Simon Tucker: What I picked up at Q's lab

Sometimes the best business opportunities come along when you least expect them. Entrepreneur Simon Tucker overheard a conversation on a train that led to his business breakthrough. James McKeigue explains.

Simon Tucker's breakthrough came from overhearing two men talking on a train. "I wasn't eavesdropping, but I couldn't help but hear their conversation." The men worked for Securicor and they were discussing the group's decision to sell one of its radio technology firms. "They kept on saying that it was a pity because it was a great little company." Tucker, now 40, decided to approach them as they left the train. "I didn't want to let a good business opportunity literally walk away."

He found out that Securicor was selling the business as part of a strategy rethink and that if a buyer wasn't found it would be liquidated. He decided to pay a visit. "When I got there I was amazed. It was like those scenes in James Bond where Q and his assistants walk around with high-tech gadgets." The firm was making specialised radio transmitters for Formula 1 teams. But it was losing money because of its "university approach to business. They were underselling themselves." Seeing the potential, Tucker tried to raise the £530,000 needed to buy the business. "I didn't have the money myself, but thanks to my previous business ventures, there were a lot of people who were prepared to back my ideas with money."

By December 2002, Tucker whose first business involved selling chocolate mousse to Selfridges and his four partners had pounced. "We had inherited a firm that was a world leader in software radio technology. Radio technology had gone out of fashion, but there were still lots of important applications for it." They split the firm, called Software Radio Technology (SRT), into two divisions. One built the maritime tracking devices that ships use to communicate with harbour authorities and each other. The other began to develop a range of walkie-talkies for civil security. Needing cash to finance product development, Tucker decided to list SRT on the Aim stock exchange.

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"It was the only way we could get the money we needed." The firm also sold licences for some of its patented technology. "It meant firms could use our technology to develop their own products." Yet only a year after going public, Tucker had to cancel one of the product lines the walkie talkie. "Unfortunately, completing that technology was much harder than we thought. The final 10% cost £6 million and a two-year delay." Unable to fund the division without "stealing cash from the rest of the business", Tucker decided to put it "out to pasture".

All his hopes now rested on maritime trackers. That business started to "take-off" as SRT decided to focus on AIS technology that allowed more complex information sharing. "Other firms backed cheaper technology." They didn't know SRT had already designed a cheaper version of AIS. The firm then got an unexpected boost. "After the Mumbai attacks, many authorities want to protect themselves from a waterborne threat." New regulations demanded that ships use the AIS technology and gave sales "a massive boost".

Demand from shipping helped SRT post £4.3 million sales last year. But Tucker is not complacent. "The only way we can keep our leadership position is if we keep improving the technology." A second-generation tracker is out later this year.

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.