Tom Klimes is onTRACK ADVICE?
I am Tom Klimes and I know that your biography is supposed to be written in the third person but it feels weird enough writing about yourself without pretending that it’s someone else doing the writing.
Many years ago (when dinosaurs roamed the land according to my kids) I graduated from university with a mediocre degree in Physics, a burning desire to work in industry and a conviction that I could change things (but no real idea of what I could change).
I look back on those days with whimsical nostalgia and realise that although the idealism of youth has been tempered by experience, I still feel passionate about doing business better.
To my mind there is no more exciting a roller coaster than running a small company. My career started as a production assistant with a small offset litho printer where I quickly learnt some tact and an awful lot about how a small business actually runs. I was quickly promoted to production manager in charge of the repro department. Organisation, planning and attention to detail became my mantra.
After a couple of years I took a job as production and purchasing manager with a larger manufacturing company, Thomas & Green Ltd (T&G). We had 80 staff, a turnover of £6m and exported more than 80% of our products. I became intimately familiar with BS5750 (now ISO9000), MRP systems, stock turn, flexible and shift working and an unionised environment. We were also part of an international group of paper making and converting companies, the GT Mandl Group.
I was promoted to operations director and was responsible for setting up a joint venture in Singapore, implementing quality focused key performance indicators company wide and generally doing more strategic thinking.
At about the same time I was invited to join the main board of GT Mandl Group. We had operations in 6 countries, turned over €50m and employed 300 people. As one of four main board members I was responsible for coordinating operational and purchasing strategy for the group.
The inevitable eventually happened and I was reluctantly persuaded to accept the job of managing director at T&G as well as non-executive directorships in the other group companies. At T&G I bought another company and merged the operations on one site achieving savings of £400k in operational costs. The additional turnover and cost savings quickly brought us back into profit after two years of struggling with increasing costs and sharper competition. When in 2008 the main group board decided to rationalise converting operations and sell the UK company, I did so for full market value against the backdrop of a worsening economic crisis.
Traditional industrial high bay lighting is inefficient and requires constant maintenance due to lamp failures. LED lights use one third of the power to produce the same light and need no maintenance for more than 10 years. Chatting over a beer with a friend one evening we decided that there was an opportunity to sell these then new LED lights into industry. The next morning it still seemed a good idea so we did lots of market research, innumerable spreadsheets were created and dangerous amounts of coffee were consumed. A couple of months later we took the plunge and started a new company. Over the next five years we went from start-up to £1.2m turnover, with no bank borrowing. In the process we secured distribution deals for the two largest industrial LED lighting manufacturers. I eventually sold my share of the business to my partner.
Having reflected upon my career and the poor, expensive and inappropriate business advice that I had received over the years, I decided that I could do better. I would offer small business owners a thorough business review, a clear action plan and on-going support to implement that action plan. Honest advice from someone who has spent their whole life working in small business. How refreshing.