Lead Forensics

OPINION

Ask the Leader – Will Linley, CEO of Linley & Simpson

5 Oct 2020

With 22 branches and 260 employees, Linley & Simpson is Yorkshire’s biggest lettings and sales agency. The business was founded in Leeds by Will Linley and Nick Simpson in 1997 and achieved steady growth until 2018, when the pair used private equity investment from LDC to focus on a ‘buy and build’ model.

“We had made our first acquisition back in 2002 and considered ourselves to be fairly ambitious,” says Will. “By the time we did the deal with LDC, we had bought 20 businesses. But that was nothing compared to last few years, where we really stepped it up a gear, making eight to 10 acquisitions a year.”

Linley & Simpson now manages 10,500 properties. This growth has been achieved despite massive regulatory changes to the industry. Will says: “We have dealt with all the challenges and, with the help of a great investor, we have performed better than ever.”

What made you embark on a buy and build strategy?

While we’d made acquisitions before, the trigger point for escalating our buy and build came in 2018 when regulations changed to prevent lettings agents charging tenants fees. It was a major driver towards industry consolidation.

How did the investment help?

We secured investment from LDC in June of that year; they really believed in our business and growth strategy. The deal process itself crystallised our ambition: when you spend time really scrutinising your business plan, it gives you a singularity of purpose and the determination to deliver that plan.

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Securing the support of a private equity partner makes your business grow up and reach a new level. The whole process put us into a different league.”
Will Linley, CEO
Linley & Simpson

How have you delivered your acquisitive strategy with LDC?

We have consolidated our original region, which is the north and west of Yorkshire, becoming the market leader. We’re now moving into new territories, like Hull and Sheffield and we are also about to break out of our Yorkshire heartland. I think, over the lifetime of this business, we have made 48 acquisitions, which is extraordinary – and we have several more in the pipeline right now.

What advice would you give to anyone considering private equity?

The process is really intense and you need to be prepared for that. You think you know your business well, but as an owner-manager, the degree of scrutiny really tests that.

However, the process is also extremely helpful, both for planning and for future deals. Your business grows up, to put it bluntly, and your management information, reporting, compliance, it all reaches a whole new level. The whole process put our business into a different league.

LDC is sharing inspirational stories from its current and past portfolio company leaders to mark 40 years of backing ambitious businesses across the UK.