This month’s investor learnt an important lesson after he successfully sold his business for ‘a few bob’ and handed over his hard earned cash to a ‘safe pair of hands’. Fifteen months later Merrill Lynch handed half of it back and the other half was never to be seen again. It was a harsh lesson for Andy Mccallum. “The only positive lesson from it was never put your money into something that you do not understand yourself. Don’t rely on so-called experts, especially when it is not their money (being invested).”
Before we delve into Andy’s whirlwind property journey I am keen to know how he had a million pounds to hand over to Merrill Lynch in the first place. “I started corporate life with IBM in 1975 before moving to Burroughs. I worked in sales in the Business Forms Division before moving to Management and finally managing the Protectograph Division which sold cheque signing and protecting equipment. Frustrated by the lack of funding to produce better products for the UK market I set up Checkpoint Security in 1985 with my business partner on my dining room table. We sold the business in 1999 having moved from the cheque business to mailing and electronic banking products (BACS). We had 240 employees and became the leading UK supplier of cheque and BACS products supplying corporate, local government and banks. Over 95% of the top FTSE 100 companies were our customers.
“A year later we had the opportunity to buy back part of the company we sold – the unsexy part - the old cheque writing, signing and mailing equipment business and created Twofold. We branched into data capture, scanning and helping companies become paperless by getting rid of paper in the mailroom and converting the paper into electronic images which can then be read and manipulated as the business needed it. We eventually sold this business to the management team in 2014.”
I am curious to know how Andy and his business partner were able to successfully grow their business to such a level. “Checkpoint grew like most start-ups; hard work, late nights and belief that we could get through the first year when we were losing money and getting the message out to the corporate world that we were the place to go to solve their cheque problems. Remember in those days many companies were sending out over 40,000 cheques a month. We came up with a novel cheque writing machine that could also handle a company’s’ cashbook. This was so different from what my previous company had and we made the bold move to buy the Protectograph Division, which were eight times bigger than us. We bought them in 1988 and instantly had a sales force and engineers who could sell and fix our products. We bought several other companies - notably a BACS software company to get us into the electronic banking products as we could tell cheques were going the way of the horse and buggy. Within three years we were the largest BACS supplier in the UK.”