Martin Woolley and Parry Jones CEO and COO respectively of London-based media agency The Specialist Works have bought out founding partner Jim Lewcock (and his family) as part of a transition that began last year.
Woolley and Jones have been running the agency since Lewcock stepped back into a founder role at the start of 2017, so this deal was a natural transition, says Woolley. "During that time, Jim had come up with lots of entrepreneurial ideas away from media that he was keen to pursue," he says. "The timing was right all round."
Jones and Woolley are buying an agency that has shown growth every year since launch in 2003 and saw record growth in 2017 with a 40% rise in gross profit on revenues exceeding £119m ($152 million). Recent new business wins include Photobox, 23andMe and Rocket League who join a client roster including Ovo Energy, AutoTrader, Beagle Street and Boohoo.com.
"TSW is beautifully positioned in the Goldilocks zone – large enough to do significant work for serious clients, but still not too big to be agile and adaptable," says Woolley.
Woolley and Jones intend to keep the agency aligned in a similar trajectory, says Woolley, adding there would be further investment in both people and "tech-enabled innovations" to allow TSW to offer the flexibility and agility needed to respond to the demands of "high-growth, response-based clients."
"Our plans are to keep true to our vision of creating the perfect agency model" which means remaining independent. "I can’t see that [vision] working in a holding group," says Woolley. "We may seek investment in the future, but only on the right terms – that fuel our growth and allow us to protect everything we value about this company and its people."
Their first initiative, to that end, was that all non-director staff would receive a cash bonus and be eligible to share in a £2.5million ($3.20 million) future business growth bonus scheme funded by the exiting Lewcock family and existing shareholders.
" Both sides of TSW’s culture – the family feel of the agency and the innovative and empowered approach to business – are important to everyone who works here," he says.
"The idea started, like all good ideas, in the pub," says Woolley. "I could see that Jim’s trajectory was taking him on a different path to TSW, so the idea was floated then. Within 24 hours, we had a deal in principle. The final deal reflected those principles closely – and we have remained close friends throughout the process."