Businessman, Entrepreneur, Mentor, Philanthropist

Finelist Group PLC.

Group Chairman

Chris was the group chairman of automotive business Finelist Group PLC between 1991-2000, when he sold the company for £300 million.

When Chris acquired Finelist, the company comprised of just 25 sites countrywide, employed 150 members of staff, and had a sales income of £10 million and an annual profit of £100,000. The company operated in the highly fragmented automotive aftermarket (worth £3 billion per year) where the largest player had less than 10% market share.

Chris Swan recognised the huge potential and business opportunities that were open to Finelist in what was an extremely dynamic marketplace, and subsequently led an MBO to purchase the company for £1.9 million with investments coming from 3i and NatWest Ventures. The vision was to consolidate by organic growth and acquisition and to be the UK market’s dominant player.

In the few years following the purchase of Finelist, Chris saw a clear strategic vision for the company and started implementing his tried and tested business logic. Through his focus on encouraging workforce development via skills training and the execution of carefully selected acquisitions, he was able to achieve impressive organic annual growth in what, at the time, was essentially a flat market.

As part of his strategy to expand Finelist, Chris piloted the acquisition of 61 businesses over a period of five years. All of these businesses were successfully integrated into the Group and proceeded to contribute to the phenomenal overall growth of the holding company.

After just three years at the helm, Chris Swan was able to grow Finelist to a point where the company obtained a successful London Stock Market listing in 1994.

During his nine years at the company, numerous impressive milestones were achieved for both the man and the company, including the following:

  • - Took the business through substantial profitable growth to revenues of £482m, profits of £32m and 7,500 employees across 800+ locations.
  • - By 2000, shareholder value had reached 288 times its value since the original investment in 1991.
  • - Acquired and successfully integrated 61 businesses in a five year period. Disposed of Maccess, an automotive cash and carry business, for £62m, delivering a £39m profit.
  • - Invested £3 million annually for training and developing workforce.
  • - Led a £1.9m MBO, securing investment from 3i and NatWest Ventures.
  • - Active supporter of community projects, i.e. Duke of Edinburgh Award
  • - Finelist was recognized by the European Community as Europe’s most successful job creator.
  • - Sites grew from 15 to 800 with strong brands in this period such as Motorworld.

By the time Chris Swan sold Finelist in 2000 for £300m, he had created a company that was achieving a combined turnover of £1 billion and employing over 12,000 people. Shareholder value during the time that Chris Swan was involved at Finelist had grown substantially – for every £1 invested in the business in 1991, shareholders would receive £288 in 2000.

Note:

Following announcement of the Finelist sale, the acquirers, Autodistribution, suffered from adverse exchange rate changes prior to purchase completion. With acquisition gearing of 96% and faced with a severe market downturn, Finelist was placed into receivership just under a year after acquisition. In accordance with normal practice in insolvency cases, the DTI embarked upon what became a protracted investigation and made a number of allegations against the directors, relating to the handling of inter-company payments. These allegations were defended vigorously as a point of personal integrity in a legal process that took over four years.

The matter went to court in 2003, and the judge found that there was scant evidence to support the charges made. He also concluded that the Secretary of State (DTI) had not acted with proper duty of care in conducting the investigation. However, the DTI elected to continue with the allegations and in 2005 the matter was again brought to court before a different judge, who concluded that no lack of probity on the part of Chris Swan had been established, that all outstanding indebtedness had been repaid as part of the original transaction and that Chris Swan ‘was a businessman with obvious flair and drive’. References relating to this investigation and full details of the legal proceedings may be obtained on request.

 

"I was Regional Director at Makro and had just completed my MBA when I met Chris Swan. I was quickly sold on joining Chris at Finelist and being part of its future. His passion and clarity of vision for the business was infectious. I was delighted to become part of his highly talented team, which led by Chris spearheaded the pace of change across the automotive aftermarket." - Phil Smith, Retail Expert and Business Mentor - Finelist Group plc

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