John Rastrick believes wise leaders must focus on protecting their workers. Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright reports.
THE Grenfell Tower tragedy shows that health and safety should be the top item on the agenda at every board meeting, according to one of Yorkshire’s most respected dealmakers.
As a law student, John Rastrick wrote a dissertation about the human and legal cost of sporting disasters such as the Bradford City Fire.
Today, as Britain mourns the victims of the blaze at Grenfell Tower in London, Mr Rastrick is urging bosses to place the emphasis on the well-being of their workers.
His dissertation taught him about the importance of listening to people from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds.
A failure to anticipate the worst case scenario can have terrible long-term consequences.
He recalled: “It was the human side that really stayed with me, in the context of how, both as owners and operators of a football stadium, small decisions and actions can have a huge impact on the well-being of fans, physically and mentally, particularly in areas such as health and safety.
“It is absolutely vital that we remain vigilant to continually mitigate risks. We only need to look at the recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower to see how essential this remains today.
“Health and safety has to be the first item on the board agenda; to ensure we are considering the human priorities ahead of other commercial decisions we take.”
Today, Leeds-based Mr Rastrick leads NorthEdge Capital’s investment activities in Yorkshire and the North East, as the private equity firm seeks firms with ambitions to grow. A qualified lawyer, Mr Rastrick was previously investment director at 3i, before moving to Phoenix Equity Partners, where he was partner for eight years. During this time, he established the firm’s Northern presence, opening offices in Yorkshire and the North West.
His legal training gives him a keen eye for potential pitfalls in any corporate deal. He loves to work with motivated management teams and help their vision become reality. And, as the name suggests, NorthEdge focuses exclusively on Northern-based companies, that might be seeking investments to support management buyouts, development capital and equity release.
He said: “We are a relatively young business, only raising our first fund in 2013, but our portfolio is continuing to grow and as it matures, we are starting to see some strong realisations.
“In the last 12 months, we have sold five businesses and made five new investments. We will look to continue to invest across the region and across all sectors.
“We back businesses making between £2m to £10m EBITDA (earnings before interest taxation, depreciation and amortisation) and we are looking to invest between £10m to £45m in each individual investment.”
Mr Rastrick describes NorthEdge as “sector agnostic”, and this approach is reflected in the wide range of firms it has supported so far, including Belfield Furnishings, which is one of the UK’s biggest manufacturers of home furnishings, and Clearly Drinks, the flavoured spring water firm.
NorthEdge monitors political trends that might boost its investments. For example, NorthEdge believes that the Government’s new tax on sugary drinks, which has been imposed as part of a strategy to combat obesity, will lead to a growing demand for beverages made from spring water by companies like Clearly Drinks.
Mr Rastrick anticipates that NorthEdge will have a particular interest in software, healthcare, business services and manufacturing businesses in the future.
“The business has transformed in the last few years,’’ he said. “We now have 31 people at NorthEdge, with 20 in the investment team.
“We have recently opened new offices in Birmingham and expanded in all areas, including recruiting in the investment team, the portfolio team and finance. We are currently considering relocating offices to accommodate the rate of expansion, as well as upgrading our IT systems.”
NorthEdge has £540m under management and a portfolio of 20 companies. Over the next five years, Mr Rastrick believes NorthEdge will have to strike a balance between consolidating its recent growth and bringing new talent into the team.
He added: “We will look to continue to build our portfolio, work with our management teams to create shareholder value, realise strong returns to our investors and raise additional capital.
“We are absolutely focused on making NorthEdge a long-term success story as a regional private equity investor and a key partner to businesses and managers locally.”
In recent years, critics have claimed that some private equity deals have been secretive exercises in asset stripping that have cost jobs. Mr Rastrick is happy to mount a public, and spirited, defence of the sector. Private equity has secured and strengthened firms across the North for years, he argues.
He said: “Private equity can be done in the right way. Our core values and principles are at the heart of all we do. We take our responsibility seriously to be a contributor to the regional economy, where we have built long-standing relationships with our managers, advisers and our investors, and generated excellent returns for all.”
Mr Rastrick hopes that NorthEdge’s local knowledge – and five-strong regional team – will ensure it outperforms its City-based rivals.
“Having a dedicated investment team of investors in the region, allows you to be fully involved in this business community, and supports quick and effective decision-making,” he said.
Name: John Rastrick
Title: Partner and head of Yorkshire and the North East at NorthEdge
Education: Fulneck School, Pudsey, Leeds. Nottingham Law School
First job: Pinsent Curtis – trainee solicitor, London and Leeds
Favourite holiday destination: Bendinat, Mallorca
Last book read: The Thirst, Jo Nesbo
Favourite song: American Pie, Don McLean
Car driven: Land Rover Discovery
What is the thing you are most proud of? My family first, but also being part of NorthEdge, particularly as a recently established northern based investment firm.