An Acquired Taste — Jeremy Harbour
Catch a glimpse of the secrets behind Jeremy Harbour’s success as he shares his thoughts on life, business acquisitions and how he became a Key Person of Influence.
“Unconventionally educated,” that’s how Jeremy Harbour — three-time runner-up Coutts Entrepreneur of the Year, Founder of the exclusive Harbour Club and one of the most highly reputed names in the small business Mergers and Acquisitions field — would describe himself.
Born and raised in the UK, the man whose name would one day grace the columns in publications such as the Financial Times, Money Channel, Telegraph and the Sunday Times, grew up just like any other teenager, but unlike his peers, Harbour saw school as a marketplace rather than a place to study. It wasn’t long before, at the age of 14, he began running a market stall on in school on the weekends, selling watches and trinkets, which turned out to be his first experience in trading.
A year later, Harbour quit school at the age of 15 — prior to his GCE ‘O’ levels — and has since never looked back. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. At 18, through guts and ingenious deal-making, he was the proud owner of a fast food takeaway and amusement arcade — both of which ended up, in his own words, “failing spectacularly.”
“One really important lesson to learn is how to fall flat on your face,” advises Harbour. “Recognise quickly when something’s not gaining traction — a realisation that may be hard to come to terms with — and ‘don’t flog a dead horse,’” he went on to say. “You’re useful for about 40 years of your life — therefore the ability to pivot quickly is very important.
So learn how to see your losses as school fees. “
Soon after, Harbour moved into the telecoms business, by acquiring a distressed 13-year old full-service telecoms company — that sold mobile phones, landlines — and had, among other things, a big client on board that was, at that time, Nintendo.
According to Harbour, scaling a telecoms company is pretty hard and a lot of people in that industry look to grow their companies through acquisition. In this case however, issues relating to office space, distractions and supplier frustration allowed Harbour to take over this troubled company at virtually no cost. It wasn’t long before he secured a deal with retail giant Costco and his company products were competing head-on with the likes of Vodafone and Orange.
But how can one find such companies? “Go out looking for a business to acquire and the sign posts will pop-up everywhere,” he continues. “Are you asking the right questions? Change your paradigm to look for deals. There are opportunities everywhere.”
How do you grow your business without any money? Doing deals is a great way to grow and scale things, says Harbour.
All in all, Harbour bought $30m worth of business in the space of 18 months and paid almost nothing up-front. Among these companies were:
- A Health Club and Spa (Which already had $3.2m invested in it)
- The London Center of Contemporary Music
- An IT Company
- A Call Center (With AIG as a client on board)
- A Training Company
According to Harbour, this resulted in the outflow of $250,000 every month (virtually all the money that was coming in was going out to pay staff salaries), which led to a “hamster-wheel existence” for him for about a year (95-hour work week). After months of grueling hard work, Harbour sold his Telecoms Company while another one went bust (Call Center) –and he found himself as an entrepreneur with both time and money. Which very rarely happens.
This gave Harbour time to reflect on his experiences and realise a few things:
- The importance of buying a business to grow a business.
- Everyone says “first start a business, then work really hard at it.” You don’t make money running businesses. Your best customer is the one who’s going to eventually buy it from you. So build it to sell.
- Buy businesses for nothing and then sell them.
How do you create value for both parties through mutually beneficial solutions? “It’s different in every situation,” admits Harbour, “but it’s basically about finding a way to offer value or helping them solve a problem in exchange for equity. Find ways to foster rapport-driven transactions.”
“Being a business owner you’ve got to be strategic and start having ‘higher-level conversations’,” asserts Harbour who advises going for distressed companies or subsidiaries of big companies — as it might be easier to untangle them from their parents.
One day, an events company (which Harbour acquired) invited him to give a talk on his business success and methods. This eventually laid the foundations for the exclusive Harbour Club — where Jeremy puts his lifelong methods into a strategy and provides guidance to companies looking to grow through acquisition. All for a fee, of course.
Harbour doesn’t seem to mind the extra effort. He enjoys coaching others, because “you learn the most about what you do when you have to teach,” he quips.
Looking back at his life, Harbour, who resides in Mallorca, Spain, concludes by saying that he recalls a time when he would do any deal — even try to acquire $500,000 a year IT companies. That time is long past. These days, he buys banks.
Originally published at www.dbs.com.sg.