Expert opinion

Jim's story - Founding Shaw & Co

Jim Shaw is a former professional cyclist and is CEO and Founder of Shaw & Co. Jim recently spoke to New Business Magazine to tell his story.

5 minutes
October 12, 2020
Jim Shaw

Photo provided courtesy of Jim Shaw | Image credit unknown

A professional cyclist for Team GB starting up a successful corporate finance firm - what’s the story behind that?

To be honest, it is a story of coincidence rather than design. I was cycling between the age of 18 and 23 and while at university. But following an injury, I put cycling to one side to complete my degree. At that point, I had enjoyed five great years with the Team GB cycling squad which led me to compete in World and European championships.

"I felt I wanted to build a professional career off the bike."

I secured a training contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers. I quickly found that audit wasn’t for me but a partner there allowed me to work on due diligence and transaction services. Thankfully, the kindness of this partner meant that accountancy kept my attention long enough to get my ACA. This led to an increasing interest in the transaction and deal side of corporate finance. I left PwC for a smaller accountancy firm, Target Corporate Finance, which crucially had a strong entrepreneurial environment and that really resonated with me.

Sadly, Target went out of business in November 2011 and at that point I took the opportunity to launch Shaw & Co.

Jim Shaw (2nd from right) with colleagues from Target.
Did you have a background or a finance related education before cycling?

Not prior to my arrival at PwC. I graduated from the University of Bristol with a BsC in physics. I always had strong skills in numerical problem solving, which I think is why I was good at physics. I found a way to apply this lateral and creative thinking to corporate finance.

In my opinion, one needs to have an unusual blend of skills to be successful in corporate finance. Besides the technical aspect, you must be able to empathise with people, see things from their perspective, solve problems and be creative. I strongly believe that diversity of background and education is positive and should be encouraged.

What were your aims when you started Shaw & Co? and what type of businesses are you looking to work with?

Running a corporate finance house as an independent boutique business has been my ambition from the outset. When Target failed in November 2011, I took the opportunity to realise my professional goal. The first six months of Shaw & Co were about looking after the people around me - employees, clients and family. It was a business born out of necessity to deal with a challenging situation.

Six months after the launch, we started thinking about winning new clients and establish formally the overall goals and aims of Shaw & Co. We are not afraid to take on the biggest players in our sector, having competed successfully with companies such as EY, PwC, KPMG and Deloitte as well as working alongside big players such as Slaughter and May and Lincoln International.

We have an empathy that really appeals to owner-managers who may find that larger organisations do not always take the time to really understand what it means for them to go through a transaction and the risks and struggles it can entail.

As an independent and owner-managed business itself, Shaw & Co better connects with these individuals. We pride ourselves on doing some of the best deals in South West England and in time we intend to offer our services nationwide.

Jim Shaw receiving the South West Insider Dealmaker of the Year award in 2013.
What makes Shaw and Co in 2020 different from other corporate finance houses?

Our focus on owner-managers is key; and the breadth of services that we have developed over the past couple of years, particularly the introduction of our debt advisory and equity advisory practices.

We are now able to assist business owner-managers with all the challenges they are likely to face in their corporate lifecycle. We purposefully set ourselves up to be the contact they need as they develop their business. For us, a client is not a list of technical services but a genuine partnership; they know we are there and we have the breadth and the skillset to be able to help them whatever their challenge.

I am particularly proud of the holistic nature of Shaw & Co. There is a lot of focus on the debt advisory and the CBILS side of our activities, which is very topical of course, but we are also very active on M&A activity at present.

What have been the most successful recent Shaw & Co projects?

There have been many and, for each individual owner, every transaction is a highlight. We work so closely with our clients that we live the deal with them. However, there have been a number of standout moments in the recent past.

The sale of Pukka Herbs to Unilever in September 2017; we worked very closely with the management team of Pukka for over two years to find the right buyer for the business. This was an extremely memorable deal and a highly successful transaction.

Pukka Herbs' founders Sebastian Pole (left) & Tim Westwell | Image credit Pukka Herbs

Another example is the acquisition of Voucher Cloud from Vodafone in December 2017. We subsequently sold the business to Groupon a few months later, in April 2018.

In June 2020, we managed a deal for the purchase of Neptune Rum, the Cheltenham- based drinks brand which went into administration due to the consequences of the pandemic and subsequent lock down. The company was acquired by one of our former clients and it is great to see the business back in operation.

How do you view the various government Covid related initiatives and their impact on cashflow now and in the coming years?

The amount of support that has gone into the economy has been unprecedented. There are many businesses that would not have survived without it.

However, I believe there are more challenges ahead of us than there are behind us. As lockdown restrictions ease, many businesses must now face the costs of operating whilst having to deal with restrictions related to safety measures and social distancing. Businesses depend on a high level of continuing volume to survive. Profit margins are slim and operational costs are high. If that revenue is not there, the business ends up running at a loss which ultimately becomes unsustainable over the medium to longer term.

Businesses need to think strategically in terms of resilience for a potential second spike in infections and the possibility of restrictions in cities across the UK.

I believe that both the government and businesses need to keep examining support measures. The economy is going to need a strong level of support for a potentially long period of time.

How active has Shaw & Co been since the pandemic hit the UK and do you have any initiatives that might assist those businesses potentially looking for more than the government is able to offer in the medium term?

The deals I mentioned earlier were great headline transactions but recently I have been very proud of our work for businesses to secure their Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) funding. As soon as the pandemic hit, we were agile in launching new support services and issuing regular communications through our channels. We have been helping several businesses across many sectors including travel, construction, technology and energy to access CBILS funding. Our largest CBILS success story to date was helping Swindon-based Fundamentals, a manufacturer of voltage control solutions for the UK’s Power Grid, secure a £2 million CBILS loan from Lloyds Bank.

We have also optimised a cash flow improvement service by introducing a free online credit survey for businesses that need at least £1 million of working capital to improve their cash flow. CBILS will only last for so long and businesses should think about their cash flow needs over the longer term as we enter a ‘new normal’.

In our view, it is very unlikely that the high street banks are going to be able to support the breadth of SME need, because I think that they have problems in terms of capabilities, risk appetite and legacy balance sheet pressures. Our debt advisory team can navigate a host of alternative finance markets better than anyone else I know and, in my view, that is the market where funding is likely to come from to support businesses going forward.

Jim Shaw
Founder & CEO
Jim Shaw
's bio

The rapid growth and popularity of Pukka Herbs' products meant there was an opportunity to go global. Its owners came to us to help find a new owner to take the brand to the next level.

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