Ian and I first met when we were both working for Whitbread, but we didn't actually work together until a few years later, after we'd both left. By that time Ian had started Country Style Inns. I was working for a small public company which acquired Country Style Inns. Ian and I were both involved in the deal, albeit on different sides.
After the acquisition, Ian stayed on and ultimately he and I ended up running the business. We sold the company on a few years later having added quite a bit of value - which meant that we needed a job. We'd worked reasonably successfully together and we could see that we had complementary skills, so we decided that we would do something together.
It was about the time of BSE. Everybody else was doing pizza, which seemed a little dull, so we decided to do seafood. It was the only thing left. We started looking for sites and then by coincidence we were approached by Loch Fyne Oysters about rolling out a seafood restaurant concept.
We were very comfortable with the idea of working together on something new. Ian had done start-ups right from the word go and been very successful. He had experience in raising money, knew the property market very well, and had good contacts. Combined with my experience of the conceptual development and actually getting things up and running, it made for a strong partnership.
We had pretty defined roles from the outset. One of the great strengths in business is knowing what you don't know. I know where his skills lie and I know very much where mine don't - the area of property purchase and development is a mystery to me.
Despite being an accountant, Ian can walk into any property and he has the imagination to see its full potential, from knocking down walls, moving rooms, lighting things a certain way. He's got a real talent for it. My bit is getting the people to run it and managing communication of the product to the customer.
We don't share an office. We never have. At least one of us, if not both, has always worked from home. But in the early days, we would talk six or seven times a day.
Ian and I both allow people to make mistakes, and that goes for each other. When you are running a business there's a terrible urge to micro-manage and not allow people to make mistakes, but it means that you can never get away from the coalface. No one is going to get everything right all of the time; the challenge is accepting that and dealing with it in the right way.
I've made a career out of buddying up with people who have skills that I don't have. Mark is one of those. Our skills are very complementary. I'm not good at operational responsibilities and he is. I like starting up new businesses. I get a real buzz out of finding a nice old property and working out what we can do with it. Mark is the one who has the expertise to turn those ideas into reality. But although our skills are complementary, we are as one on the underlying philosophies that we bring to our business.
We both like running personable companies. As they get bigger, the challenge is to keep them small in mentality. In other words, neither of us likes the big company ethos or the politics. We both like having fun. I haven't talked to Mark about this, but I think we'd both say that we could actually go off and earn more money doing other things, but frankly we like what we're doing.
Even with Loch Fyne, we could probably make more money if we wanted to, but it would not be such a good long-term business and it probably wouldn't be trading in the market that we want to trade in.
I don't think Mark and I have ever had an argument. We don't get under each other's feet because our roles are so clearly defined. The only time we have a really serious debate is if I find a property which I want to do and he doesn't see the potential. But we have a rule that if any one of our team doesn't feel comfortable with a particular acquisition, we don't do it.
We absolutely don't do offices. The more time we're in the restaurants and the less we're at our desks the better. We must see what the customer is experiencing. It's part of the pleasure and the strength of being a small company. We can get to know our staff and our customers very well. Although it doesn't do much for the waistline.Reuse content