you are prepared to make mistakes.
You also must be prepared to put yourself out there and change and adapt. I believe the word entrepreneur has become very stretched and is over-assigned to people who often haven’t earnt the tag.
What are you doing now in Dubai?
It’s difficult to retire when you’re young and you have a family. I had built a strong network of contacts in Dubai and they introduced me to an insurance and wealth management business – Arlo Insurance Brokers – that was facing some difficulties.
I liked how honest they were about the issues they were facing in the business, so I invested in the business and took a forty per cent stake, with the two founders sharing the rest.
The business focuses on supporting expats who have moved to Dubai with their financial planning. They were offering a regulated and compliance driven approach that had the customer’s best interests at heart, which appealed to me. .
Can you tell me how the business is evolving?
We came across some software in the United States that helped businesses with their HR requirements. In Dubai all companies must supply their staff with medical insurance and the insurance companies all give the same prices to the brokers – which means the brokers then must differentiate themselves.
This software allows the brokers to add value to the customer. It manages a company’s life and medical insurance; and the broker can give it to the company for free.
An equivalent business in the United States was valued at $6 billion, so there is a huge market for this. The turnover of this combined business – Arlo & Emirates HR – was $2 million last year and this year we look set to end on $25 million.
What advice would you give to people looking to do business in the UAE?
Now is a good time to look at opportunities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as leaders in the region are realising they can’t rely on oil and tourism forever. But there are barriers to doing business as you must have a local person to help you; and you must respect that you are dealing with Sharia Law.
The rules are also starting to change though, whereby expats can own 100 per cent of their own business, and this will help to attract more business interest from non-locals. They are also now offering a ten-year visa, which will make a significant difference.
I would also say that creating a UK type service model will ensure you have an offering that is better than anything currently on the market, as service can be poor in some sectors.
What traits in business people do you admire?
I admire people who are positive and business owners that have an understanding that you need to work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. You can take half of that off as holiday but you’re always on the phone or emails. You can’t switch off.
I also admire people who care about their employees because those that don’t – don’t last. You also can’t fast-track success and if you’re the boss you must get up the earliest and go to bed the latest.
What advice do you have for start-ups?
Make sure you get involved with the right people. Be aware of these agencies and business coaches who have never actually run or built a business but claim to know how to build yours – how can they advise you?
Anybody can produce a CV up to make out like they ran this big company when they haven’t.
Another thing I would say is that your focus should always be on trying to deliver your vision as best you can. Financials are only an indicator – I’ve never met anybody that has met their financial target yet and you can get lost in the numbers. Obviously, this is important but if you do everything right – this will come.
Finally, be realistic- I have mentored businesses in the past where there were two or three people in the business and the founder or owner wanted to be called the CEO. You must avoid ego, as these businesses tend to fail.