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How to Fast Track Your Business: Ocee

Alistair Gough, 55, bought a stake in this furniture manufacturer in 2010, before leading a management buyout in 2016 and becoming the majority shareholder in the business. He has expanded the group via acquisitions and now oversees three distinct brands that sell furniture for offices, universities and theatres across Europe, North America, China and Australia. Ocee International ranked at number 93 in the 2017 Sunday Times Fast Track 100.

What inspired you to buy into the business?

I was looking for an opportunity to transform a business that had the potential to grow significantly both in the UK and internationally in a market sector that had longevity.

The business also had to have the opportunity to significantly grow its market share profitably by creating a product portfolio that was relevant to the market and would differentiate the company from its competitors.

However, the most important factor was the people and the culture of the business. Fundamentally I was investing in the people that would enable our vision to become a reality.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Ensuring that the team and the capability of the organisation continues to grow in order to deliver our vision. Taking a £4m UK business to a £40m international business in eight years highlights which people can grow and develop to better support the business. The vast majority have made the journey but others have not and have moved on.

The integration of the different company cultures across different countries is also a great challenge. However, both are very exciting and rewarding.

What has been your best business decision? 

Investing in Ocee Design in 2010. This was the foundation for the creation of Ocee International and the acquisitions of Four Design, Race Furniture, and others that will hopefully follow.

What has been your worst business decision?

Investing in a business where the technology solution was market leading but the owners of the business and the financial strength of the company were not as initially presented. This resulted in a loss of time and opportunity to focus on more successful and more positive business activities.

It reinforced my belief that investments should be fundamentally based on the people and their ability to deliver the strategy and financial performance.

Which business leader would you most like to share a meal with, and why?

Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, in order to gain an insight into how it has transformed the retail experience and has used technology to disrupt a very traditional business model. It would also be fascinating to understand more clearly the culture that exists within such a transformational business and how he has scaled it so quickly.

What company do you most admire, and why?

Apple for creating beautifully designed products that have transformed the way people communicate and interact with their interests. The customer service and support experience are also exceptional. It is a business that has truly focused on the whole customer experience.

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