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Interview: John Innes, CEO of Amor Group

John Innes, former musician and now an ebullient dealmaker who led the sale of Amor Group to Lockheed Martin. Picture: Victoria Stewart

John Innes, former musician and now an ebullient dealmaker who led the sale of Amor Group to Lockheed Martin. Picture: Victoria Stewart

  • by PETER RANSCOMBE
 

COMPLETING the management buyout (MBO) that created IT firm Amor Group took 18 months and cost chief executive John Innes innumerable sleepless nights.

Last week’s deal to sell the business on to American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin was a lot quicker.

“It was the fastest deal they’ve done in their 100-plus year history,” says Innes, just days after the ink dried on the contract. “The deal was done in five months from start to finish.”

Innes had effectively put the company up for sale in April when he used the firm’s results announcement to say he was looking for £50 million of investment to fund acquisitions and create an “exit” for private equity group Growth Capital Partners (GCP).

GCP and Scottish Enterprise backed the 2009 MBO that created Amor Group, buying Aberdeen-based Pragma and Glasgow’s Real Time from French IT giant Sword Group for £27.8m.

Sword Group had maintained a 22.5 per cent stake in the business, with Lockheed Martin buying out all the shareholders last week to expand its presence in the UK and kick-start a string of planned acquisitions.

Under the deal, Scott Leiper – Amor’s chief operating officer – will now take over the reins from Innes, who will remain with the company for the transition to new ownership and then become a non-executive adviser.

“Whether we went for another private equity sale or a trade sale, it was always the intention that Scott would take over the day-to-day running of the business,” said Innes.

“I will be available to advise Scott or carry out the tasks that he thinks are just too boring.”

“I intend John to be the chief speech and gag writer,” jokes Leiper, drawing ripples of laughter from Innes. Jokes and laughter clearly make up a large part of the pair’s working life – but they haven’t let their light-hearted manner distract them from the very serious business of growing Amor Group.

Revenues rose from £32m in 2009 to £57.2m in 2012 and are expected to hit £63.5m this year, with Innes aiming to quadruple turnover to £250m by 2016. Amor Group’s growth has come through specialising in three sectors – energy, transport and public services.

“We’d worked with Lockheed Martin at a number of airports,” says Innes. “That’s how we came into contact with them. From what I’ve seen of them, I’ve been very impress with their culture, which seems to match our own.

“They’re not like other big American corporations. They came to Glasgow to negotiate the takeover deal with us – and the sun shone every time they came up, which might have given them the wrong impression of the Glaswegian climate.”

Innes is also impressed with the personnel at Lockheed Martin. Sondra Barbour, head of the defence giant’s “information systems and global solutions” business, which bought Amor Group, visited the firm’s staff in Glasgow on Friday afternoon.

“She’s the head of an $8 billion (£5bn) business and doesn’t have to do that, but she wanted to stop there on her way back to America,” he said.

But what next for Innes once he takes a back seat at Amor Group?

“I don’t have any firm plans yet, but I’d quite like to get involved with a start-up company, perhaps not in this sector,” says Innes. “I’m looking forward to being bored,” he adds with a laugh. “I’ve never been bored before and so I want to see what that feels like.”

Boredom was certainly not an issue in Innes early days. He jokes that he chose to study English and music at Aberdeen University because the classes didn’t start until after lunch.

That left him time to concentrate on playing guitar in his band, Dekka Danse, a 1980s punk outfit that switch to a New Romantics style and signed a deal with CBS, taking Innes to London.

After his spell in the music business, Innes became Playboy Casinos’ “human resources guy in the UK in the 1980s”.

“It was better than working for other big corporates, but it wasn’t quite as racy as one’s imagination may suggest,” he says.

Innes returned to his native Aberdeen from London and worked in sales at Seaforth Maritime, an oil and gas logistics company that was bought by American giant Halliburton.

“I was working in sales but wasn’t earning any commission and I was told that the IT industry paid commission so I moved sector.”

The switch was to become the defining move in his career so far. Innes moved to ComTel, where he worked for chief executive Neville Davis, who went became Amor Group’s chairman. Innes went on to become sales director at Pragma and leader of the MBO in 2009.

The earlier takeover of Graham Technology by Sword Group meant Amor Group, whose brand will disappear at the turn of the year, inherited the striking 1930s art deco India Tyres office building at Inchinnan as its head office.

In true Aberdonian fashion, Innes remained tight-lipped about the sale price for Amor Group. “They recommend that you sell a company for more than you bought it for – and we managed to do that,” he jokes. He hasn’t made any big purchases with his share of the sale price yet.

“I bought a round of drinks last night in my local pub and they’re still talking about it,” he laughs.

It’s a similar story for Leiper: “The biggest treat was a takeaway when I got home last night.”

30-SECOND CV

Born: Aberdeen, 1957.

Education: Robert Gordon’s College; Aberdeen University stuyding English and music.

Ambition while at school: To be Jimmy Page.

Car: A Jaguar F-type. I’m not a car guy but it has a button that makes you sound like you’re going faster, which is great if you don’t want to drive too fast like me.

Kindle or book? Book.

Favourite music? “Led Zeppelin to Beethoven.”

Claim to fame? Guitarist with 1980s New Romantic band Dekka Danse, which signed a record deal with CBS and toured Europe and the United States.

Can’t live without: Challenge.

What makes you angry? Laziness.

Best thing about your job? “The friendships I’ve made at Amor Group.”

 

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