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8 March, 2021 - 12:54 By Tony Quested

Buy-out heralds fresh future for workspace design expert COEL

The future looks bright for employees at COEL – the leading office design and fit-out specialists – following a management buy-out. 

The Cambridge business, which has been trading since 1986 when Neil Cook launched the company as a sole trading subcontractor, is renowned for creating agile and innovative workspaces. 

The buy-out sees a highly-experienced team of board members taking control of the company from majority shareholders CEO, Neil Cook, and Regional Director, Dan Brown. 

Whilst Dan is leaving to focus on other endeavours, Neil will form part of the new team, concentrating on networking and sales. “From simple beginnings COEL has grown into a well-recognised and established name within the region. The growth of the company has been driven by the talent and commitment of a visionary team,” Neil says. 

“I am delighted that their continued investment is recognised in the restructure, and in doing so it ensures the continued COEL culture and integrity of the brand. I am very proud to be part of the new team and look forward to working with my existing and new clients.” 

Whilst a trade sale could have potentially been more lucrative, Neil and Dan opted for an MBO in a bid to retain COEL’s close-knit family feel. 

“When I came to a decision to sell COEL, I did it for the stability of the company,” Neil explains. “I felt the MBO route would keep the team together and maintain our family ethos. My colleagues are like my brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, and my treasured clients have become friends.” 

The board members who form 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. 

Their collective vision for COEL, which has its HQ in Cambridge, and offices in Peterborough and Oxford, is to build on the company’s continuing prosperity and innovation. 

Alistair Rumbelow, Group CEO, explains: “Nothing demonstrates a management team's confidence in their company more than their willingness to invest their own money to become shareholders in the future. 

“The new team will galvanise COEL's position as a market leader in providing property services, workplace design and innovation.”

David Williams, Group Financial Director, adds: “An MBO means we can continue to build on the strong brand created by Neil and Dan. We are ready for COEL to grow to its next stage and in a post-Covid world, it’s an exciting place to be.” 

Barnaby Clark, Group Sales and Marketing Director, says: “We have ambitious growth plans, and look forward to working alongside Neil, who - with his gregarious character, and considerate nature – is always fun to work with.” 

COEL, which specialises in office and laboratory design and fit-out, and has Bidwells, Jagex, and Raspberry Pi on its client roster, had humble beginnings. Ex-gas engineer Neil originally launched as Cambridge Partitions in 1986, working as a drylining subcontractor, principally for his father’s business, G. Cook and Sons Ltd.

“It was just me to start, then I asked a friend to join me, and we got busier and busier. I remember going around sites with a notepad, calculator and chequebook to pay the team on a Friday afternoon,” Neil recalls. “But by 1989 we were drylining Quayside for Sir Alfred McAlpine and I had a 35-strong team working with me. It was an incredible growth.” 

As business flourished, Neil was joined by Dan Brown in 1999 and the pair ran their enterprise from a portable cabin in Sandy Lane. 

Their portfolio, however, soon extended to cover whole office interiors, so the associates rebadged as Cambridge Office Environments Limited (later COEL), moved to Chesterton, and eventually on to their current Nuffield Road premises. 

COEL has since added further business offerings, including a heating and plumbing arm, CPMS, and CMS - which provides office furniture, commercial relocation, and storage services. It also operates a property maintenance arm, headed up by high-flier Daniel Fordham, which has huge potential for growth. 

Looking back on COEL’S history, Dan Brown, says: “It has been an incredible journey from joining forces with my good friend Neil. We’ve grown from working from a builder’s yard, making less than a million pounds in turnover 21 years ago, to £25 million turnover today and 75 staff. I am now in a very fortunate position to move on from COEL knowing it is in safe hands, with a brilliant team equipped to take the business to the next growth trajectory.” 

PEM Corporate Finance advised COEL on the MBO. Philip Olagunju led PEM’s advisory team with input from Lake Falconer, Ned Brown, Michael Godfrey, Kirsten Tassell and Jan Fachot. Legal advice was given by James Allen and David Hollier of Birketts and Adam Bradley of Taylor Vinters.

• PHOTOGRAPH: (From left to right) Alistair Rumbelow, Group CEO; Jerry Overhill, Group Operations Director; Dean Powell, Group MEP Director; Neil Cook, Group Director; Barnaby Clark, Group Sales and Marketing Director; David Williams, Group FD

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