Opinion

Going into insolvency: Charting the decline and end of my 20 year-old business

5 min read

19 January 2017

Writing exclusively for Real Business, Jan Cavelle will be chronicling the events and moments that led to her manufacturing business going into insolvency.

This year started with my worst fears materialising. Like many before me, and sadly many that will come after, I had reached the point of calling in the experts to assist with going into insolvency – putting my long-standing business out of it’s misery.

It is every business owner’s worst nightmare. This surely is the moment you pray only happens to other people – but in reality, can happen to anyone.

I had run my furniture manufacturing business, Jan Cavelle Furniture, for over 20 years, some great years, and more recently, some very definitely not so great ones. An outstandingly-horrendous year had left us on the brink some three years ago. But against all the odds, we had been surviving and turning it round. We were seeming to win the fight against the snow flurries of problems coming at us from all directions.

But suddenly, in the last few weeks, it had started to snow heavily – and in the last few days it become a blizzard. It stuns me still how quickly the end came and we began going into insolvency

We had plans, ambitious plans and nowhere along the line was the ending we had envisaged. But then they say man plans and the gods laugh.

As always, hindsight is a wonderful thing. For us, one of the key unforeseen factors was my own deteriorating health. No amount of personal trainers and keeping yourself at peak (never my strong suit anyway) precludes serious, long-term health problems setting in. And for the last handful of years, I had been clocking up several.

As the MD that is quite relevant. It is not ever good for a business if you have to be absent at vital moments because of some operation. Nor good that your 100 per cent energy level is considerably less than it used to be, however hard you try. Nor good when you can’t keep up with staff moving round the buildings – and most of all not good with a challenging workforce for them to know damn well that the boss is no longer at their peak.

I have listened to more doctor’s lectures in the past few years about changing my lifestyle, ensuring I have no stress and stay away from dust and fumes. Everything was bringing me stress, and dust and fumes are part of a furniture manufacturing factory floor. Yet during those appointments I would patiently explain that I couldn’t just give up because the responsibility lay with me – it was my business and people needed me to keep it going. I somehow hoped the doctors would give me a prescription to put my business right, rather than me.

We can never build health issues into our business plans – and we should. It is not solved by robust succession planning because this is unplanned and appears when it wants to. Teams will only keep your business so long. The same with stand in or replacement MDs. At some point, they too will have personal crisis or just want to move on – and then, guess what, health problem or not, you are back in charge. And do remember, legally, however ill you are, you are still responsible for everything.

The only real solution to this issue seems to be get the hell out before your health goes, and/or not running a business that doesn’t have enough (and more that is really needed) to wind it up at any time. Because you never know when this could hit anyone at any age.

My health issues were far from the only slow flakes falling in the last few years. Looking back, the grim reality is that times change. Over the past 20 plus years, society in general, culture, manufacturing and most industries, every aspect of this world I started out doing business in, has changed beyond all recognition.

I hope you find my upcoming going into insolvency columns useful in your business journey – a little honesty and perspective never hurt anyone. I’ll be touching on exit planning, succession, forming a team, problems of a supply chain and the compensation culture. It’s been a roller-coaster ride for me, and I look forward to sharing it with you all.