Why recession spells opportunity for budding entrepreneurs

Martyn Rose of Publishing reveals how he made his first million - and why he sees the forthcoming recession as a great opportunity to add to his portfolio.

Martyn Rose never intended to buy and sell companies for a living. Now 59, the Malvern College old boy originally wanted to be a lawyer. But because money was tight at home, he was told to forget about going to university. So in 1968, aged 19, he headed to Spain to make some money as a holiday rep.

By 21, he had made enough money from selling boat trip tickets around Majorca to buy himself "an extremely flashy" MGB sportscar and to fund his studies for the bar at London's Gray's Inn well, almost. He couldn't afford to study for the entire three years, but Gray's allowed him to "concertina the course into 18 months". By July 1972 he had qualified.

But with top rates of personal tax at 90%, he couldn't see himself earning a fortune at the bar. So instead, he got a job with Sherwood Trust, a private bank, during the stock bull-market of 1972/1973. It was an exciting time to be in the markets and the experience gave him the confidence, aged just 26, to set up his own corporate finance boutique in London Wall. His new venture was backed by two medium-sized stock­broking firms who offered his fund-raising services to their clients. Rose saw how his clients would use the funding he'd raised to buy and develop industrial businesses, before selling them on for a profit, and within a few years he decided to give it a go himself.

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In 1977 he heard about Grangers, a Watford-based chemicals firm "going nowhere and doing nothing". He saw it as a good chance to "cut my teeth"; and he did, although "not in the manner I intended". Rose provided the corporate finance and £3,000 of his own cash, while a fellow shareholder was meant to run it. But within a few weeks, his partner, fed up with commuting, wanted to back out. "So I said That's fine can you give me back the shares?' And he said, No no, you have to buy them.' So that's a lesson I learnt very quickly." Suddenly, Rose found himself running a company. Grangers specialised in waterproofing for tents, operating in a highly fragmented sector that was "below the radar of people who were going to stamp on us". After a rebranding exercise and several acquisitions, within four years it had achieved a value of £1m. "That was the first building block, if you like."

Rose bought another speciality chemicals group, but it wasn't long before he branched out. He believes success comes down to "taking the long-term view [of a business] and not just flipping it. Take big positions and be prepared to stick with it to get it right". And it shows his best deal took 15 years to come to fruition. He co-founded own-brand soft-drinks firm Macaw Soft Drinks Ltd in 1990, building it gradually until in 2005 he sold it for £75m, of which he pocketed a 41% share.

Today he is chairman of firms such as Dentons Pension Management, one of the UK's leading pension administrators and Aim-listed software group Publishing Technology. And he's looking to add more firms to his portfolio. He reckons a recession is around the corner. That, he says, is the best time to set up a business. "A recession is not a bad time because there are opportunities where people are failing, there's fragmentation in the market. Things happen in a recession.

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.