Interviews

Insight on running a business with 1,400 staff and turnover of £70m

8 min read

08 August 2016

Former editor

As his business begins to crank up growth, Jason Miller, CEO of commercial laundry business CLEAN, revealed what it's like to take on a successful family business and how the purchase of a competitor is opening up new horizons for the fifth generation company.

Having taken the reins of the family business in 2004, Miller has set about upscaling the operations of CLEAN – which now has 1,400 staff and delivers four million linen items a week.

Miller and his team recently decided to make the acquisition of Paragon Laundry, bringing together two £35m revenue-generating businesses. He’s also overseen relocation to a brand new head office and shared his insight with Real Business.

(1) What was it like taking over a family business, and what made you want to do this? 

I did it because I could see the opportunity to build a great business. Becoming the CEO of a company with such rich history and soul was great. We are extremely proud of CLEAN’s history but now we want to focus on the new CLEAN. Our business and the laundry industry as a whole is changing and we are at the forefront of this change. 

(2) How much of the family is part of running the business now? 

Only me, and I don’t think about CLEAN as a family business anymore. It’s more than that – it’s a modern dynamic business which is growing rapidly. We actively recruit people from outside of the industry to bring in new skills and expertise to help us continue building for a world-class tomorrow. 

(3) Do you feel like the role came with a certain amount of expectation?

I think people just wanted to see me turn the business around and make it a success. There is always expectation but in the past 12 years I have risen to the challenge. It’s part of my personality. I am never content and I am always looking for new ways of driving the business forward. 

(4) What brought about the recent acquisition, and has it been transformative?

The acquisition was always in my plan and made such business sense. I’ve worked closely with Paragon over many years and the geographical synergies of the site locations are excellent and significantly extended our UK coverage. As a result, we’ve also broadened our service offering by entering into new markets including Special Occasion Linen which enables us to offer bespoke short term linen rental for prestigious events including The Championships, Wimbledon and Henley Royal Regatta. This acquisition has been transformative for so many different reasons and such an enabler for future business growth. We have become a better business as a consequence. 

(5) What is it like being a boss to 1,400 staff?

Great! I have a fantastic management team who run the business with me and we are all very passionate about the people, their safety, our customers and our success. We’ve recently been awarded a Gold Award for Health and Safety from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents due to our implementation of industry leading health and safety practices. These practices are just one of the benefits we have gained by seeking expertise from outside of the industry and harnessing the knowledge that can be found across a range of industries.   

(6) How do you deal with a big upheaval like moving head office – what advice would you have for others?

Plan well, divide out the tasks and set a vision for what your new home will be like for the staff. We completed the move in just one weekend with all head office personnel getting involved with the set up. It’s great team spirit like this that makes CLEAN stand out. Our people set us apart as each individual enables us to provide a reliable high quality linen and workwear supply and excellent customer service.

(7) What changes when overnight your turnover doubles? 

Flexibility. We had more options for planning, processing and transportation. The way the market perceived us and our position within the UK textile rental market increased dramatically. We are no longer just on the radar. We are now the second largest hospitality flatwork provider in the UK delivering more than 4 million linen items each week – soon to increase a further one million. 

(8) What have you learnt about integrating an acquisition – what have you tried to avoid?

Have a clear plan, be decisive and crack on with your integration. Not everybody will be happy but some people will absolutely shine and take up bigger opportunities. Every acquisition is an opportunity to learn from the businesses we gain. We keep what works and remove what doesn’t. Systems and processes have to be adapted and new structures put in place to ensure scalability. The ultimate aim is to be one CLEAN brand with one culture and a single vision – something that has happened already as we have been very transparent when communicating our plans and goals with customers and staff. 

(9) What is the difference of being private equity backed – does it affect governance?

For us it’s been great, you just have to have the right partner. Does it affect governance? Yes and no. Our private equity partner (MML) never interferes but naturally we keep them fully updated. 

(10) Does the future of CLEAN lie in the family or is there a bigger growth play?

I believe the two can go hand in hand and I intend to continue leading the business. We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest but certainly the best. We want people to aspire to use our brand – we want to become the aspirational brand of choice and we are well into that journey. Our new world-class super laundry is due to open in Slough this autumn adding capacity for a further one million linen items to be laundered and delivered each week. 

We’ve invested heavily in the site and are working closely with Kannegiesser – one of Europe’s largest suppliers of high quality laundry machinery. The site will be the most technologically advanced in the UK. We have big plans. Expect further acquisitions in the future. 

(11) What are the three secrets of being the CEO of a £70m revenue company?

I’m not sure they are secrets, but I would say: vision, passion and determination. All three enable you to drive the business through the good times and the tough times, with the support of a great management team. 

If you found Jason Miller’s insights useful, have a read about the secrets to closing a $100m venture capital funding deal.