Bracebridge Corporate Finance talk to Mark Roberts about his role as CEO and his successful exit from software company, CSC

Tell us about CSC and your appointment as CEO?

CSC, which now operates under the Tekla brand and is owned by US based Trimble, develops and sells software solutions and associated services to structural engineers. Having worked in a number of sales roles at CSC, I became Sales Director in 1998. In 2003, I led a debt-funded MBO, became CEO and built a new Senior Management team.

What were your key achievements as CEO?

Throughout my tenure as CEO, I was determined to think strategically, develop detailed business plans and retain the entrepreneurial spirit that is key to the success of any SME. Planning helped us make sound and informed decisions, particularly when attractive opportunities crossed our table.
CSC built a very strong team ethic. The business was joined up across all disciplines, with everybody working towards common objectives. CSC had a very open communication channel from Senior Management throughout the rest of the organisation.

Having acquired the business in 2003, we decided that we needed to develop an international strategy to minimise risk due to the volatility of the UK construction industry, broaden our user base and increase our potential attractiveness to acquirers in the future. This resulted in regional offices being opened in Singapore, Malaysia, USA, India, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai and South Africa.

We also developed a complimentary acquisition strategy which resulted in a number of IP acquisitions in Canada, USA, Turkey and India.

As a technology business, it was important to continue enhancing the product, taking advantage of new technologies and market demand. We developed an integrated rolling “Product Road Map” that made user transition as seamless as possible whilst providing “state of the art” solutions to our customers. The team were continually challenged with new opportunities whilst ensuring that our operations were structured in order to provide a high quality level of customer service.

During the period from 2003 to 2013 our turnover increased ten-fold. This included a very difficult period around 2009 when the global economy crashed and the construction industry was particularly affected. As a management team we closed ranks, made some brave decisions and enjoyed growth during this difficult time. Many of our competitors faltered.

In 2013 I was awarded BVCA Northern CEO of the year, the same year we sold the business.

How did Livingbridge help create shareholder value?

In 2008, we introduced a new partner to our board room, Livingbridge Private Equity. Livingbridge brought a new level of corporate governance to the business. The business definitely benefited from a fresh way of thinking, additional debate around new opportunities and introductions through Livingbridge’s professional contacts.

Upon exit, as an SME I truly believe that we were taken more seriously by some very large potential acquirers due to the fact that we had already attracted private equity investment.

What were the highs and lows of your time at CSC?

As a CEO, every day presents its highs and lows. I enjoyed and capitalised on the highs, and put the lows in a sealed box having dealt with them accordingly!

As a Structural Engineer, I enjoyed seeing our software being used on some fantastic and, in certain cases, iconic developments around the world. However, nothing beat our strategies being successful and our targets exceeded. International expansion was fascinating and it was great to punch above our weight and take on some of the largest suppliers in our sector.

Our lows were mainly customer related. When a customer went out of business or hit hard times, which happened a lot around 2009, or when a customer decided to implement competitive solutions, that always hurt, but thankfully it didn’t happen a lot.

Probably the biggest low was the day I packed my bags and left CSC, 6 months post acquisition. CSC was a key part of my life and I have no regrets with our decision to exit. However, saying goodbye to all of my colleagues was very sad and I remain truly thankful for everything that they did for me. It is amazing how life moves on, I will never forget the CSC journey, but there a lots of new and exciting chapters starting to happen in my life.

What were the keys to a successful exit?

Planning, planning and more planning.

We thought about and planned for our exit from the day we bought CSC in 2003. Our strategies were built around added value and general attractiveness to prospective buyers. We built relationships with potential suitors throughout our journey. We strived to retain strong people and continually attract fantastic new talent. Our international footprint definitely helped. Our acquisition strategy demonstrated potential non-organic growth and our acquisition in India helped to increase acquirer interest and the potential exit multiple.

Marketing became integral to our strategies. I learned the importance of strategic marketing and how it should encompass every facet of the business’s perception, not just helping to sell products.

Most importantly of all, our planning had clearly defined objectives that went back to 2003. Being able to demonstrate that on the whole these objectives, particularly financial, had been achieved or exceeded throughout our journey demonstrated strength in the business and robustness of our predictions for the future benefit of the acquirer.

At the end of 2013, CSC was acquired by Trimble Inc, a US NASDAQ listed technology business. After considering a number of offers, we felt that CSC was in good hands with Trimble. Clearly a lot has changed following the acquisition but I am pleased to say that on the whole my products, people and clients have continued to prosper post acquisition.

What are you looking to do now?

Having spent time getting CSC out of my system, playing bad golf, watching my sons play rugby and cricket and travelling the world without any pressures of work, I am now consulting with a number of businesses, sharing my experiences of the journey of acquisition, growth and exit. In particular, I enjoy working with businesses to help them develop the right management structure, growth strategies and exit strategies.