IN 2019, JOHN Wilson was a frustrated man. Over the past nine years, he had been heading Elektron Technology plc, an AIM-listed holding company, where he had overseen the disposal of numerous businesses and sites in a ‘shrink to grow’ strategy that had resulted in three distinct and separate businesses. And it looked as though three would soon become two…
The oldest business in the stable was Bulgin, which had been founded in 1923 and had listed as a public company back in 1948. Within the holding company, it was a jewel – a 2% EBIT business when John joined, but in a global industry with huge potential for growth – it simply required unlocking. It was a natural candidate for sale to a competitor.
Instead, in what he describes as “a leap of faith,” Mr Wilson led a management buyout backed by Equistone in September 2019. As Group CEO and Bulgin Executive Chairman, Mr Wilson had hitherto spent half his time on Bulgin. Now, as its CEO, it had his complete focus. (The remaining business has been renamed CheckIt and Mr Wilson remains the senior independent director.)
Existing initiatives could be accelerated. Focused investment could fuel growth. Previously, Bulgin had been treated as a cash cow, says Mr Wilson. “We were spending less than one per cent of our revenues on developing new products, when it should have been six to eight per cent. We were spending less than one per cent of our revenues on marketing.”
In more ways than one, the transaction has really switched on the lights at Bulgin.
The company makes mission critical products: connectors and switches – essential components in almost all electronic equipment. It’s a huge global market in revenue terms; Bulgin is about the 90th largest connector company in the world – but it is a highly differentiated one. Its connectors are designed specifically for harsh environments and are tested well beyond conventional industry requirements. To certify a connector for the toughest industry standards of waterproofing, it must be pressure tested at half a metre for 30 minutes. Bulgin will test its products at 100 metres for two weeks.