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Episode 22: The Ups and Downs of SME Ownership: A Candid Chat with Phil Caudle

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No SME owner expects their business to fail, but it could happen. In this episode of The SME Growth Podcast, Dave Parry and Richard Buckle are joined by Phil Caudle for a candid conversation about his experiences with the downfall of his business and the potential insights he can give to other SMEs based on hindsight. This interview is a great listen to any SME, offering advice to any SME that finds themselves in "the perfect storm" and insights from Phil with the hindsight of what he would have done differently.

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Please note: Whilst all transcripts are double checked for accuracy, they are transcribed via Otter.AI so may contain errors.

David Parry 04:05

All right, well, on that note then if we're all ready to go, should we go to go? Okay. Hello, and welcome to The SME Growth Podcast from Wellmeadow. This is Dave Parry and with me as ever is Richard Buckle, Hi Rich.

Richard Buckle 04:21

Hello, morning.

David Parry 04:22

Good morning. And this week, we are lucky enough to have a guest join us as well Phil, Phil Caudle. Hello, Phil. Thanks for joining us. Now Phil is a regular listener or watcher. You listen or watch. 

Phil Caudle 04:35

Mainly Listen, so yeah, I do watch it a little bit on LinkedIn and things like yeah,

Richard Buckle 04:40

You've seen enough then!

David Parry 04:44

You don't want to look at too much. So Phil is a regular listener to the podcast. And it's quite odd is when it comes in this morning. It's like you notice both really well. It's like when you see that famous person Off the Telly he convinced they know you

Richard Buckle 04:56

Exactly one day, one day 

Phil Caudle 04:57

I think this our first time meeting, Rich?

David Parry 05:01

But you've seen rich so many times, you know about his meat thermometer stories

Richard Buckle 05:04

Always happy to sign autographs,

David Parry 05:07

We need that merch! So thanks a lot for coming in. Now the reason we asked Phil to come in, and it's it's a, we're really honoured actually, that you're prepared to come in and talk about this because you hear a lot about people who want to show off about their business or promote their business or talk about something great that's happened. But your business has been through a tough patch. And that, that is some of the most valuable learning for other people in business to pick up from, because just hearing about everyone has done so brilliantly. It's easy to dismiss that as you were lucky or whatever. But you suffered some bad luck. And it's gonna be interesting to sort of go through a bit of that and see what lessons you've drawn from that because I'm sure in just having a bit of preamble in the greenroom beforehand, is there's a few points that I know that several of our regular listeners will latch on to and 

Phil Caudle 05:59

Yes, that's good to hear

Richard Buckle 06:00

So I know, obviously, I think you, Dave, are more familiar with the story, I'm probably a bit newer to it. So you're able to give us a bit of background as to what happened and 

Phil Caudle 06:10

yeah, sure, yeah. So the business itself, we manufactured. We termed it presentation products and packaging, predominately from plastic. So things like ring binders, wallets, files, folders, that sort of stuff. And, as I don't know, if people are sort of generally aware, but obviously, print on paper is in fairly heavy decline, printers are having a horrendous time of it. And obviously, that linked very heavily to what we did. And, you know, a lot of members packs and that sort of stuff. And then obviously, there are other other factors. More recently, we you know, with the pandemic, that accelerated really this digitalization if you like, used to do a lot of medical files and things like for the NHS, obviously, the NHS, where it was going to be a, you know, a 10 year plan of going sort of completely digital. And, obviously, there's lots of lots of factors in there. But those those things just happened overnight, with a pandemic. Legal and financial services, which were a big part of the business, obviously signing, you know, digital signing, and that sort of that sort of stuff. Yeah, was commonplace now, whereas before, it was seen as you know, how to be a wet wet signature that sort of thing. So, so yeah, that, that that kind of business didn't dry out, but it certainly it disappeared. So we saw trade, you know, take a major dip. I'm gonna say Brexit had an effect, because the effect is certainly affects our pricing and, you know, all our raw materials and things come over from from Europe generally. And, you know, from large sort of central warehousing and that sort of thing. So that was all, yes, sort of the the industry as a whole is in decline. And then the, you know, the trade, general trade was, you know, was was dipping, you know, sort of, as well.

David Parry 08:08

So, we've had quite a few years, but we're not talking about relatively recent thing. It's a various very established business. Yeah, how long has it been trading for?

Phil Caudle 08:16

60, 60 years, it was 60 last year

David Parry 08:18

60 years, you know, been around for a while, where these products were very, very current. Yeah. And then you've touched upon a few different things there, that all came along in kind of a bit of a perfect storm, you know, pandemic, war on plastics, Brexit, whatever other economic situation,

Phil Caudle 08:34

you know, during the pandemic, we had a good time. And I say that, you know, when everyone was suffering, but you know, we were manufacturing face visors and screens and things like that. And there was a, you know, a definite uptick for us at that time, you know, you got your, your head in your hands in March, thinking of what we're going to do. We launched, you know, a face visor that, you know, did really well sold a couple of million units. And we missed out on NHS contracts and things like that, which was a little bit unfortunate. We sort of got into bed with friendly competitor, and we were all we had a contract which we were all going to produce together. And then that got rescinded. And we lost out at that point. And we'd missed then the boat with it.

David Parry 09:22

We know another company had that problem as well. But in the early gold rush times, there was lots of madness around ventilators and hospital things for the nightingale hospitals and then the cancelled contracts came through and of course, it was left a lot of companies high and dry. And of course, we could make a political point about who your friends are in high places because there were plenty of PPE contracts going around for people, but a million visors or so, that's impressive 

Phil Caudle 09:44

Yeah, yeah, it was good and unusually it was in polypropylene whereas the majority you see around are in PT poly prop. gets a bit boring but you know is is more milky to look at. If you added two products on the table, the PT would look clearer. But the reality is once it's in front of your eyes, you know, the actual visual differences were negligible 

David Parry 10:09

Close enough it doesn't matter. So with all these things happening, Did you sense over the sort of latter part of the 60 year journey at the company? Was this something that you saw happening quite gradually over a decade? or so? Or did it all kind of tumble and happen all at once towards the end? 

Phil Caudle 10:23

No, yeah, it had been had been gradual. And I just just want to clarify, they have not been with the business for 60 years.

David Parry 10:31

You're looking very good for it

Phil Caudle 10:33

I've been with been with the business 22 years, and owned it for the last sort of 12. But yeah, it was a gradual move. And that's why when I actually joined the business, I joined it with a packaging in modern, you know, that was, that's my background, my parents had a business down in Gloucester, that, that were in a plastic packaging, to give that extra string to the bow, and also complemented the presentation products. So there were certain technologies that came that are bought in with the packaging that complemented that, you know, the products that you're that some of the things that we could do with some of the products. But yeah, had been a slow shift, I guess. Presentation products, our market share in presentation products have increased, so we haven't sort of pushed as far into into packaging. Because, you know, a lot of companies, it's not a particularly sexy industry to get into, you know, people aren't looking to, to join or be, you know, let's go make some ring binders.

Richard Buckle 11:41

Living the dream. 

Phil Caudle 11:43

So, so, you'll you find, for a time anyway, maybe not so much anymore, but you know, I was, you know, a pretty young face in, you know, in that in that industry.

David Parry 11:57

I noticed as well, in the couple of years, but a couple years ago, now, your marketing started to try and address some of the problems around plastic and yeah, trying to re educate the market, that it's not all bad, or, you know, yeah, that was one of your early, early attempts to try and turn the tide a little bit. 

Phil Caudle 12:17

Yes, it was, it's always been, you know, a fairly major bugbear that I'm not, I'm not, I'm not going to sit here and say that plastic is great. And, you know, they're, you know, there's lots of, you know, lots of reasons why, you know, any material choice is right or wrong for you, for what you for whatever the purpose is. But there was a lot of marketing or anti plastic marketing, if you like, which is there to basically sell, you know, whatever the product is that, you know, that particular, you know, person or company wants to wants to sell. And it was giving plastic a bad name, unfairly, in my view, because there are a lot of, you know, benefits to using plastic in terms of the longevity, which I know, it also feeds into, you know, one of the one of the disadvantages, but also protection and, you know, you know, making food last longer, and, you know, and that sort of that sort of business. And so yeah, we, you know, we did sort of try and put a lot of a lot of emphasis on trying to educate

David Parry 13:23

Did it work, do you think?

Phil Caudle 13:27

I think that's a really good question is, there will definitely elements, I can think of numerous clients where we've maintained them, we did maintain them with with plastic products, where they were hell bent on dropping plastic for cardboard, but, you know, it clearly would have been the wrong choice for them, not just not just from a practical point of view, but but from an economic point of view, you know, it just wouldn't have stood up to, you know, people using binders in a kitchen environment with recipes and things like that, you know, they're getting splashed, and, you know, the wiping clean, and, you know, and keeping sterile and all that sort of stuff. Where, you know, that made an awful lot of sense, you know, to keep it to keep it in within plastics. Equally, you've got people who would come along and say that we're our printers have given us a, you know, a cardboard alternative with a biodegradable, you know, laminate on it. And immediately you're saying that, you know, you've got a fully recyclable product that you put your household recycling, and then you've gone there for something that cannot be recycled any longer. And, you know, they wouldn't have a bar of it. But you win some you lose some. But overall, yeah, the tide was definitely we were losing that battle.

Richard Buckle 14:44

So I think it's interesting that we've seen this in other companies as well, where you kind of talked about that perfect storm situation that you were in, it doesn't necessarily happen overnight. But, you know, we see businesses where, you know, maybe they start with a recruitment problem or then Is there some regulatory issue? Or there's there's different factors that sort of build over time and come to a bit of extender? Yeah, be interesting to know. Okay, how did you start to see some of these issues evolving? What were your strategies to kind of deal with some of these challenges that were that you were starting to face before they became, you know, before it kind of got to a tipping point? 

Phil Caudle 15:18

I think one of the big bigger issues aside of the environmental FTS, actually, for us, from a recruitment perspective was sales, you know, we really struggled to get good sales staff, you know, would stay the course. And I always felt we had a lot of potential for the right person to really, yeah, put put the company on on the map. You know, because we were, you know, one of the larger players, the business that we ultimately bought was the largest player, but we were probably the second largest company, like, third largest company in the industry. And, and so we will, I was always trying to get the sales. Yeah, sales covered off if you like. But we spend an awful lot of money on some very expensive people and recruitment and things like that, and it never really never really worked. If you like for us? And I don't know, maybe there was, you've certainly I'll point a lot fingers back in my own direction that where we giving people enough rope, you know, enough scope to, you know, to go out and do what they needed to do. It's always difficult, I think, particularly with external sales people where you there's an element of paranoia, certainly, as a business owner, well, what are they doing, you know, they, you know, and some successes within there. But, you know, I always felt that the major successes were mine, if that makes sense. 

David Parry 16:51

You're involved in sales a bit yourself, then?

Phil Caudle 16:53

Yeah. It's the kind of lead and I think the business generally, we were, you know, there was a lot of time spent in the business rather than on the businesses.

David Parry 17:04

So sort of following on from Richards question, really, that as, as the situation evolves, and the different aspects were happening? Did you feel you had a board of directors or the senior leadership team that were working these things through? Or did you? Did you Did it not work that way? Was that just not appropriate for everybody's roles? How did you address it?

Phil Caudle 17:24

Yeah. Again, with the benefit of the beautiful benefit of hindsight, but but I was probably, you know, very aware of it, you know, at the time as well, my, I didn't, I didn't really have a team. You know, we weren't a board of directors, such as myself, a general manager, and finance manager was a major, major parts of the management team. 

David Parry 17:45

So you had the management bits covered off, I'm sure they were all very good at managing the day to day, but you didn't consider yourself as also being a board that would behave in a different way. You know, we do a lot of board meetings, one of our key messages is that different way of thinking when you go into something called a board meeting. You didn't do that necessarily?

Phil Caudle 18:03

No, no, not at all. No.

David Parry 18:04

And what about your overarching strategy process? Did you ever have a, like an annual stop and thinking where we're taking the business? Or was it more incremental and more coming from you?

Phil Caudle 18:16

Yeah, possibly more incremental around, it's quite funny, actually listening to the, what the podcast before last, I think was was about budgets and things like that it was, you know, it sort of brought a lot a lot sort of flooding back to you that, you know, on, you know, annual annual basis, you sit down, you know, sort of go through the budget and things like that, and then that tended to shape whatever the strategy was going to be for this year. But you did find yourself doing the same things, time and time, again, where you sort of think to we've had this conversation now, you either have, you know, 10 pages of stuff that you just got no hope of dealing with really trying to just bring it down to a sheet of paper to, to make it a manageable process, let's do something well, rather than try and do 50 thing, actually, you know, not do any of it. But, again, I think everybody was too much involved in the day to day and there were in terms of those priorities. Definitely, you know, there was a, you know, a lot of focus on probably things that weren't, you know, weren't as important as what was really the issue, which was getting the sales.

Richard Buckle 19:27

So just to give sort of, for someone else may be listening, thinking I'm going through a similar situation, what would be your top sort of three tips for them in terms of lessons learned from your experience if they find themselves in a kind of perfect storm situation? 

Phil Caudle 19:42

Yeah. That's interesting I guess. The team the team is really, you know, that would that would be for me, key, you know, but but it's also really difficult to know that you've got you know, the right people, you know, is it the fact that the people I had around me didn't have the skills. You know, that that applies to me as well, you know, David, I've talked before about, you know, sort of imposter syndrome and you know, something, oh, God, you know, am I actually capable of you know, being here. So on from that would be the, the wider knowledge base if you like. So in, in, in my business, there was previous MD, who'd been with the business, well actually would have been much of those 60 years. But you know, prior to myself, the business that we bought the previous MD, there who'd been, you know, I'd seen them through acquisition things. And when everything the wheels were really falling off, we got them together, along with another MD from, from a business who we who was heavily involved in, in, in the business in state. And I think referred to earlier as the war council. And, you know, we sat sat around the table and, you know, explained the situation and where we were at, and the fact that I didn't feel that we could carry on, you know, as we were, and it did make me think, you know, why haven't you know, why haven't I done this on a regular basis, you know, these are guys who they've got the luxury of not, you know, caring really about what they say, you know, they haven't got to be diplomatic, or any of that sort of bits they hold you to account. And why didn't we on a quarterly basis, let's say, you know, have a sit down, take them out for a meal, you know, explain where we're at, you know, and, as I say, have, you know, have some, okay, I do want to make it sound like I was just riding roughshod over everything, and just doing what they wanted. But they had that experience and the credentials, really in our industry for doing that, or, you know, you know, more regular contact with, you know, someone like yourself, really, you know, and sort of mapping things out and saying, right, okay, you know, what, can we do that, you know, we're just just help to look at those

David Parry 22:06

I think you'd being a bit modest, in a sense, you referred there to a company acquired, it was reasonably major strategic decision you took, so one of your defence mechanisms, beyond the early ones, we talked about random marketing, that sort of thing was to, to look for another company to bolt on and try and find an escape. Tell us a bit more about that, how did that play out. 

Phil Caudle 22:28

So both businesses worked together, for a long time, it was a bit of a full circle sort of scenario, we used to belong to 75% the business belong to the other business. And they'd grown via acquisition over the years, you know, buying up smaller players who'd either run into trouble or people retiring and things like that, and done very, very well with their previous MD. We bought ourselves out of that, in order to give our previous MD an exit route. And then I bought him out subsequent to that in 2010. The it was always kind of on the cards, that there would be an opportunity, if you'd like to buy it back, and I saw it as being a kind of a last man standing kind of scenario, we would be by far the largest player in the market. We could combine all the, you know, the best parts, if you like, of both businesses, it would give us a lot more. You know, I was I was really thinking about you say board level type, you know, you could have a, you know, sales director, you know, finance director, you know, really, you know, sort of, you know, get those things down, it was it would have given us a lot more, I guess buying power, if you like, you know, in the in the employment sense. And, and that was sort of sort of long term, that was the strategy to then be in a position where the smaller, you know, you can absorb smaller players. You know, we had a lot of capabilities that nobody else had, in, you know, looking at it that we've probably done, you know, those sworn plays a service, everyone's gonna want the pie to go around. But that was that was really, you know, what that, you know, where the thinking was that, and that had been going on for around three years. And actually, just prior to the pandemic, we were close to acquiring them. But there was something on it stalled a couple of times on their side for various reasons. And, of course, again, there were the beautiful benefit of hindsight, you think Christ I could have paid a hell of a lot more for it and ended up you know, then falling into the, into the pandemic. That situation could have been, I don't know, so much worse. It might, you know,

David Parry 24:55

The luck played in your favour at that time. And if you had your time over again, would you still Do that acquisition, does that still make sense?

Phil Caudle 25:02

I still I still look at that. I don't see that as being the reason that the businesses failed. See the downturn in trade as being the reason the business failed, I still still stand by the fact that if, if we didn't got over that hump, and I think for actually relatively little in the way of cash, we, you know, it could have got us over that hump. Okay, that would have might have meant, you know, jettisoning one of the one or both of the businesses and Phoenixing in something, which morally I have biggest we've all been in the situation, I'm sure, where, you know, people disappear reappear the next day, you know, without the debt and everything else. And all, you know, I'm still here kind of thing. I, I had an issue with that. But actually, we could have, you know, for maybe a smaller six figure sum I've bought the assets and materials and things we wanted to carry on again, and it was then only the counsel of yeah, my good lady wife that I think, you know, combined with other bits and pieces, which stopped. stop that happening really

David Parry 26:06

For the better, you feel? 

Phil Caudle 26:07

Yes. Mentally, I was, I was in a really dodgy place. Uh, you know, I think i Karolina, my wife would probably disagree with this comment entirely, but I think I manage my stress reasonably well. And, you know, I think to own a business and things, you've got to be sort of reasonably neutral and calm and things. But that situation, the constant conflict of.. The advice you're given, obviously, is that you know, your responsibilities go from you know, that, you know, the best, best thing for the shareholders for being the best thing to the creditors, when you can see the writing's on the wall. And, and my conflict with that is the writing is always on the wall, it just depends how far away that will let you know, we're all careering towards the wall and hope that we can just keep it as far away as possible.

David Parry 27:00

Do you feel that? And this is a question I think that will strike a chord with lots of business owners listening to this, because we don't always all take home the day to day cut and thrust of business to the breakfast table and discuss it with our spouses whichever that may be. Do you think that's something that you would do differently? 

Phil Caudle 27:19

Yes, I am going to be slightly cautious in in response. So my background, my parents had this business that they ran together, and it wouldn't, the business wouldn't have been a success without, with without either one of them. My dad had the, the the industry knowledge. My mom had the blind faith, if my dad said, this is how this works, she could make it happen. And she put the hard work in she she made the businesses as the success it was but it wouldn't have happened without my dad, if that makes sense. But for that, as kids, we were always surrounded by shoptalk. And I was really conscious of that not being something I wanted at home. And then because Karolina wasn't involved in the business, I didn't feel that she could comment on things that she didn't know much about. So certainly latterly now, I guess this puts it on record, really, I regret not involving Karolina more in that as you know, as the director of the business being involved in you say having, you know, if is quarterly, and we've said about a war council. And so you know, that, you know, she was, you know, she should have should have been part of that

David Parry 28:35

Wouldn't have had to go as far as you talk about with your parents work day to day involvement. But enough involvement that that counsel from someone knows you very well, yeah, can be more useful for you,

Phil Caudle 28:46

And I think that was it. That was the that was the point at which when we, when we were discussing, and it's bringing, you know, bringing quite a bit by now, but when we were discussing it, you know, I remember she just looked me in the eye, you and I said look, you know, we can, you know, we can you know, 100,000 pounds, and you know, we can buy this, that and the other week and go again, and she just looks you know, and so you know why? And you you ordinarily that would have just, you know, tipped me over the edge and you know, as it you don't understand. But you certainly think Well, yeah. Why? Because every everything I've done till that point where you say this is going to be the thing that changes the direction that sees a diversification that, you know, makes a difference. The fortune of the business hasn't sort of really come to fruition and you know, the business was, you know, successful. But not in the way I've probably wanted it to be hadn't, you know, we've certainly not pleading poverty by any stretch of imagination, but at the same time, it wasn't it wasn't totally going in the direction probably that we wanted or expected it to. And that expectation came From seeing, you know, the success my parents had probably in their business.

David Parry 30:05

So the strategy was right, you would do that again, yeah, you might take on some different advisors or you know, the walkouts, or just people who knew your industry or your spouse, whatever that may be, you might do that sort of a, what about your style of management? Would you change anything about that? 

Phil Caudle 30:22

Yeah, yes. I, I think I think we are, we are fundamentally who we are. And I would, I'd like to think, you know, I'm a nice guy, and, you know, in a, generally speaking, take people, you want to take people on the journey with you, I've been very open and honest about where we were at, even when, you know, the, you know, things, things were falling apart, I involved, my staff, and I mean, every member of staff much, much earlier than I was otherwise advised to, because I just felt it was unfair to be going through that process, and it has its advantages, disadvantages, you know, it led to you know, people helping themselves to awful lot of stuff around the factory, and things like that, but I mean, it's by the by it was it was I'm very comfortable with that. I don't know, I people, a lot more. We're a lot more comfortable in their jobs, then I think that I think I realised I was always worried about people leaving, you know, in skills leaving the business and and that doesn't mean that I could go to the other extreme be a complete. 

David Parry 31:42

Yeah, I notice you're choosing your words very carefully, that you don't want to come across as some you would be an ogre, if you did it again. Sounds like you're a very consultative sort of manager leader who gave people a lot of slack a lot of freedom

Phil Caudle 31:57

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And, and there's a lot of bitterness that goes with this with this process, I have to say it, you know, you go. Someone who likened it to, you know, a death, you know, it's, you know, you go through, I've certainly gone through and going through, you know, lots of emotional. I thought I dealt actually, with the bitterness side of things. And only in the last few days, I found myself feeling really sort of bitter towards it, whether it's individuals myself, that the business as a whole the industry, you know, and would I change, I think consciously now, I would say, yes, I would change my style, I would be a little bit more arm's length, and you can still be, you know, obviously very inclusive and things like that, but without having to be as completely personable as I probably am. But also, I, you know, in those quiet moments, you sit there and think who am I kidding, you know, that's how I am 

David Parry 32:54

You are who you are. You told me an anecdote earlier as well, about the balance between working in the business and working on the business. And the fact that maybe there were some opportunities that may have changed the future. If but for you done that the other way around. Yeah. Talk to a bit more about that.

Phil Caudle 33:10

Yes. So I think because there was a lot of reliance, or I felt there was a lot of reliance on Me. The bit the bit, that makes a little bit difficult. If you don't you don't quite know, if you've given people the rope. Would they have done what, you know, I don't know what he what he wanted, was it or were they this surprised you with, you know, with something? I was often, you know, accused of not, not allowing, it will never been satisfied or whatever. And I sit you know, that's my, that's my role. You know, I'm there not to be satisfied. And we none of us should be 

David Parry 33:47

That's a common trait from entrepreneurs, isn't it? 

Phil Caudle 33:50

Yeah, potentially. You, you always think that there's always room for improvement. And then as soon as, as soon as something seems like, it's like, it's okay. Everything's fine, then that I think that's the time to panic. Really. And I think a lot of people do, you know, just see the job as a job which say, you know, it can, it should be but, you know, you need to, you need to you know, sort of keep pushing on keep challenging.

David Parry 34:18

that you particularly made me think about was talking to competitors and customers and other people in the sector. That was something that you felt as a few you're very internally focused and maybe missed an opportunity to about that.

Phil Caudle 34:35

So when I, when it finally went to liquidation just before Christmas. I've been working with the liquidators to basically, because it's not a great deal of value in the machinery and stock and so on and so forth. It was effectively I managed to fire sale of machinery and assets from both businesses. Which meant that there's a lot of competitor to conversations or conversations with competitors, who were potentially interested in stuff, one of those competitors, basically, when they phoned me said, you know, we'll, you know, how can we help? And I said, Well, you know, we're six weeks too late now for help. But it turned out that, and again, you know, you don't know for certain, but you know, there would have been a potential there for maybe an acquisition or, you know, we could have gone into, you know, administration and, and done something with them. And it made me realise that, you know, spending more time on things like competitor analysis of some sort, understanding your competitors better, you know, maybe I would have, because I really only highlighted to liquidators one company that I thought had the potential to buy us and they, these guys who were, predominantly I would have turned stockists came out of left field. And I thought, you know, I should have felt I should have, I should have realised they were there, but because you're so inwardly focused, I was so in love with him really focused on the day to day of the business, you felt that, you know, actually taking that time and you hear it a lot, don't you know, when you tell yourself oh, you know, spent time on the business rather than in it. But I really should have. Yeah, you know, spend some more time time on that, on that side of things. And maybe I'd have I'd have identified that as a, you know, a possibility earlier. 

Richard Buckle 36:30

I suppose. It sounds like you've been through through a lot sort of personally, through all this, obviously. Do you feel you've come out of a stronger, more resilience now? Or? Is that still a journey?

Phil Caudle 36:43

Yeah, I think I think you I think we're always on the journey. I've always viewed experience, like positive or negative, you know, everyday being a learning day, all that sort of, you know, all those sorts of things. And yeah, so positive or negative. You you take something, you know, you've got they're more experienced to take on to your next challenge and your you know, or whatever. Did you I don't, I don't think I'll ever stop looking back and thinking what could have been? I think it's natural to to think, if I had have this or had have that, but you can only deal with today. You know, what's gone, gone. But you it's still you're still are still mulling over for a long time, to come and say probably forever. Yeah, I've got to think that I'm stronger for it. Because now I have different experiences. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. But you know, you know, are there many people who've been through the kind of process that, you know, I've been through now, you know, that. I can't, I can't emphasise enough actually, how much that conflict in me was, was really the bit the tore hardest, actually, because, you you know, you want to feel that you're doing the right thing, you know, for your staff. For creditors, you know, these are guys who, a lot of them I'd worked with, for for, you know, 25 years or something like that. And until we we, you know, had debts that were insured and things like that had nothing to lose, and you know, over the years, you know, we've done some great business with them. And very few people have been, you know, nasty as such, and that bit doesn't, I can't say overly fazes me. Because it just it is what it is, you know, when I try and you know, I apologise and say, you know, it is, you know, this, this is a situation in Which people understand, and that's business, I think, yeah, absolutely. 

David Parry 38:51

I think I think undoubtedly, having been through it that makes you much more valuable in whatever it is you're going to do next. You got to have experiences that other people will have absolutely no awareness of at all.

Phil Caudle 39:02

Yeah. You hope you say hope? So we Yeah, I mean, it definitely. It's definitely like saying to the spending the time in the business, how you are with your colleagues and how you treat them, and how you view them. And the things that most definitely make, make a difference, I'd say to, you know, how I would approach whatever my next

David Parry 39:27

What do you think might be next?

Phil Caudle 39:29

That's a great question. I think I owe it to the family to have a good look. And we talked about, you know, sort of the stepping stones. I'd love to own my own business again, it's certainly not put me off. You know, owning owning a business and starting something, starting something fresh or buying into into something. I feel that particularly from the point of view of I mean, I I never went to you University, obviously, the business. And then we talked about it sort of briefly earlier about training and things like that. And you think in a, in a sort of a large sort of corporate, you always imagine there's a lot of training, sort of provided things like that. And you sell yourself short, probably being a business owner of a small business owner that you don't have, you know, anything, you know, much in the way of experience, but then you suddenly realise, well, hang on a minute, I had the HR hat on I had the, you know, ISO, you know, production sales, and all of a sudden, you've got that breadth of, you know, the breadth of experience, which, you know, actually makes you, you know, I hope we'll find out obviously,

David Parry 40:41

next business might have plastics in it somewhere, or is that something you'd leave behind?

Phil Caudle 40:48

So you feel that, that that pool towards the fact of what I've got to prove, its actually all bad? But no, I wouldn't, I wouldn't be adverse either way, if I'm honest, I certainly have made a conscious decision that I am leaving this particular industry, I've had lots of offers. I've had a number of offers within the industry. But of course, people are interested in the order book and things like that. And the people who bought the order books from, from the businesses, you know, I've done some work with them, and I'm happy to, you know, sort of help them out as I can. And share that that knowledge that I have, I think we've had a conversation about in the past about, you know, sort of what goes around comes around and, and I feel that, you know, if I can do the right thing, it's important to feel they're not being taken advantage of, which, you know, certainly, in some cases feels it feels the case. But, but yeah, so, so leaving the industry is, you know, is something that I'm sort of consciously trying to do, but if the next opportunity, as you say, plastic in the title, I wouldn't run away from it

David Parry 42:04

I think it's probably fair to say, as well as a couple of areas that still live, you're still going through the insolvency process, and there's probably another podcast in that at some point in the future, in terms of some of your recollections on that, it's still too much of a ongoing inquiry,

Phil Caudle 42:17

I would say as well is that I've, obviously, over the years of doing the various things and as the, as the business has come together, and the business structure and things like that. Obviously, when it's all rosy and good, you know, everything's fine, you know, you don't even give it a second thought, as soon as the wheels fall off, you realise, so, the building I have own is in a separate limited company, but it's attached still to the top holding company, and it will get dragged into that process so much all of of what I thought would have been safe. And when we set it up, I understood, my understanding was that it was safe, but I.e. separate? Well, it isn't. And, you know, you go back, you know, to the people who put all that in place for me, and you're, you know, you sort of ask the question, and oh well, you know, it helps because, you know, when things are good, you lend money across the businesses, all that sort of stuff. The structure as it is now, again, when you when it's all gone wrong, and you're sort of you're discussing it with the guys to do doing the liquidation and things like that, well, you know, that, you know, this, this, this structure is very complicated. And you know, you're the sole director of, you know, these seven different entities or whatever it is. And so, again, you go back and sort of say, well, what was it? Will you wanted it done that way? And I'm thinking Well, I think the advice that we get, we assume, you know, advisors, you know, sort of but knowing really being clear, if you like I guess that's again, another part of the experience element, being clear, right? Okay, when it's good, we're doing this why, you know, because it does this X, Y, and Z. But if it goes bad, then we've got, I don't know, A, B, and C, which could, you know, could happen. And there's never a perfect solution. Because there's, you know, the situations are very different, aren't they?

David Parry 44:18

So it sounds like you're giving almost a pair of pieces of advice there. One is take more advice from lots of different quarters, not necessarily paid for professional advice, but people in the industry, spouse, that sort of things, but at the same time really challenge the advice, and really make sure that it makes sense to you didn't follow it blindly. 

Phil Caudle 44:34

Definitely. Yeah. Because I will openly say that the advice at the time of doing whatever while we're you know, setting the thing up didn't matter. If you say the advice didn't matter, but you know how it was done if they said I was applying to you because I didn't even think it was going to be a failure.

David Parry 44:53

You don't plan for that, do you?

Phil Caudle 44:56

That's right. And I will say still remember my dad, you know, sort of saying to me when I first bought the business, you know, with you? What happens if you lose half your sales and stuff? What are you talking about?

David Parry 45:09

That won't happen.

Phil Caudle 45:11

That's right. Yeah. So yeah, and I guess as we get older and you know, more experienced and things like that, you know, you do tend to look at those things. So yeah, that would be challenging.

David Parry 45:23

So if there was one piece of advice, you could give someone listening to this, who's currently running a business, what would you pick on all of those things? You talked about this about today?

Phil Caudle 45:35

I think, oh, gosh, I think that, as I stand here, right now sit here right now, I should say. It's the it's the war council, actually, I think the you know, having the right, trying to get the right people around you. And as you say, that's not necessarily you know, paid. But you know, the, the experience the, you know, that you trust, I think, that goes through to everything, I think, play a lot of sport. And you know, you have the right, you have somebody who you listen to, and they might not be the best coach or whatever. But as somebody who know, seem to know you or your style or whatever, and then they come with a you know, the best bit of advice and stand at the side for the sake of argument and suggest that you do something and I think that's the same. The same. It's disappointing myself, really, that I didn't take more advice.

David Parry 46:29

And credit you when you did bring it together. You got some great people involved on that. That was just the war council. Yeah, you would have had for longer if you come about earlier. Yeah, definitely a good bit of advice. Thank you, Phil. Best of luck with whatever comes next. Thank you. Yeah. We'll see how it all pans out. Yeah, well, we'll certainly have updates on here as and when there's another chapter to be told. But really appreciate your, your reflections on all of that. It's quite humbling really, to have someone prepared to come in and go through that for the benefit of others, especially while it's still so recent. 

Phil Caudle 47:02

Well, hope you guys keep up the good work on the podcast. It's been. It's been really, really interested in listening. 

David Parry 47:07

Thanks for listening

Phil Caudle 47:08

What number are you up to number 21, Is it?

David Parry 47:12

I think it's just 20. or it'll be 22 No. 21

Richard Buckle 47:14

I think 22 or 23 aren't we

David Parry 47:16

Oh, could be 23. 

Richard Buckle 47:19

Got a few in the can as they say

David Parry 47:23

We've got one coming up. I think maybe next week's one is the reflections of the first 21/22 Whatever it's been so best of reel for the for all of those. There's been some nuggets in there, we'll pull out for people so you don't have to listen to all the last ones you can just condensed and listen to on double speed. Thanks again. Thanks very much. Thanks, Rich. So you've been listening to The SME Growth podcast with our special guest, Phil Caudle today talking about the difficulties that his business went through and giving some advice to business owners out there. As I say at the end of every end of every one of these podcasts, please subscribe and share and tell your business colleagues about these. And in the meantime, good luck with your business.

Further resources

Throughout the interview Phil references other podcast episodes, why not have a listen on the episode on budgets, vision and strategy and see if they resonate with your current business situation.