My Biggest Mistake

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Bob Edmiston, 45, is sole owner, chairman and chief executive of the IM Group. Its core business is distributing motor vehicles from the Far East, and it holds concessions for Subaru, Isuzu and Hyundai in the UK and others in Ireland and Sweden.

IM Group has recently diversified into construction, cellular communications, property and financial services.

Mr Edmiston, a management accountant by training, was a bank clerk, a financial analyst at Ford and Chrysler (UK) and financial controller with Jensen Motors before it was put into receivership.

I THOUGHT that my biggest mistake was joining a company without first taking the trouble to find out that it was in dire straits. But by a quirk of fate, this mistake led to an opportunity that would otherwise never have come my way.

I had just finished my part-time, evening studies in November 1974 to qualify as a management accountant, when I applied for the job of financial controller at Jensen Motors, the company which gave its name to the big, super sports car it then built at its factory in West Bromwich. (Another company, Jensen Cars, is still building them there, after a nine-year break in production.)

To my delight, I made the shortlist of three out of 100 applicants, but was rejected for someone much more experienced. I was newly qualified and a mere 28 years old. But the owner of Jensen, the Norwegian entrepeneur Kjell Quale, didn't like the person who was chosen and asked to see the other two on the shortlist. Inexperienced though I was, he preferred me as the 'wild card'.

But within a couple of months, my troubles began and I was wishing I had never heard of Jensen Motors. The oil crisis of 1974 had sent the price of fuel sky-high. Gas-guzzlers like the Jensen had dropped out of favour and our sales had plunged.

My first painful baptism as financial controller was to make half the headquarters staff redundant. Savage cuts of the 5,000 workforce were to follow. Our rent went up 150 per cent. We simply couldn't pay our bills. Hundreds of creditors were besieging us. It was clear the company was heading for a catastrophe. And it was.

In May 1975, I was promoted to finance director. No one knew exactly how much money we were losing. I was given the task of trying to make sense out of our frightening financial situation, produce accurate figures and keep the creditors at bay. It was all too plain I had made a huge mistake in joining the company.

But worse was to come. In September 1975 nemesis finally overtook us. The company was put into receivership, and I had to preside over the wind-up. I still wince at the memory of the flak I had to take at a creditors' meeting, and I thought: 'What have I done? All this disaster isn't going to look good on my CV. Who will give me a job when all this is over?'

I was virtually the last to leave but, despite my fears, I managed to salvage something from the wreckage. With my pounds 6,000 redundancy money, I bought a 15 per cent share in Jensen Parts and Service, the company set up to continue supplying parts and service to Jensen owners.

Then, out of the blue, by a stroke of great good fortune, one of Jensen's distributors in the US told me about a new Japanese car called the Subaru - a four-wheel-drive vehicle that had just made its debut in the United States. As we had the basic infrastructure, I decided to make a bid for the UK concession. Eventually we were appointed by Fuji, the car's Japanese manufacturers.

It opened the way for other franchises from the Far East. In October 1980, I formed a new company to combine my business interests, and, in due course, won the concessions to import and distribute the Hyundai and later the Isuzu ranges.

So, joining Jensen proved a stepping-stone to success. And for all the trauma, it was a valuable experience. For as someone once said: 'It's not the length of the experience that counts but the intensity.'

(Photograph omitted)