Globalisation around the corner for company that was 'started on a whim'

Conventional management theory has it that succeeding in business is largely about having clear goals and the ability to achieve them. Try telling that to Steve Buckby.

He and his partner, Keith Buxton, started Prestek - a company that came 20th in the latest Independent on Sunday survey of fastest-growing private companies - in 1984 "on a whim". Both Mr Buckby, who was then 24 and had worked for two years at Metalbox, and Mr Buxton knew that they wanted to run their own business but they "didn't have a clue of what we were going to do".

On the strength of their complementary electronics and software skills they used their starting capital of pounds 5,000 to set up what Mr Buckby admits was "a bit of a jobbing shop". But after bobbling along, without having to borrow, the pair entered a growth spurt in 1989, with sales in the three years to 1995 booming to about pounds 8.4m. This year turnover is due to hit pounds 12m.

The spur to much of this growth has been the increasing trend towards increasingly sophisticated labelling, such as bar-coding and sell-by dates.

In recent years Prestek, which is based in Nottingham and now employs just over 70 people, has found itself designing and making so many of the machines used to prints these labels that it has become a market leader, not just in Britain but also in much of Europe.

The desire to, as Mr Buckby puts it, "globalise our market presence" led to Prestek being bought by Markem, an American company, in August. Last week it opened a state-of-the-art research and development facility and from 1 January Prestek will align itself with its new parent under the name Markem Technologies.

Mr Buckby, who becomes managing director of the new entity, claims that the union is a perfect marriage. "We're very much kindred spirits," he says.

The next 'Independent on Sunday' survey of fast-growing private businesses will be published in the spring. Entry forms will appear early in the new year.

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