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“Energised for the next chapter of our story”

Finance director Laura Saunders admits she felt a little bereft when a potential major CPL project did not go ahead. But there are also plenty of reasons for optimism, as she explains here

A lot has happened at CPL in 2021 so far. The pandemic, obviously, has been challenging – for our revenues, for employee engagement and for keeping the business running seamlessly with so many changes to working processes. 

Behind the scenes we’ve also been working on a number of other things. One major achievement has been completing the first stage of our succession buyout, as our managing director Mike Sewell talks about here

This has been a real milestone, both for CPL and for me personally. I joined CPL just after the buyout deal was agreed (managing to dodge all the legal stuff – phew!) and my main financial goal for the past four years has been to ensure the business paid off the loan notes. I certainly raised a glass or two the evening I saw the final payment had successfully cleared the bank.

The succession buyout required us to hit gradually increasing profit targets over a four-year-period, to ensure we generated enough cash to make the repayments. I have mentioned in countless company presentations that ‘cash is king’, and the profit targets that we needed to hit were quite daunting. Nonetheless, we steadily made the repayments through 2017, 2018 and 2019.

But then 2020 hit, and life became a little uncertain for a few months. Thankfully, our confidence grew last autumn and it became clear that, although our revenues had been impacted, we would complete the buyout in 2021 as planned.

So in the background – knowing that the end was in sight – we started investigating a few other opportunities, particularly relating to our strategic pillar of ‘Expand’. 

This was interesting and exciting, and certainly something to look forward to when, in the wider world, a lot of businesses were treading water at best. We invested lots of time in the opportunities and were quite far down the path for one particular project. As a result, I had visions of a busy spring/summer in 2021, and hoped fervently that homeschooling my children would not need to be added to the mix again.

I certainly raised a glass or two the evening I saw the final payment had successfully cleared the bank

Disappointingly, for various reasons, the big project stalled. Initially, this left me feeling a little bereft. I like a challenge, or something new to work towards. Early in my career, when I was about to finish my CIMA professional accountancy qualification, I was concerned that I might be bored with no exams to do. So I signed up, and in due course completed, both the New York Marathon and a diploma with the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the same year!

With the succession buyout complete, and the big project cancelled, I admit to having felt uncertain about the ‘what next?’ for our business. As a leadership team, we carried out a debrief that was cathartic but at times a little downbeat, as we spent time talking about the opportunities the project would have presented us with. But it was also helpful as it showed we still had plenty of ideas and energy and it encouraged me to think positively about the future. The work we’d carried out on the project had been a great experience and I/we had learned a lot.

So, while that particular project for 2021 is not going ahead, there is still plenty to do. We are less constrained by cashflow issues and we are feeling energised for the next chapter of CPL’s story.

Having had an insight into how other organisations are addressing their future plans, we have more enthusiasm to think strategically about the next few years and how the creative, talented people at CPL can capitalise on the exciting opportunities that are out there waiting for us.

Laura Saunders
is director – finance
at CPL

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