Meet Jeremy Harbour, Founder of The Harbour Club, with a knack for training entrepreneurs in the art of buying, fixing, and selling businesses. Written by Bindu Gopal Rao
Businesses do not have a set formula. But if anyone can triumph its many variables, it’s a seasoned businessman. One such maverick is Jeremy Harbour, an entrepreneur who has changed the notion of business. He is an author, professor and businessman all rolled into one.
Growing up on a farm in the UK countryside, he was entrepreneurial from a very young age. “I did not get any pocket money but earned one pound per hour for my work. Since a very young age, the thought that constantly ran through my mind was that there must be a way of earning more than just ‘this much’ and this became one of the major driving factors for me.”
An enterprising young man, Jeremy got into trouble for destroying his mother’s garden trying to sell flowers. At only 14, he had businesses selling everything you could think of – Christmas trees, chocolate, watches and jewelry. Emboldened, the young lad left school to pursue business at 15 and failed at it. Unperturbed with the debacle, he persevered. “At 18, I started a mobile phone company called Unity, where we sent converged bills to people. Around this time, the whole industry went through a consolidation phase, with every company buying everybody else.”
When Harbour had been in business for over a decade, he experienced a shift in perspective. To him, there had been three key levers in business: marketing, sales, and staff. “Suddenly, when I had people coming in and trying to buy my company from me, I realized there was a fourth lever – mergers and acquisitions.”
Jeremy was introduced to a new dynamic – where big players purchased other businesses, with the offered deals deliberately structured to effectively mitigate them having to invest lots of capital. Jeremy joined the bandwagon when he signed a 6-million-pound deal to set up mobile shops in Costco stores all across UK, selling more mobile phones than ever. “I realized then that I should be on the other side of the deal – as the buyer and not the seller.”
Executing an acquisition of his own, Jeremy shrewdly bought a company for next to nothing, taking it from a staff of 20 and about a 1.5 million pound revenue, to 135-strong-staff and 13.5 million pound in revenue in merely 18 months.
Small Business, Big Dividends
After selling his telecom business in 2006, Jeremy kickstarted a new company called Unity, that has bought and sold over 50 firms in 10 years. “Looking at the world, what we really needed was to empower small businesses, as they are capable of making a big difference to a country’s economy. That led to the inception of The Harbour Club, an educational community on tactical Merger and Acquisition training to help entrepreneurs understand how to buy and sell businesses for no capital upfront or debt, which has helped create hundreds of millionaires.”
Jeremy has penned a few books as well, such as Go Do Deals, Agglomerate: From Idea to IPO in 12 Months, Why You Should Never Buy A Company That’s For Sale, and Democratizing Wealth. At the crux of these books is a glaring truth – big businesses are disproportionately wealthy, and this inequality affects small businesses and the economy. “They never die, and they never pay tax, and they take money out of the economy. In fact, the top 500 asset managers have $93 trillion under management.”
He continues, “Small businesses in mature economies like the UK, Canada, USA or Australia contribute 50% of the economic output. And yet if you break down every asset class investment, more money is invested in Bitcoin which is effectively, an imaginary product. So quite clearly, there is a split – one economy with all the money, and one with people involved in it, and these are not connected. Every time we have quantitative easing (more money introduced into the supply by a central bank), it goes into the asset economy and not into the real economy. This needs to be fixed. Because if we can get even a fair allocation, even to the degree of 10% investment of this money into the small business economy, that brings it to $9 trillion.”
As a seasoned businessman, Jeremy has his finger on the pulse of the economy. In fact, small businesses are an integral part of any country, rampant across every town and city in the world. Supporting and empowering them would parachute billions of dollars all around the world, creating wealthy entrepreneurs, solving social problems, and creating employment for millions of people.
The disparate lessons of business came together to lead Jeremy to the concept of agglomeration. For the unfamiliar, agglomeration is when you get several businesses together and put them under one roof, thus creating a portfolio of companies that is stronger together, effectively reducing risk.
Jeremy explains, “A portfolio of companies is resilient – if one goes bust, it doesn’t kill all of them. If the company goes public, listed on a stock market that has liquidity, people can invest in it. So effectively, my mission now is to try and make small business an investable asset class.”
Take pause to understand what a gamechanger it would be. Today, the biggest companies get to participate on the stock exchange, and have customers show faith in them by trading in their stock. Small businesses however cannot do so, and thus are subject to the vagaries of the market. With agglomeration, they can avail the same security, diversifying faster, securely and enhancing their own value through public’s faith in their product or service.
Working towards this mission, Jeremy now holds two agglomerations, one in the clean energy space listed on the Paris Stock Exchange with a current market cap around 230 million euros. The other one is a diversified investment holding company called MBH Corporation PLC, listed on the Frankfurt and Dusseldorf Stock Exchanges and the OTCQX in New York (MBHCF). The company acquires small to medium enterprises across multiple geographies and sectors that are well established, profitable and looking to scale. By leveraging the Agglomeration strategy, MBH Corporation plc is able to create substantial shareholder value through the consistent and accretive acquisition of excellent companies. 28 acquisition companies have joined him since the listing in 2018, with many more planning to do so in the coming years. Most of the deals are happening in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, UK, US, and Canada. The agglomerate is also actively looking in GCC region for further acquisitions.
A businessperson is identified by his risk appetite, and by determination in the face of change. Jeremy’s life and his business journey have seen more than their share of ups and downs. When he was only 14, his brother suddenly passed away, leaving him with a dreadful anxiety about the uncertainty of life, but also imbuing a sense of urgency in all that he did.
It is a testament to his innate business acumen that despite no formal education, he is a professor now at the Forbes Business School in the US.
Today, Jeremy Harbour permanently resides in Dubai with his family, having relocated from Singapore during the pandemic.
In business, his entrepreneurial approach to creative problem solving and the tenacity to stay the course has kept him going regardless of failure. Ultimately, he hopes to use his skills as an entrepreneur to eradicate poverty and focus on education through well thought out collaborations that move the ground and make a difference.