A woman who started out as a PA at a Midland courier company ended up launching a management buyout of the firm and driving a four-fold increase in turnover.
And now Jane Weaver of Solihull-based AYS couriers has received recognition for her achievements with a top transport industry award.
Ms Weaver won the Director of the Year award at the 2012 MAN everywoman in Transport & Logistics Awards, an honour she described as “confirmation we are doing the right thing”.
The AYS managing director admits she has been on “quite a journey” but confessed when she started at the company in 2001 she never dreamed she would be running it one day.
“I came to work for the business as a PA at quite a tough time in my life,” she said. “I had been there for a few years when the previous owner, a lady who had started the business, decided it was time for her to move on and that was when I came up with the MBO idea.
“The company had a great reputation and I knew it would be successful. We would have been sold to a bigger company and I thought it would be a shame for the business to be swallowed up.”
Though she had no experience in management Ms Weaver concluded it was the opportunity of a lifetime and decided to take the plunge.
“I really admired what the previous owner did and thought it was a really good opportunity which I wouldn’t get again – it was right there in front of me.
“I spoke to a couple of people who had been involved in MBOs, who helped me in terms of how I might structure an MBO and helped with the bank, which could see the company was a good stable prospect.”
A consortium of ten shareholders was put together and the MBO completed in 2004. Initially the focus was purely on survival.
Ms Weaver said: “The business plan at that time was to just stay the same but as soon as we bought it we got ambitious.”
As the company found its feet Ms Weaver’s confidence grew – even her stint as PA helped her insofar as she had “got to know everything that went on” – and over time she consolidated her leadership by buying out the other shareholders.
“Twelve months ago I came to an arrangement that I would buy out the remaining shareholders,” she said. “As the company developed for various reasons they moved on. It is now just me but if I hadn’t had those shareholders I wouldn’t have been able to do it so it’s a good job they were there.”
Such was the success of the new operation Ms Weaver admits that at one stage they moved to far too fast.
AYS relocated from its Henley-in-Arden base to a new 5,000 sq ft warehouse in Solihull, growth opportunities in the area of storage were taken advantage of – particularly in providing parts to engineering firms at short notice – and turnover spiralled.
“Turnover was £950,000 when we bought it and it grew continually up to £4.5 million,” said Ms Weaver. “When we were at £4.5 million we were struggling and that is really when we changed direction. It was a familiar story of growing too big too quickly at a time when fuel prices were rising rapidly and insurance costs were rising. We really had to think about what direction the business was going in.”
The solution was reviewing its customer base in 2009 and concentrating on its core operations. These days it concentrates on specialist secure delivery.
In a given day its work might range from delivering items to Chris Moyles’ and Chris Evans’ radio shows or the Old Bailey, transporting chemotherapy drugs and premature baby food and delivering tender documents. The firm also recently transported an essential part to support the Olympic flame tour.
“We were trying to be all things to all men and had lost a little bit of direction,’’ she said. “We moved away from the service that didn’t work for us, which was a really tough decision even if you know it is not working for you.”
Since then the company’s turnover has reduced to around £3 million.
“I feel now we are really on the brink,” said Ms Weaver. “I know we have got it right and are the best at what we do – secure delivery – but there is always room for continuous improvement.
“I think we will grow again now in areas we excel in.
“I think if you really want something you can do it. There was a lot to be learnt from when we were in trouble.You have to take tough decisions. I guess I’d sum it up by saying know what you are good at and stick with it.”