Ask the leader – Jan Steele
30 Nov 2021
30 Nov 2021
As featured in Management Today.
Jan Steele, co-founder of Lucid Group, wanted to run her own business for years. She had worked in big pharma for two decades, starting in the lab and progressing into commercial roles at the likes of GSK, AstraZeneca and UCB. “When you work for huge organisations, there is a lot of bureaucracy,” she says. “Decision-making is so slow.”
In 2007, she spotted a gap in the market for a healthcare consultancy that would help pharma companies work effectively with medical experts. “There were healthcare consultancies out there, but they were very poor at this, making it transactional rather than trying to understand why a medical expert would be interested in partnering on a pharmaceuticals project. I had worked with medical experts for 10 years – and loved it. And so Lucid was born.”
In 2017, LDC invested £11million to support the management team to complete a series of acquisitions, the first being a digital agency called Bluedog. “If we hadn’t bought that company, we would have been badly affected by Covid-19, but Bluedog gave us the ability to shift to online engagement and marketing,” says Jan. With LDC’s support the group acquired one more business to help broaden its market share, expand its talent pool, and extend its geographic footprint. “We are truly global now.”
Why were you attracted to LDC?
As soon as we met the LDC team we knew we would have a true partnership in place to support our growth strategy. The chemistry, the flexibility of the funding they had available and the fact that two-thirds of LDC’s portfolio were on a buy-and-build growth journey gave us real confidence. They were all really interested in the healthcare space we operated in, and they understood all that was positive and unique about Lucid. We knew that we could work closely with the team to identify our strategic targets and that we would have a great working relationship. Other private equity houses were very opinionated about our business, and we felt it wouldn’t be a true partnership.
How did LDC support you, beyond capital?
We always had a vision that we wanted to be the best global communications consultancy changing patient outcomes. We knew the best way to do that was to acquire complementary companies but we didn’t know how to go about it. LDC has a great team with unrivalled experience in helping management teams to grow their businesses through acquisitions. We were very naïve about making strategic acquisitions back then. All the different areas of due diligence, for example, including how to do due diligence on the management team at a company we were interested in. Without LDC, we would have met the management team and felt the chemistry was good and that would have been it. LDC brought real rigour around how we assessed the management team and the business, helping us to follow a process so that we knew we were making the right decision and it wasn’t all based on gut feeling.
What is your advice to any leader considering private equity?
Meet the team that you are going to be working with and speak to other people who have worked with that team. You will have great times together but sometimes the path will be rocky, and you should only proceed if you are confident that you can work together, in partnership, to get through the tough times.
Jan Steele, Co-Founder and Non-Executive Director