Inspiring reigatian: Cath D’Arcy
Cath D’Arcy (RGS 1984-1986) successfully runs four businesses (yes, four!), with a passion and level of energy that is something to behold! Find out how she does it…
Have you always been an entrepreneur? Briefly explain your work journey
No, I haven’t! Entrepreneurship started as a series of happy accidents for me. Opportunities that came along that I could have said yes or no to, but which at the time, I choose to say yes.
I spent the first nine years of my career in Blue Chip FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), working for Coca Cola Schweppes, Northern Foods, Glaxo SmithKline and Jeyes, doing sales, brand and trade marketing roles.
I was always impatient and ambitious. I had promised myself I’d be a Director by the time I was 30. I was on track for that at Jeyes, but when, at 29, I was offered an opportunity immediately, along with a share of the business to build a smaller company, I decided to take the leap of faith and move to Baby Organix where I spent four years as Sales Director building it from £2-£12m.
I found I enjoyed working in a smaller business. Fewer meetings, less politics, faster decision-making, more accountability and more chance to impact the business. BUT a lot of power rests with the owners of the business. That’s fine while they are doing a good job and they like you, but not if they don’t, or you disagree on how your job should be done. In the end the owner and I fell out and I decided to move on. I spent a year working for a US-based, family-owned company who wanted to enter the UK market and then joined Grampian Foods as Managing Director of the European division based in Thailand and The Netherlands.
This allowed me to avoid the single-owner control, but gave me my own small division to run autonomously. I stayed there for two years, but when a big company restructure came along, I decided to jump ship, spend a few months adding Italian to my French and Spanish, before joining a family-owned UK-based company making frozen ready meals and snacks for supermarkets and pub chains, which wanted to set up a brand-new European company.
That gave me the best of both worlds. All the freedom of entrepreneurship, with the security of a salary and someone else’s money backing us.
I loved it, so, when six years later my boss decided to retire and close the company, which would have put my team and I out of jobs, I decided to buy it rather than just leave and find something new.
What would you say is your greatest achievement to date?
Financially, I would say taking Spiced (the company I bought from my boss) from a €3m business, dependant on short-term cash flow loans at peak times, making €200k a year in 2016 to a business turning over €8m, completely debt-free and making €1m in 2021.
From a personal satisfaction point of view, I would say building the online silver jewellery business Corazon Latino from an idea to £350k.
From an impact point of view, I would say landing one of the actors I represent his first ever lead role in a six-part TV series when two years before I knew nothing about the industry, had no experience in film, TV or talent management and just a friend who was an actor who I felt deserved better treatment than his agent was giving him.
Not many people successfully run four businesses, how do you split your time and still maintain a work-life balance?
The four businesses are: Global Spiced (Frozen own-brand food), The Vegilantes (plant-based frozen food brand on sale in Morrisons), Corazon Latino (online Jewellery), North Star (film, TV and sport talent management and film/TV production). I am by nature a multi-tasker, and extremely organised. I am never without a to-do list. Each of the businesses has very different demands and is busier at different times, so it’s impossible to plan how to manage them as a combined list so I have five to-do lists on the go at any one time, and each day I review the list and deal with the most urgent things first. That may well mean working on all four every day, and other days 100% of the focus is on the needs of one.
As for work-life balance, I suspect my idea of balance is someone else’s idea of workaholic. In the past 10 years there have been two days when I did not check my emails and that was when I was on Boracay in The Philippines and a typhoon cut all electricity and internet for two days! Personally, I prefer to incorporate my private life into every day rather than separate them. Owning your own business means you have the freedom to plan your own time, so it’s down to me to make time for myself and the people and things I care about. I would rather spend three weeks working from South Africa, spending a few hours a day answering emails; as I am doing now; while swimming off the Cape and touring the wine regions with friends, than work solidly and then have a two-week holiday. By staying on top of everything at all times, I find I can always find time for fun at the same time.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome thus far?
I gambled everything I had (savings, pension, equity in my house) to buy Spiced from my boss. Over the past six years we have built it as a team. We almost lost it all thanks to a mistake by a supplier of one ingredient to one factory, but we didn’t give up, we fought, we tried every option to recover the losses, and while it set us back two years, we survived.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
I’m a bit of a rebel and a control freak, so I’m not sure that I would do well with a mentor telling me what to do! But I was lucky enough to stumble across Richard Branson once. People I know have worked for him and said he is a fantastic boss, and when I met him, he was incredibly thoughtful to complete strangers. I would love to work with him and learn how to be a better people manager and leader.
What three tips would you give to someone wanting to turn their passion into a business?
1) If other people are doing it, so can you. But find a way to be either better or different (find a niche).
2) Make sure you have the money in place to give yourself the time to make it work. It will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think!
3) Commit and don’t give up when things get tough.
What would you most like to tell yourself at age 13?
Believe in yourself. You are good enough. Other people’s reactions to you are almost always about them and their issues. Stay true to yourself, be kind and honest, and you can achieve anything.
If you were castaway on a desert island, which luxury item would you want with you and why?
With the caveat that I can’t be smug and use it to communicate and be rescued, I would say my laptop, solar charger and internet access to Spotify & YouTube. With music, I would always have “company” and entertainment & with YouTube I should be able to learn whatever I needed to survive.
My biggest luxury would be a huge note pad and pencil. I can’t survive without my lists, and writing things down.
What 3 things would you put your success down to?
1) Positivity. Being grateful for what I already have and believing that what I want to achieve is possible.
2) Being awake to opportunities when they happen and being willing to say yes to them. That is all luck is.
3) Hard work and stubbornness. Most people give up too early.