How I navigated the Great Recession and the results that followed

12 September 2022 - 8:55 am
This month I sat down with our Head of Research, Jessica Paige.

Jessica approached myself and the Chairman, Austin, and asked that we compile a piece of literature for our Shareholder Centre, which aids our community of shareholders in relation to the funds activity and strategic direction of the fund. During such turbulent economic times Jess felt it prudent to share our experiences in relation to recessionary climates and how our mindsets during a recession shaped our successes for years after the bear market. The below is the transcript Jess provided for me that I feel could be beneficial to you, the reader:

Jessica: The idea of launching Supermax Europe came some 5 years before you raised the flag on the launch of the business, why did you take such a period of time from conception to inception?

Iain: It was the recessionary climate in 2008 that inspired the idea and ambition. The company I was MD for, Bodyguards, were preparing to sell out to Polyco Healthcare which was driven by a contracting economy. I witnessed first hand that a company in the sector had grown so quickly in value terms, to then face a recession and seek to exit by selling up out of fear. It was clear that rapid traction could be obtained in growth terms, within the industry, and the demand was there to sell out with multiple bidders prepared to make an offer. For me that was as clear an indication that you could have in terms of obtaining the requisite skills and doing it for myself on an entrepurinal level. I could have launched Supermax Europe sooner but I gave myself a critical checklist of requirements to do so, including commercial skills and networking for talent for the launch, and that ended up taking just over 5 years. I’m glad it did as the result has been a huge success.

Jessica: Did the Great Recession not impact your sector in any way?

Iain: Yes, contractions impact the wider economy and by definition that impacts every industry to one degree or another. However, safety is not a feature that is first to be scaled back easily. Luxury goods, you might call them ‘’nice to haves’’ are very much on the front lines of feeling headwinds first. When it comes to protective products, health and safety is not a corner that any responsible business can cut. Factor then the health industry itself and medical equipment will always remain in high demand when other components of a business can be targeted for cost saving. I witnessed first hand that the business I was in was very robust and would continue to prosper even as many other businesses downsized, sold up or indeed closed for good. It was during those years that it became abundantly clear I was in the right industry and the opportunity to start my own venture was just about timing, and not about the concept being in any way high in risk.

Jessica: You mentioned you had a critical checklist of requirements you wanted to cover before you launched Supermax Europe?

Iain: Yes, whilst I knew I was absolutely in the right arena to succeed, I wanted to make sure that success was not only assured but assured at high levels. If I ran at the launch then I was open to mistakes made by greed and speed, and that is not how I go about running a business. Successful businesses are well thought out and well prepared. That said I did not think it would take over 5 years from conception to inception as you put it earlier, but I was not going to cut corners for the sake of it. My checklist included having a deep strategic understanding on how to manufacture at a critical mass. Borrowing capital is part of any growth business but I wanted to understand how we could reach a point, and how quickly, where we would not require funding and would be self-sustaining.

I also mapped out the organisational structure and that would require requisite talent in every area of the business, to guarantee a specialist and adept management team. It was actually that element that took the most time, as many of my personnel targets were in very successful roles with competitive businesses and so we had to wait in part for restrictive covenants to expire and some elements of gardening leave too. Another major part of the process came from compiling our distribution channels and forming relationships with targeted consumers, not least the contacts I had built in the NHS, which I saw as a key contract to take us to the next level. Once I knew those targets were cemented it was time, with the right people around me, to launch.

Jessica: Onlookers to Supermax Europe may perceive you as a franchise of Supermax Healthcare, is that the case?

Iain: No, we are not a franchisee. I had formed a strong relationship with the owners of Supermax Healthcare, who are based in and operate out of Malaysia but I did not see any long term value in becoming a franchise but I did see immense value in the brand as they held a super major role in the healthcare product industry, controlling over 10% of the world’s supply. I did something that may still be rather rare in the commercial world and that was to approach my now partners in Malaysia and put forward a proposal that was risk free for them. In simple terms I would fund the launch and only on targets being hit would myself and my wife gain equity in the business. We of course benefitted from the brand as it opened doors to contracts I may not have been able to acquire if we had our own unique brand, but the results came and with it our equity holding. I took the risk and it paid off but it was a very educated risk and actually from my perspective it was a formality to become successful, as we had the skills and the contracts already lined up before we commenced trading. You might call it a win-win for all concerned.

Jessica: Do you believe then that the Great Recession gave you the experience you needed to face any future economic downturns?

Iain: Absolutely. Although to be fair I think even greater than the experience gained, was the value of the confidence it gave me. Again, there is no price or valuation that can be given to confidence levels. To see on a daily basis, at a granular level, aka being in the trenches of sales of one’s products, really is invaluable. To witness first hand the continued demands for your product lines, coupled with the performance of the wider industry, leading into the sale of a business, I again refer back to Polyco Healthcare buying out Bodyguards and the volume of suitors that lined up in the bidding process, gave truly great levels of confidence that launching Supermax Europe was the right thing to do, again borne out of a deep recessionary environment.

That confidence stands us as a business in great stead now as the global economy faces huge challenges in the cost of living, supply chain issues exaggerated by the conflict in Ukraine and national debt level that can only but impact consumer habits. Yet, this is where the experience does come to the fore as we know already that even after a pandemic our business is in a hugely healthy position, as we offer a product range that is in many ways recession proof. After all, safety and healthcare will always be in demand whether we are led by a bull or attacked by the bear as is the case for real estate too of course. If we built and sold yachts I would feel differently!

Jessica: Outside of your professional role how did you privately navigate your wealth position through the Great Recession?

Iain: Well, I feel somewhat in the shade of Austin when it comes to those days and our personal portfolio. When I say ‘’our’’ there, to be clear, I mean Kelly and myself. The next recessionary climate will be different as we have established considerable investment capital, access to equity and dividend income. However, we also now have the confidence to upscale due to the inevitable opportunities that will present themselves. From 2008 through 2012 we had a modest portfolio of assets. I had bought our first overseas property prior to the start of the Great Recession and in 2009 we refurbished that property to add value for our own family’s benefit. At home in the UK we did acquire a few buy-to-let properties, all of which we still own to this point and from there we have utilised the equity to increase the volume of units we own in the present day.

Our portfolio now mainly consists of income producing real estate and 70% of it has come from releasing equity from the properties we did acquire through that period of 2008 – 2012. So in that respect we certainly invested at the right time, or rather it was better late than never and our acquisition prices benefited from a market in a correction phase. Our main family home in the UK was purchased in 2009 and due to the market and some degree of refurbishment and expansion it is now worth over twice what we paid for it.

Jessica: Did you invest in anything outside of Real Estate?

Iain: Kelly has been what I would kindly call ‘’a victim of Apple marketing’’ and we are rather glad she was and is as it led to us investing in Apple shares in 2009. As I am sure many of us feel with the benefit of hindsight, but we often discuss how we wish we would have taken a larger position at that time, as the value of the stock has gone stratospheric in comparison with our buy price. Besides that we had smaller positions which we have since liquidated and all barring one made a profit so all in all our investment activity during the Great Recession led to very positive conclusions, albeit the ultimate outcome is still due to be printed as we will only liquidate in some part when we retire. A degree of the portfolio, certainly on the real estate side, will be passed to our children to ensure their future financial security and likewise for our grandchildren.

Remaining at your service,


Iain Crawford, CEO.