Luck has nothing to do with it
What one notable New Zealand entrepreneur called his “F**k You Money”, they diplomatically refer to as their “Lucky Money”: $10 million up front and another $10 million mixed share/cash payment. It’s the result of 2010’s sale of Trilogy Natural Products, the company they founded in 2003. Sisters Sarah Gibbs and Catherine De Groot spoke to Katie Foley about selling up and moving on.
Photographs by Sabrina Hyde
It’s “lucky money”, they say, in the sense that there was competitive tension in the sale process – three offers being negotiated right down to the end.
And also Lucky Money because the business has been a “great ride” rather than a hard slog; because they’ve worked with good advisers and mentors; and because they really identified with the buyer, listed New Zealand company Ecoya of Geoff Ross and The Bakery renown.
But whether this was luck earned, as opposed to luck just granted, is definitely up for debate. There’s a saying that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and also another that some people make their own luck.
Having made it out the other side and seen through the 31st of December as the last day of their earn-out period, there’s time to reflect on prevailing attitudes toward high profile New Zealand company sales.
“You know interestingly enough, people had a slightly negative tone about it [the sale],” Gibbs says. “But you say ‘well actually we’ve retained a significant shareholding in the new business going forward,’ and all of a sudden their whole attitude changes to ‘Oh, have you? Oh right’.”
This brings up a common New Zealand attitude that perceives selling as abandonment, or an inability to recognise the difference between selling up and selling out.
“They say, ‘Oh, so you’re not sort of selling out and running away and spending all your money overseas and buying yourself 10 new cars’.”
The sale process was a whirlwind – “the most fun I’ve ever had” according to Gibbs – set in motion by a common realisation from both sisters in February 2010 that it was time.
Knowing the process was likely to take a long time, and that a buyer would likely want to retain them for a while, they set about writing the information memorandum, assembling a team of commercial, mergers and acquisitions experts and lawyers who drew up a list of companies they thought could be interested, and then approached them.
“You don’t want to do something as big as sell your business without having someone that really knows what they’re talking about,” Gibbs says. “Everyone that wanted to buy us really knew what they were talking about as well. We weren’t selling it to our next door neighbour.”
The lively, entrepreneurial feel of that non-next door neighbour Ecoya, was a key deciding factor in the sale process with regards to their staff.
“We’ve spent the last 10 years finding all these people that are like-minded, positive, giving people,” De Groot says. “Our philosophy is that you always hire givers not takers and so they’re all really giving, generous people and they’ve given a lot to Trilogy. And you wouldn’t be a human being if you didn’t think ‘well, what was the impact on them of the sale of the business and how are you best going to give these guys a future’.”
Gibbs says the staff adjusted immediately and quite thoroughly to the idea of the sale, largely because it was being sold to other entrepreneurial people and not to a big corporate.
And while Gibbs and De Groot are sisters, they never thought of Trilogy as a family business, so they never considered implementing a family succession. They always knew Trilogy was a start-up, and one that would be either sold or passed to a new CEO.
The obvious question now presents itself – what’s next? They’re both taking some time for travel and contemplation before making the next business move.
“I think we’ve got to take that opportunity, it’s there for us, we’ve got the ‘free time’ if you like and why wouldn’t you?” Gibbs says. “We had to do it. You’d be silly to climb out of bed and go work somewhere else.
“I love business, and so I think something will come along, but it’s hard to force that kind of thing and make it successful so we’d prefer to let it happen. I do know I don’t want to be [involved in the] operational [side of business] ever again.”
De Groot adds that planning and taking a trip is a way of transiting – “If you just woke up suddenly and had nothing to do for the rest of the year it would be quite…It’s a way to give yourself a little project without making it too much.”
As for their return, they’re keeping an eye out on the changing business landscape – including the retiring baby boomers and the excess supply of traditional businesses that will likely come on the market in the next few years. “It will be really interesting to see if a few do sell and fresh eyes take them and renovate them, innovate them, then maybe that becomes the new paradigm for business growth. That you get hold of an old family business, dry cleaning business or something, and turn it into this cool service-orientated luxury brand,” De Groot says.