This week’s Business Focus is with Jim Rowbotham, managing director of Pexa.
Why did you start your business in the first place?
I always wanted to work for myself; I was lucky enough to work for multi-nationals that allowed me a lot of freedom, but I never lost the feeling that I wanted to start a new business. I saw there was a gap in the market for an aerospace distributor that really shared the interests of its suppliers and it was a case of “now or never”. I found some excellent partners that I had known for many years and together we launched Pexa. It meant jumping ship from the corporate world, but I would have regretted not taking that risk.
What is your business motto?
Pexa has a “motto” - “To assist our customers to meet their own business objectives, using products and services supplied by Pexa”. This really underpins our consultative approach; our most successful customer relationships are those where we really understand what our customers are trying to do. That is usually manufacturing of high value aerospace components and structures. For myself I can’t say I have a motto, I try to be steady and kind.
What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?
I wouldn’t try to give too much advice; If you listed the pros and cons of starting up then you would never do it. Some advice I often give to myself, I wish I listened more to it - Have your cash under control, don’t launch new initiatives before you have mastered the old ones, stick to things that you know about and enjoy, take your time recruiting team members and get the right ones, take lots of advice but, when your gut feeling is really telling you something, stick to it; always be honourable.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting your business?
Cash! It’s a different world when you start a new business and it is critical to make sure that you have cash coming in faster than it goes out. Building up trust with customers and suppliers in the risk-averse aerospace industry was a big challenge. Those customers and suppliers were right to trust us, as we are now the leading supplier of aerospace coatings and we have new enquiries every day from all over the World based on our reputation. Business people like to talk about their successes but we all have painful setbacks, resilience is essential.
What do you enjoy most about being self-employed?
The fact that I can launch an idea and get my business to run with it and not have to justify (too much) why we are doing it. It’s a great feeling to know that you can make ideas fly if they are good enough. I love my team and the feeling that together we are doing great work, I’m another one of the team doing my particular bit for the business. I enjoy the international aspects of the business and the fact I can pick up the phone and use my network to get something done.
What do you enjoy least about being self-employed?
Nothing to complain about really, it’s my own choice and that’s enough to make any problems seem worthwhile. Sometimes it’s a bit lonely having to make the final decisions on things without a big support network, but now Pexa is over 30 people that isn’t as often as it used to be.
Which business figure do you most admire and why?
I’ve never really been into following the “big names”. All business leaders are capable of great successes as well as crazy mistakes. I keep my eyes open and pick up ideas from all over the place, I meet inspiring people every day and they don’t need to be famous. Now we are building our business in India I do find myself admiring the efforts of Prime Minister Modi to modernise the economy and create an environment where high tech manufacturing can thrive.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
It has to be creating Pexa, it’s a super business with over a thousand clients in over 30 countries and offices in France, Spain and India. Of course the team does most of the work but I’m proud of them as well, so that counts. We have the trust of major international partners and we have earned that by acting well at all times and applying high standards to everything we do. It’s a quite specialist niche but, within it, we are world renowned and that is very pleasing.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
We grew 20% last year, so if we can keep going at that rate I would be very happy. International growth has been key to our success and we will open or acquire businesses in more countries. We are increasing our in-house production of coatings and building that into an important aspect of what we do; most of those products go to export markets. We are identifying new ventures investing in ideas that will grow the business by a minimum of 10%, I hope we can launch a couple of those each year.
If you could invent one new product, what would it be?
Well for my business that would be a chrome and VOC free single layer protective coating for aircraft that gives 30 years protection within a sealed airframe. How boring is that? For the World I would love to invent a device to create a free source of clean water in any location. Inventions are great, we recently patented a masking tool for aerospace fasteners and started working with some really bright young people who have invented concepts to robotise some of the difficult large scale processes of our industry.
If you could work for one company, who would it be and why?
Pexa, it’s my firm and its right up my street, is that too obvious? Then I would have to say NASA, they are working with the sharpest minds in the World to understand what is out there and I would love to be involved in that.