BY the age of 26, Matt Haycox had it all.
He had stakes in a variety of businesses across the leisure, finance and retail sectors. The Provocative Group he ran operated Wildcats, one Britain’s most successful chains of lap dancing clubs, and his retail business, Waremart, had outlets across the region.
He had, as he puts it, “fancy cars, nice house, holidays and all the trimmings”.
However, within a few short years his empire crumbled to dust.
His businesses were overgeared and had expensive debts running into millions of pounds. Attempts to refinance were underway until the financial crash of 2008 took hold and lenders backed away. Married and with a young daughter, he would ultimately be declared bankrupt but his troubles were far from over.
An Insolvency Service’s investigation found damning evidence of his behaviour and he was found to have entered into trading transactions knowing his company was insolvent and could not pay for goods ordered.
In 2010 he was banned from serving as a company director, a disqualification that does not expire until 2022.
“I made some catastrophic errors of judgement,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“I was young and ego-fuelled. I ran businesses that were made insolvent and many people were financially affected by that.”
For most people this would have served as a fatal blow. Unable to own a business for 12 years, he had to make choices concerning how his future would unfold and despite the restrictions on what he could do, he was determined to continue.
“Honestly, never did it cross my mind to do something else,” he said.
“Never did I think that a life of business was not for me.”
Entrepreneurialism was something that was in the Haycox DNA. His father had set up, grown and sold on his own business and Matt talks about accompanying him to board meetings and listening in. When he got to young adulthood, his parents were pushing him towards academia, something he was against. In the end a compromise was struck wherein he would work and study at the same time. After six weeks, he decided this was inviable.
At the time his father was invested in a corporate clothing company. Matt worked there in sales and eventually persuaded his father to let him have a go at running it.
He said: “Over the next two to three years we went from losing £300,000 a year to a £30,000 profit. Not a huge amount but it was the principle.”
Now adamant that he was going to strike out on his own he decided to work in the leisure industry and decided the best means for doing this lay in setting up a chain of lap dancing clubs.
Wildcats opened in Wakefield in 2004 and quickly found success.
“My intention at the time was to bring commercial attributes to a shunned sector,” he said.
“Stereotypically, they were run by undesirables without solid business principles. For us it was the case of right place, right time, right everything. The economy was booming.
“Lap dancing was becoming more socially acceptable. We had a brand and concept that worked. Over the next four years we ultimately became the biggest operator in the UK.”
By 2008 he had 11 lap dancing clubs, more than 50 pubs and seven or eight big retail stores – a combination of businesses he had either started that had funded for other people and taken equity stakes in.
This was a time of readily available credit and Matt says the banks were willing to talk to him about financing but as the credit crunch tightened this appetite waned. When one of his lenders put one of his businesses into administration this resulted in what Matt calls “a knock-on effect that brought down the house of cards”.
He added: “Every business was intermingled or cross collateralised in some shape or form. I pulled the businesses down and got my first personal guarantee claim from one of the lenders.
“There was no point in fighting it. If they did not make me bankrupt then the next one would have done. It was just far too massive a debt.
“That was the end of life as we knew it. I was stretched but still thought there was a way out of it. Until you are signing those papers you are still thinking there is a way out of this.
“With the knowledge I have now I realise that the writing was on the wall months and months prior. If I had the knowledge and experience to deal with it there might have been a better outcome.”
The bankruptcy in 2008 was followed by the disqualification in 2010.
Matt admits he deserved to be disqualified but says in hindsight he had fought the length of the ban. However, he now faced the question of what he should do next.
“I had two choices, I can sit and wallow in self pity and listen to the negative things people were saying. But I realised pretty quickly that nobody was going to pay me to sit on that couch. I had to wake up pretty swiftly from this and rebuild my future.”
Matt’s journey back to success has seen him become what he calls “a glorified deal maker or broker”.
“My skillsets back then were that I learned by accident how to raise finance.
“I knew how to speak to banks and I had a fantastic contact base. I would structure deals, I would find investments for the high net worth people I knew back then and essentially monetised my contact base.
“This has naturally grown into funding other businesses, advising them and being a mentor to small business and a connector to big business.
“In whatever guise I operate it, I monetise my skills and network.”On the face of it, a former bankrupt and disqualified director may not seem like the most obvious of people to be giving advice. However, Matt feels otherwise.
“It was never a journey I set out to do but it has ended up in a fun, profitable and fulfilling place,” he said.
“Over the years there have been people saying ‘you’ve got a cheek’. I knew I had made mistakes but I knew that I had learned from them.
“If none of that had happened I would not be who I am and know the things I do. As much as I would like not to have been disqualified or made bankrupt, if that had not be the journey I would not be where I am today.”