Tried and Tested: Most People Would Find It Stressful Enough Managing a Company That's Facing Bankruptcy. Louisa Roberts Finds out Why That Was the Least of Brian Cass's Worries When He Was Brought in to Turn around the Fortunes of Medical Research Firm Huntingdon Life Sciences. (Interview Brian Cass)

By Roberts, Louisa | Financial Management (UK), December 2002 | Go to article overview

Tried and Tested: Most People Would Find It Stressful Enough Managing a Company That's Facing Bankruptcy. Louisa Roberts Finds out Why That Was the Least of Brian Cass's Worries When He Was Brought in to Turn around the Fortunes of Medical Research Firm Huntingdon Life Sciences. (Interview Brian Cass)


Roberts, Louisa, Financial Management (UK)


What would it take for you to leave your job? A new position with a generous remuneration package? Your partner's work moving to another location? Or, as in the case of Brian Cass FCMA, being attacked by a gang of animal rights activists wielding axe-handles and ending up in casualty with 10 stitches in the back of your head and a broken rib?

Except that Cass, managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), didn't for a moment consider leaving his job after the assault, which happened as he stepped out of his car outside his own front door one evening in February 2001. In fact he laughs at the idea. "Backing down from what I believe in because of a violent and extreme attack didn't cross my mind or my family's," Cass says.

This is not bravado, but a sincere belief that has survived 25 years' work in one of the most emotive of industries: scientific research that tests on animals. After 20 years in the trade, Cass joined HLS as managing director in 1999 at the company's lowest ebb. In the previous two years it had lost 30 per cent of its revenue and was staring bankruptcy in the face. An investor group, led by HLS chairman Andrew Baker, decided that it could be saved, but that this would require a new management team.

"The biggest challenge I faced was a business one," Cass explains. "We had a revenue of 50 million [pounds sterling] a year, but were losing 1 million [pounds sterling] a month. This needed to be turned around as soon as possible. We also had PR difficulties, which were a result of a general culture of keeping the doors locked and our heads below the parapet. We had to bring back clients and orders that had gone to rival firms."

Cass spent his first 12 months at HLS assessing the figures and balancing orders against resources. Inevitably, his rescue plan meant redundancies, but cutting 150 jobs contributed to a saving of 6 million [pounds sterling] and a break-even situation at the end of 1999.

By this time, the animal rights campaigners had gone quiet on the HLS front. They had been trying to close the business by threatening employees, investors, shareholders and any individual who had financial links with the company. But, once the firm had been saved from bankruptcy, they temporarily shifted their attentions to smaller, easier targets. This allowed Cass to focus on improving the financial situation by increasing client confidence without the constant threat of attack.

Morale was a big concern for Cass, but he was surprised to find that most employees were positive. "There was a feeling of relief," he recalls. "The company was not going to close, not everyone was going to lose their jobs and the new management team meant that things were starting to move forward. People aren't stupid--they knew that sacrifices had to be made to save the whole company. …

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Tried and Tested: Most People Would Find It Stressful Enough Managing a Company That's Facing Bankruptcy. Louisa Roberts Finds out Why That Was the Least of Brian Cass's Worries When He Was Brought in to Turn around the Fortunes of Medical Research Firm Huntingdon Life Sciences. (Interview Brian Cass)
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