“I haven’t slept for two nights,” says Scottish entrepreneur Leach, chatting to us from his London hotel. “The concierge was banging on my door at 4am this morning with more faxes for me to sign.”
Leach, who started out in the rag trade running lingerie company Silky Drawers before setting up Bigmouthmedia in 1997, says the deal has been 18 months in the making. “I’ve been on a knife-edge with a constant sense of uncertainty,” he admits. “I was chatting to one of the other shareholders who told me that the chances of a ‘straightforward deal’ going through were one in 50. The chances of this one going through [LBi is dual-listed in two countries] were one in a million.”
Here’s how it worked: Bigmouthmedia brought cash to the table, following a £35m private placement to The Carlyle Group, Cyrte and Janivo. Having attracted this investment, Bigmouthmedia and the £35m were packaged into a holding company called Obtineo. And Obtineo today merged with LBi. The deal, worth an estimated £100m, creates one of the largest digital marketing and technology companies in Europe, with clients including the Conservative Party, Eurostar and ActionAid. The new “super agency” will have around 1,800 staff, and offices in 15 countries.
Leach says he’s known the team at LBi for years. “One of the most important things about a merger is cultural fit,” he says. "We get on really well with LBi on a social level. It’s unusual to have that kind of luxury in a deal.
“There aren’t many agencies out there with an EBITDA of £10-15m,” he adds. “When we started considering mergers, the pool of suitable companies wasn’t actually that big.”
And what now for Leach, who scooped our Entrepreneur of the Year award back in 2007″ “I’ll be involved in the day-to-day running of this business for the next three to four months, then I’ll be taking two years off to spend time with my family. We’ll probably stick a pin in a globe and head off to some far-flung country for a while.”
And after that” Does he still have the entrepreneurial itch” “Yes – but don’t tell my wife!” he jokes. "When I started looking for a CEO to join Bigmouthmedia a few years back, I contacted all the big recruitment firms. As a result of that, I’ve been inundated with job offers, from joining startups to roles at international corporates.
"For now, though, I’m trying not to open them.”