I’m the king of my castle, but nobody wants it – interview with Mark Cornford

Featured | Growth | Mergers/Aquisitions

Mark Cornford

Mark Cornford is the Managing Director of Integrity Print – a printer based on a vast site in Radstock, which is home to over 300 staff and with a turnover of £43 million.

And the first thing that you notice when talking to Mark is his infectious passion and energy – something which the Welshman says has been vital in such a tough sector.

Background 

When Mark took over as the ‘captain’ at Integrity Print in 1999 – following a career with Unilever and as a Mechanical Engineer – he had been headhunted for the role.

He explains: “I was actually headhunted for two jobs – to be the captain of a print business or the second in command for a luxury boat building business in Plymouth (now Princess Yachts). I remember calling my dad and he told me to go for the job with the boat building business – it offered me an amazing lifestyle, I thought this was the life I was going to get into. But I called him a week later and told him I’d chosen the role with the printers.

“Print isn’t cool and there were some people who thought I was mad. But business is cool and materials, people and process is my bread and butter. I knew I had the opportunity to own this company in the future and that had appeal.”

Management buyout 

Mark was part of a Management Buyout (MBO) in 2008 and the company had a turnover of £60million – and he says that one of his biggest achievements at the businesses has been his focus on culture.

“Culturally we are very strong. I don’t do toffs and non-toffs and I’m an incredibly open person but everybody knows where they stand. I also own two other businesses – A1 Security Print in Birmingham and a labels business in Cardiff called Alliance, if you go into any of them the culture is the same and it’s always about continuous improvement.”

King of the castle 

But the success has not come without challenges; and Mark has had to battle an almost ‘existential’ crisis as the print game shift and shapes.

He explains: “I’m the king of my castle but my castle is dying. I’m buying businesses not out of vanity but out of necessity as the print landscape is changing dramatically. To ensure we stay at the top of our game I’m concentrating on growth areas such as digital transactional print, labels and packaging. 

“The reality is that I produce more banks statements than anybody in the country but who takes a bank statement any longer? This is a fascinating business as it’s a legacy business that is going through an enormous transformation. We’re growing organically and through acquisition, so we can secure the future of this company – I’m looking for more deals going forward.”

Acquisition trail 

Mark is also clear about what he wants when he adds a company to his portfolio.

“We know the strategy – we want to be the last man standing in legacy products, so we’re looking for growth areas. Take labels and packaging, in twenty years my kids will walk into Waitrose and there will still be packaging – it’s a huge market.

“Online retail is also growing 12-15 per cent per annum and it is one of my biggest markets but when I bought the business we weren’t active in this space, which is why our acquisition strategy has to be about continuous improvement and growth sectors,” he says.

He says he also looks for a strong culture in and if anything was to put him off it would be a business that lacked this.

“I’ve always said I’d rather be small and pure instead of big and full of poison. I believe in a strong culture, so I look for this in other businesses; and if there is an unpleasant smell I have to take a view as to whether I can change it,” he explains.

Future 

On the future Mark believes that although the carpet bombing days of direct mail have disappeared, there is a future in cleverly targeted direct mail.

He comments: “I wouldn’t invest in a pure direct mail house – mine is at £3.5 million and I could probably grow it to £6 million but it’s part of the mix and direct mail is certainly not dying like some people have said.”

On the wider business, he says: “We’ve got to keep transforming – my security business is very successful and is niche and will be still be here in ten or twenty years, as will labels and packaging; and transactional data will still be a big part of our world going forward. I envisage that we’ll stay around the £40 million but the mix of work will always be changing.

“People talk about Brexit, the currency and the economy but all of that is easy. The challenge for me is that I’m the king of my castle but nobody wants it any longer.”

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