When Paul Williamson walked through the doors of Ernest Wilson’s office in Bradford in October 1985, he thought it was just for a short six-month computer contract.
The company needed to update its processes with modern IT technology, so Managing Director Robert Williamson asked his son Paul, an established IT consultant, to help.
Paul recalls: “Computing was very new at the time and a lot of the business was still done manually. When I installed an IBM 36 computer system, we were one of the first business transfer agents in the country to computerize our processes.
“My initial contract was for six months, but I had everything installed, tested and operational after only three months. I needed something to do for the rest of my contract and so my father asked me to start doing some day to day office duties including answering the phone and attending property viewings and appraisals with some of the agents.
But little did Paul know that 37 years later he would still be at the helm of the company that over the years has established itself as the nation’s leading business transfer agent.
The short six-month contract with the company caused Paul to take stock of what he wanted out of life and what career path to pursue.
Paul explains: “Even though I had started working in IT, my time in the company made me realize that I didn’t want to stay in IT.
“It soon became clear that I thrived around people – meeting them, talking to them and hearing their different stories and backgrounds. The sales environment at Ernest Wilson was ideal for me.
Paul rose through the ranks of the company over the years and in 1995 he was appointed Managing Director following the retirement of his father. Since his arrival, Paul has witnessed many changes.
“Things have definitely moved on,” says Paul. “The company is now completely unrecognizable from its beginnings in Hallfield Road, Bradford, when there were just 12 employees and we sold between 80 and 100 businesses.
“Now we are in modern, state-of-the-art, open-plan offices on Gelderd Road in Leeds. There are around 30 employees and we sell between 600 and 700 companies per year.
But the company’s rapid growth isn’t the only major change Paul has witnessed over the years, it’s also the way business is conducted.
“A lot of the personal touch is gone,” Paul recalls. “I remember when on a Saturday morning there were literally queues of people waiting to come into the office to speak to an agent, and all of them would be at different stages of their journey. Some would be on the verge of selling or buying, while others would only have a first idea of buying or selling.
“So much is done on the internet these days, which is a shame in a way, because it takes away a lot of the personal touch and building relationships with people.”
“The other thing I’ve noticed is that when people come to us to buy a business, they’ve already arranged the financing. Years ago they would have wanted us to arrange the financing for them.
Something that has remained constant over the years is the confidentiality surrounding many of Ernest Wilson’s transactions. Unlike the residential real estate market with “For Sale” signs and large volumes of marketing material, many business transactions go
Paul explains, “Advertising can often be a source of uncertainty and fearmongering around commercial sales.
“For example, when employees hear that a business is up for sale, they immediately start wondering if their jobs will be secure and if the new owners will want to keep them.
“In my experience, however, the reverse is more often the case with buyers wanting to retain staff in the company’s assets, rather than having to start from scratch to recruit labour.
“In any event, we wholeheartedly respect guest privacy, and many transactions are completed without a ‘For Sale’ sign on the property, with minimal marketing information, and only those directly involved in the transaction. know all the details.”
In October 2019, the business was sold to leading corporate restructuring practitioner Begbies Traynor, with Paul pledging to remain chief executive for the next five years.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, with the associated lockdowns, the market crashed. But, as Paul explains, that was only short-lived.
He says: “Gradually as restrictions were lifted and viewings were able to resume, but with precautions things resumed immediately. I think by being at home during the lockdown, people started to take stock of their lives and reevaluate their priorities.
“They wanted to become masters of their own destiny and suddenly became interested in buying a business. This trend has continued and the market remains extremely buoyant.
So, in conclusion, what does Paul believe is the key to the company’s continued growth and success.
He comments, “Quite simply, we care about getting results. There is no point not taking care of the customers, it gets no one anywhere.
“If someone wants to buy a business, we’re not interested in whipping them the first thing that comes along. We want to get to know them and build a relationship so that we fully understand what they are looking for and get the best possible result for them.
He continues: “It’s the same case when people sell their business. We won’t put them in touch with any potential buyers, but we’ll work with them to make sure there’s the right “fit”, and we can get them the best possible price from someone who is genuinely interested in buying.
“When we have clients who over the years have become good friends, it shows that we are doing something right.”