Administration buy-out at COEL an indication of ‘confidence’ in rising enterprise, says CEO


A management buy-out from Cambridge-based office design and furnishing specialist COEL shows great confidence in the business, says the group’s CEO.

COEL has been in trading since 1986 when Neil Cook set up the company as the sole trading subcontractor.

The COEL management team from left, Group CEO Alistair Rumbelow, Group Operations Director Jerry Overhill, Group MEP Director Dean Powell, Group Director Neil Cook, Group Sales and Marketing Director Barnaby Clark, and Group FD David Williams. PICTURED: COEL

The management buy-out (MBO) means that an experienced team of board members takes control of the company from Neil, the CEO, and regional director Dan Brown, who were majority shareholders.

Dan is leaving to focus on other responsibilities while Neil will be part of the new team focused on networking and selling the company known for creating agile and innovative workspaces.

Neil said, “From the very beginning, COEL has grown to become a recognized and established name in the region. The company’s growth has been driven by the talent and dedication of a visionary team.

“I am delighted that your continued investment in restructuring is recognized, thereby ensuring the continued COEL culture and brand integrity. I am very proud to be part of the new team and look forward to working with my existing and new customers. “

While a trade sale has proven more lucrative, Neil and Dan opted for the MBO in order to maintain the close family feel of COEL.

“When I decided to sell COEL, I did so for the sake of stability,” said Neil. “I felt that the MBO route would keep the team together and uphold our family ethos. My colleagues are like my brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, and my valued customers have become friends. “

The board members making up the MBO include Group CEO Alistair Rumbelow, Group Financial Director David Williams, Group Operations Director Jerry Overhill, Group Sales and Marketing Director Barnaby Clark, and Group MEP Director Dean Powell.

They said their shared vision for COEL, headquartered in Cambridge and with offices in Peterborough and Oxford, is to build on the company’s continued prosperity and innovation.

Alistair said, “Nothing shows a management team’s confidence in their company more than a willingness to invest their own money to become shareholders in the future. The new team will strengthen COEL’s position as a leader in the provision of real estate services, workplace design and innovation. “

David added, “An MBO means we can continue to build on Neil and Dan’s strong brand. We are ready for COEL to grow to the next level and in a post-Covid world this is an exciting place. “

And Barnaby said, “We have ambitious growth plans and look forward to working with Neil who, with his sociable character and considerate nature, is always fun to work with.”

Barnaby Clark with Neil Cook.  Image: Keith HeppellBarnaby Clark with Neil Cook. Image: Keith Heppell

COEL specializes in office and laboratory design and equipment and has Bidwells, Jagex and Raspberry Pi on its list of customers. But it had humble beginnings.

Former gas engineer Neil was founded as Cambridge Partitions in 1986 and worked as a sub-contractor for drywall mainly for his father’s business, G Cook and Sons Ltd.

“I just started, then I asked a friend to join me and we got busier. I remember going through the websites with a notepad, calculator, and checkbook to pay the team on a Friday afternoon, ”Neil recalls fondly. “But in 1989 we drained Quayside for Sir Alfred McAlpine, and I had a team of 35 that worked with me. It was an incredible growth. “

As business flourished, Neil was assisted by Dan Brown in 1999, and the two ran their business from a portable cubicle on Sandy Lane. Their portfolio was soon expanded to include full office interiors, however, and the employees were renamed Cambridge Office Environments Limited (later COEL), relocated to Chesterton and eventually to their current premises on Nuffield Road.

COEL has since added other business offerings including a heating and plumbing arm, CPMS and CMS which provide office furniture, commercial relocation and warehouse services. Daniel Fordham heads the property maintenance department and says there is tremendous potential for growth.

Looking back on the history of COEL, Dan Brown said, “It has been an amazing journey to team up with my good friend Neil. We have grown from working in a construction yard that was less than £ 1 million in sales 21 years ago to £ 25 million in sales and 75 employees today. I am now in a very fortunate position to continue at COEL knowing that it is in safe hands with a brilliant team that can take the company on the next growth path. “

Neil, whose new title is Group Director, added, “It is wonderful that we have managed to grow organically, become a strong force in the equipment world and a respected company with family values ​​at its core. I look forward to working with the MBO members who have been with COEL for many years and have been selected for their loyalty and expertise. You have a great vision for the future. “

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