‘Somebody said it couldn’t be done, but he with a chuckle replied: that maybe it couldn’t, but he would be one, who wouldn’t say no till he’d tried’    

– ‘The Man Who Did It’, Edgar Albert Guest. The full poem hangs in a frame behind Clive Nation’s desk at his office in Camberley. Given to him by his mother, it says more about him as an entrepreneur than hundreds of words of copy could ever do – the optimism, the drive, the refusal to adhere to the status quo.

“I guess my early childhood was what first defined me as an entrepreneur. I was the youngest of four children and often wasn’t allowed to do something because an elder sibling had failed in some way before me”

Nation, by his own admission, is stubborn. He refuses to accept ‘No’ as an answer until he’s tried something himself. And then tried it again. And again, if necessary, to see if there really is a way.

This ‘can-do’ attitude is what he has instilled in his staff at Cennox, a company which has grown over the past 10 years from six people based in Essex to almost 600 people across the UK and the USA.

“My biggest regret? Starting too late as an entrepreneur.”

Having left school at 16 years old, Nation took an engineering apprenticeship and was working for a building services company until his ‘lightbulb’ moment occurred during his late 20s, while returning from a holiday in Spain. Unable to buy a drink onboard with his pesetas (this was pre-euro), he started to wonder what everybody else did with their leftover foreign money?

After researching the market and focusing upon ferry ports (France being the major destination for Brits), Nation used his engineering expertise to build four machines which accepted foreign coins in exchange for credit vouchers on Cross Channel ferries.

Over the next two years, things moved quickly; the machines dispensed cash, Nation employed people, quit his day job, and was approached by Thomas Cook who wanted to buy his nascent foreign-exchange business.

Nation refused, being turned off by the staid corporate culture. However, he knew that he required funding to grow, and so approached Lloyd Dorfman of Travelex himself, whom he admired for his entrepreneurial drive.

“We thrashed out a deal in a couple of hours, on the back of a sheet of A4 paper”

Cennox’s growth has been carefully built over the years by a combination of business turnaround, organic growth and acquisition, but all characterised by Nation’s eye for an opportunity and his willingness to develop that opportunity

This new joint-venture subsidiary first started installing foreign currency machines into UK and US airports, then took over a legacy business of ATM machines (growing that tenfold), then created a processing centre to process BA’s ‘Change for Good’ programme, before expanding into security and compliance initiatives.

In short, this subsidiary became so successful, that in 2002, Travelex sold it to APAX private equity partners. However, APAX struggled to emulate the returns, and, according to Nation, changed the culture from an entrepreneurial ‘can-do’ one to an overly-analytical ‘let’s check first’ one. Within a few years, Nation resigned.

“I was saddled with a non-compete clause for four years in forex … but I wasn’t excluded from anything to do with ATMs.”

So began the next phase of Nation’s career in 2006 – one which saw Cennox begin trading with six guys in six vans who went around cleaning ATMs.

Fast forward to 2010, and following impressive growth in ATM services, Cennox acquired an ATM spare parts business based in Camberley. The anti-skimming technology included in this deal allowed Cennox to offer its services to high-street banks, receive equity finance backing, and then buy a US ATM company (in December 2013) which doubled its turnover.

“I don’t consider myself a true entrepreneur in the sense of the word. That person will gamble and risk everything. I prefer instead to follow the ‘rock climber’ concept, building in safety nets, so that if things go wrong, you can only ever fall so far.”

So, Cennox’s growth has been carefully built over the years by a combination of business turnaround, organic growth and acquisition, but all characterised by Nation’s eye for an opportunity and his willingness to develop that opportunity.

As a parting question, I asked Nation why he thought he had been so successful in motivating people to help him build Cennox.

“Success – people see it and want to be a part of it – and delegation. It took me a while to realise how important it is to employ people who are better than you in their field.”

Easy to say. Hard to emulate.

2018-12-11T10:50:59+00:00