“I left school after A levels and went directly into banking in The City of London. I did well in the city, I gained a lot of varied financial understanding and commercial acumen; I was always very numeric anyway, that’s always something that I have enjoyed.
My Dad had a freight forwarding logistics business, looking after international air freight and deep-sea freight but at the end of 2003 the business was effectively bankrupt! It was on its knees, and heavily in debt with HMRC knocking on the door, it owed around half a million pounds, and it didn’t have the cash to pay it back. The directors and my dad had been keen in getting me to work for the company for the previous couple of years, but I had always refused – I wasn’t particularly interested in working for the family business, I wanted to make a success out of something by myself.
They really needed my help and dad asked if I would come on board for a while to help which I agreed, so I went into the business as the financial controller. I’m not a qualified accountant but I knew how to read a balance sheet, drive P&L and am very good with numbers.
They had good customers, good turnover, and good suppliers but had no control over the finances and that’s where the hole had been created. We got rid of a lot of people and spent the next few years resetting the business, getting it back to a level balance sheet and start building the business back from there. About eighteen months later I was made Managing Director, voted on by the management team, and within around three years we had turned it from a negative balance sheet to a positive one and the business was making good money.
I always felt that I had that kind of entrepreneurial mindset, I could always understand what makes a business tick, what’s good and what’s bad and what we should focus on and what we shouldn’t. The experience I had with my dad’s business gave me the ability to actually do it in practice, I could always be good at looking into a business and deciding on the best approach. But in this case, we had to do it, there were personal guarantees involved and Mum and Dad’s house was on the line, it was very pressured, but that’s what drives me; I buy into those pressured situations and the challenges that businesses face.
At the start of 2008 we were approached with an offer to sell the business, which wasn’t always our plan, but it really ties into what I do now. We didn’t plan to sell the business, the plan was to build a saleable business – it’s an approach I take with my clients; I say it’s not about selling your business but it’s about being able to give you a choice and to sell if you want to, which gives you freedom. If you build your business in such a way, so it’s built on a good foundation, you’ve got all those robust structures and processes in place, then you can sell your business if someone comes knocking and that’s what we did.
My Dad was 63 at the time, he was keen on passing the business down to me, but I wanted Mum and Dad to reap the rewards from all the hard work over the years, so we decided to sell the business. The company that bought us were a global business that turned over around 3 billion dollars, so we went from a small family business to this massive machine, I stayed working with them for six years, I was the middleman that both parties wanted to stay involved and I did very well in with my own career path. I was managing eighty people and looking after a P&L of around £40 million, and was placed on the European board, it was a massive learning process and very different from running a family business that turned over £10 million.
I stayed with them until 2014 when I was approached by our biggest competitor in the UK. We were number three or four in the U.K and these guys were number one, they were dealing with some clients that I had only scratched the surface with, and I was keen to work with them; equally I was keen to push myself a little bit higher. I worked with them for a couple years, but from my point of view, very honestly, I just got bored and was unfulfilled. They pigeonholed me and didn’t use my experience as they should have, as my background was so much broader.
My coach is still my dad and he’s my mentor, all through the years when I was working in the family business, he was always driving me to use all my skills set, which was broad across the whole business and was always encouraging me to use it and not to lose focus. Yes, you need to focus on certain elements, but you also need to understand all of it. He told me I should set up on my own, reminding me that I know business, I understand it, all aspects of it, from sales, marketing, and finance – you name it. You’re good, you’ll be a success!
So that’s what I did, in the summer of 2017 I set up Smart Chimp Business Consulting and the whole premise of that was not to work with businesses in my old arena but to work with any business owner or any business, in any industry. Dad would tell me that I was the musical conductor, the business was the orchestra and as a conductor I would know when to make things start to play and stop – working together, when it’s right to bring things in and when it’s not and that’s what I do.
Over the course of the last five years, I’ve worked with clients that turnover between £100,000 and £30 million which is quite wide, and I will work with any business, but it’s got to be a good fit. Ultimately, it’s about two people, my client and me and we need to be able to get on and understand what’s driving each other, what the ultimate goal is and using my expertise and my knowledge, in trying to drive it forward.
I want to see my client’s business evolve and succeed in the way they want it to succeed, I ask them what their exit looks like or what it should look like, people can get spooked by that but it’s important for me to understand what’s driving those individuals; is it money, is it lifestyle, or is it something else, then it’s about making sure the business can deliver that for them.
If I asked my Dad what the future holds for me and my business, he would tell me to keep doing what I’m doing, having a purpose is essential for all of us in modern day life and in business you definitely need a purpose – that’s where I get my real fulfilment from.”
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SmartChimp Consulting was established by Sean Smith in the summer of 2017. We are a Kent based Consulting Practice and we focus on our three key areas of expertise – Supply Chain, Logistics & Warehouse Consulting, Management Consulting and Personal Executive Coaching.
To support our clients and their busy schedules, we offer flexible solutions which are fully tailored around their requirements and never with a ‘one size fits all’ mindset.
We will provide you with clear experience led solutions, focused on delivering value and supporting you to develop your business growth organically.
We have an open and fresh approach in offering new ideas and challenging the existing, to forming new strategies that will be both practical and successful for all sizes of businesses.
Our key difference, is that we ‘listen’ to our clients and look to unlock their own thoughts to help facilitate change and ultimately achieve their vision.