The day we sold up
After starting a company from scratch we sold it 10 years later
Photo by JC Bonassin on Unsplash
Snow was forecast for the last day of February, 2018. We were supposed to start at midday but no one seemed too hopeful.
“Just be somewhere local and wait for the call,” said Tim, the junior of the two legals. We’d found a hotel just off London Wall. It was close enough and we could sit, drink coffee and wait.
The sleet quickly turned to snow muting the dystopian, faceless grey blocks surrounding us. We were glad to escape.
Nearly every table in the overcrowded reception was taken, mostly by well dressed suited men talking to each other or their phones giving directions, putting something off until later? They must have decided to swop their offices and lonely sandwiches for an overpriced menu to chat with friends or network with colleagues. Later, they migrated quickly, distracted or disturbed by the passing hour. The snow didn’t stop them hurrying back to comfortable high-backed chairs to stare once again at their wide screens, in-between more meetings, more urgent fires and never ending to-do lists, burgeoning well beyond the point of focus.
We were shoe-horned into a line of crowded tables with just enough room for one person on either side. It must have looked like a speed dating event. Some tables were animated in conversation, others barely talking, a few had already returned to their phones. We looked blankly across at one another, uncomfortable on our low stools not designed for a long stay. We said nothing, the silence welcome, unlike a first date when a long pause screams at the futility of it ever becoming anything else.
We’d already talked too much for months. Was it finally going to happen today or was there another unexpected twist lurking somewhere? Perhaps another postponement while a diligence detail was checked for the fifth time? Don’t worry, Tim would say, a simple rearrangement for a day or two. Or something more gut wrenching, a postponement that drags on to the point where it can’t be called a postponement at all - the sale gone for good.
My mind drifted and I was reminded of Mum. What would she have made of all this?
I can’t remember when I first started to call them every day? I wasn’t that virtuous. It was easy when I was driving so much and I usually gave them a call late afternoon when I was heading home.
They’d each grab a phone, anxious not to miss anything, keen to hear what I’d been doing even though it was only yesterday since we’d spoken. And then one day, it was only me and Mum.
Unlike many of us, age had finally softened her in a good way. As sharp as ever but now happier to live in the moment, more accepting of everyone’s flaws and weaknesses. She knew her time was nearly up and she’d chosen to enjoy every last minute.
I would have explained our wait today while she listened patiently. Few questions for one so smart. But her experiences had been gathered teaching maths over the years, not what happens when you try and sell a company. I had little to offer on that one either.
The call came later, as we were expecting. The offices looked suitably expensive and our footsteps echoed on the marble floor as we made ourselves known to the receptionist.
We didn’t have to wait long before we were ushered into a large presentation suite with a big U-shaped table that could comfortably seat 30 people. It was littered with piles of paper and people industriously moving back and forth building even bigger ones.
The untrained eye would never have spotted any cracks in the room. Of the seven shareholders, four were leaving today. The three staying were now cosying up to their new friends and owners, a private equity company, who we met for the first time that afternoon. The courtship had been going on for months which was only to be expected. The last minute stall, who knows? Maybe they’re common as well? I expect so.
Eventually they were ready and we spent the next hour slowly moving between the piles, signing repeatedly. We could have opted out, giving our authority to someone else to sign, as our brave investor had done, putting cash on the balance sheet when it had been most needed. It was different for us. We wanted to enjoy every tedious last minute and savour what we’d achieved.
The new owners popped a few bottles of champagne and we politely stayed for a glass before leaving.
Outside on the pavement it was quiet, the fallen snow muffling the usual sounds of the city. It had now stopped and the night sky was crystal clear. We held hands tightly to stop ourselves from falling and also because we couldn’t quite believe what we’d just done. We stood there together, beyond the tall revolving doors of the lawyers, lost in thought and this new reality. Before long, the freezing cold reminded us that we needed to go.
We laughed at the complete lack of taxis. Which way? We walked away from all the footsteps and took the path less trodden.