Grenville Turner, outgoing chief executive of Countrywide, has won a business turnaround award for his achievements in pulling Britain’s biggest estate agent out of the ashes.
Just five years ago, Countrywide’s seemingly impossible mountain of debts was £740m.
Turner, who picked up the award at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year London and South Awards, joined Countrywide in 2006 and became chief executive in January 2007 when predecessor Harry Hill stepped up from the chief executive role to become chairman.
Hill had earlier offered his resignation as chief executive following a failed management buy-out. Shareholders had kicked out a £970m bid backed by venture capitalists.
But in 2007, Turner led a successful management buy-out when Countrywide was sold – at the top of the market – to American equity firm Apollo for £1.1bn.
Shortly afterwards the market crashed, devastating many agencies. Countrywide – whose 46 different brands include Bairstow Eves, Blundells, John D Wood and Hamptons International – was not immune.
In a complex set of manoeuvres, Countrywide passed into the hands of another private equity firm, Oaktree, which became the majority stakeholder. It had to write off 75% of Countrywide’s loans to banks and pumped £110m of capital into the business.
In 2009, Countrywide also had to agree a £641m debt-for-equity swap with Oaktree, Apollo and a third backer, Alchemy.
The enormous overall debt of £740m was reduced to £175m, with an extra £75m drawn to buy Hamptons.
Countrywide was paying £25m a year in interest payments until its return to the stock market last March, when payments were due to decrease to £7.5m. The return to the stock exchange, after six years, valued the company at £750m and raised £220m.
Unlike the recent Zoopla float, none of Countrywide’s directors or its three backers sold any of their shares at the time, although subsequently Apollo and Alchemy did sell their holdings and Oaktree sold 9.3% of its shares, although it is still Countrywide’s biggest single investor.
Under Turner’s leadership, there was also ferocious cost-cutting to the tune of 36% by the time of the flotation. It looks as though cost cutting has continued.
Last year, Countrywide had income of £584.8m – up from £523.7m in 2012 – with operating profits of £56m, compared with £16.8m.
Its market valuation has also risen since last year’s flotation, now standing at £1,125m. However, its shares have been diving in value from a high of 701p down to the 500p mark.
Turner is stepping down as CEO in September and will become non-executive chairman. His successor is Alison Platt, who has no experience of the property market and has been appointed from private healthcare business Bupa.
Turner said of his award that he was very proud to have won it.
He said: “I would like to thank the judges and everyone at Countrywide for all their hard work and support.
“I firmly believe these awards are a team effort and recognition for every valuable member of the Countrywide team and its many supporters including clients and investors of the remarkable journey that the group has been on since 2007.”