chapter9-mainSo, here we were, all grown up, all with families. My son Edward had just started at Dulwich College, probably as bad choice of school as we could have made. Bullying was the norm especially as he was pretty small as a nine year old. Eventually we had a chat about the fact that he was being terrorised so I devised a cunning plot. I suggested that he kept a sock filled with marbles on him so that when the older boys started on him he could whack them with his sock & then run away as fast as he could. This seemed to work for some time until I got a call from his form-master asking if everything was ok with Edward as he seemed somewhat distracted. My response was just to say that he was coming home slightly dishevelled most nights, you know, trousers torn, blazer pockets ripped etc. but he didn’t seem unduly unhappy. How wrong we were. Apparently he was fighting all the time, being over-aggressive because of my stupidity in giving him the idea that it was ok to hit out at those who were bullying him instead of talking to the relevant people, his parents & teachers. This is a lesson I’ve never forgotten, either as a parent or as someone involved with education. Please look out for bullies!

My daughter Katy was doing well at her primary school, so well that they actually accelerated her into the year above. Eventually she went on to an all- girls’ school James Allen, also in Dulwich, & then went on to Bristol University & a career in PR & communication that’s taken her all over the world. I’d have loved to have her in our business but I couldn’t compete with the likes of Tesco, the FT & the Pearson Group. Currently, she’s living & working in New York, but she travels back on business to London every couple of months.

Right, let’s get into buying Robert Fielding from Talbex, troubled toiletries to hairdressing.

During the early ‘80s trade was good. Mrs. Thatcher had worked her magic & the economy was starting to pick up. The problem for us was that the board of directors of the public company didn’t or more particularly, wouldn’t, allow us to be masters of our own destiny. For egotistical hairdressers, that’s pretty frustrating. We had numerous meetings with the directors of Talbex who, in principal, were prepared to sell us but at a price to be agreed. At the same time we had to try to raise our own funds, no mean feat then as now.

I have to relate one of the financial meetings we had, actually with the directors of the public company. A certain Peter De Savary was chief exec. & his right–hand man, a very well known financial whizz-kid, also attended. The purpose of the meeting was to arrange for us to borrow a substantial sum from them so as to make our buy-out as simple as possible. All was going well & we almost made a decision to do business with them until the finance guy, whose name I remember but won’t divulge, came up with a saying that has remained with me these last thirty five years.

He said, & I quote, “when we’ve got you by the balls, your heart & mind will follow”! We waffled on about thinking about the deal, left the table, came out & we all breathed a sigh of relief that we still had all our fingers & toes. We knew we didn’t want to borrow from them so the financial search continued.

In mid-May 1981, whilst all this was going on, I decided to take a weeks’ holiday during the kids half term break. So the four of us got on a plane & jetted off to Majorca on the first family holiday abroad. If I remember rightly, I spent more time on the phone than I did anywhere else. On top of all the stress of making a decision to go into business as one of a four-way partnership, the direct consequence for me was an attack of “hives”. Even to this day I occasionally get it, but then I didn’t know what it was & to say I looked frightening was an understatement. I had this enormous lump come up between my eyes. Do you know what a Cyclops looks like? Google it. The worse part was that these lumps kept moving, so within a couple of hours one of my eyes looked like I’d been ten rounds with Muhammed Ali!

Anyway, while I was on the phone in a booth in the reception of the hotel (no mobiles then) trying to make a life-changing decision, the family had a good weeks’ break. Most importantly for Edward, by this time a nine year old, he’d found a newly married couple to spend a bit of time with & they started to teach him to swim. This was crucial as he was going to Dulwich College later that year & if you couldn’t swim properly you had to have a white X sewn on to the seat of your swimming trunks, presumably to be seen as you sank to the bottom of the pool, prior to drowning.

Our two “financial” partners sourced various funding leads, & finally, after months of negotiation we returned from whence we came; Barclays provided the necessary funds to facilitate our buy-out.

We returned to the UK after making the decision that would shape the rest of my life in the industry. Yes, I would invest & yes, it would start a very happy & prosperous next ten years of our lives.