Coffee Nation (Costa Express)

Self Service Gourmet Coffee

Coffee Nation, now Costa Express, was the leading self-serve coffee company supplying the public through retail and forecourt partners such as Tesco, Moto, Sainsbury and Welcome Break across 400 locations across the UK.

Milestone Capital backed the secondary management buy-out of Coffee Nation in March 2008 with Investec Growth & Acquisition Finance providing the mezzanine finance.  Michael Tait was brought in as chairman and an investor in the business.

Coffee Nation - Michael Tait

Mike worked closely with talented management, Scott Martin CEO and Simon Vardigans CFO on a new strategy for Coffee Nation that would see dramatic changes to the R&D programme and expansion into new markets.

The designing and manufacture of Coffee Nation's own coffee machines were stopped and instead, R&D investment was concentrated on designing and building machines on an OEM basis, utilising coffee making technology from top manufacturers such as Shaerer in Switzerland.

This new approach to coffee machine design resulted in extended capacities, advanced user interfaces, payment systems, energy efficiency and a better quality coffee experience. Telemetry was also a key design addition which allowed real-time monitoring and maximising of uptimes of the whole estate – all managed by a support team working from an advanced dashboard system.

Many other initiatives such as a new showroom, promotion vans, building a marketing team and telesales function and moving into new markets such as universities, contributed to the number of Coffee Nation sites growing to over 900, with sales reaching over 1.5 million cups of coffee per month and £30m of sales.

Coffee Nation

Michael Tait felt that an exit was possible and he invited the CEO of Costa to visit and see how things worked in the ‘Coffee on the Go’ market.  It wasn’t long before the board of Costa and Whitbread also visited to hear the proposition. The strategic arguments for Costa to acquire Coffee Nation were well taken by the Costa and Whitbread teams and this led to a very successful exit.  Coffee Nation was sold to Costa for £59.5m which generated a 3.7x return on Milestone’s original investment in under three years. The company is now Costa Express:

More about Coffee Nation and Costa Express


Claims Management Group (CMGL)

Insurance Services

Claims Management Group, CMGL, was a £50m turnover leading provider of outsourced claims management and insurance management services that were offered to FTSE quoted companies, general insurers, Lloyds underwriters and London Market insurer companies.

CMGL was a widely recognised brand with a strong reputation for its operational practices and quality of service. It had an international network of offices and managed over 165,000 claims worldwide representing US$5b in gross liabilities and over $1b reinsurance recoverables. In addition, CMGL administered eight Lloyds syndicates.

CMGL was acquired by Sovereign Capital through a buy-out from Zurich Financial Services. After only months into the investment, which previously had a 14 year history of growth and profitability, the business fell into a significant loss making position. The business was running short of cash and had fallen outside of its banking covenants.

Sovereign Capital decided to seek outside help and brought Michael Tait in as executive chairman. His brief was to very quickly get to understand the business, its services and markets – all of which were new, and then to propose and implement whatever was needed to recover the business and return it to profitability.

The key tasks were to reduce costs straight away by reducing staff from 650 people to 600 people, exit from unprofitable deals, and secure a number of new deals in pipe-line. The company was very quickly returned to a profitable footing.

Michael Tait and his investors saw an exit opportunity to exit through the sale of the company to Capita plc. The company was sold to Capita Plc for £32m generating Sovereign Capital an IRR of 260% and 3.3x money.
More about CMGL

Knowledge Technologies International (KTI)

Engineering Design Software & Services

Knowledge Technologies International was a £30m turnover company based in the UK, USA, Germany and France. KTI specialised in knowledge based engineering design software and managed services, and were an Electra Europe investment.

The company was loss making to the point where an insolvency practitioner attended board meetings.

Electra Europe appointed Michael Tait as Interim Group CEO and asked him to evaluate what could be done to save the company and determine whether some value could be recovered for investors in a sale of the company.

Electra Europe was not willing to support the company any further and on two occasions the board was advised by an insolvency practitioner, that unless funds were raised from sales, the company would have to shut the doors in a matter of days. On one of these occasions £400k had to be raised within a matter of three days to keep the company trading. Michael had to personally negotiate a deal with KTI’s biggest customer at a time when all the management and staff had declared the challenge as impossible. Mike secured a £400k deal from Airbus and the company was able to continue.

Mike had to close the larger part of the USA company, leaving just a small support group there and this enabled European activities to continue.

A successful turnaround was achieved with the company showing profits for eight months prior to Mike selling the company. Electra Europe did not want to spend M&A money and so Mike had to write the sale prospectus himself and make calls to the presidents of large international software companies to seek interest in acquiring KTI.

Mike managed to sell the company to Dassault Systeme, a large French public company, which gave a very good home for the KTI team and returned money to Electra Europe. Dassault Systeme:
Another mention about KTI


Retail Banking Software & Services

Interlink was a London based retail banking software and services company of 125 people and £24m turnover and had made significant annual losses over a four year period. The company specialised in software to drive ‘hole in the wall’ cash dispensers and software for clearing payments through VISA and MASTERCARD.

CR2 was a 200 person, Dublin based, VC backed pre revenue company that specialised in e-banking software and they wanted to acquire INTERLINK through funding from their backers. However CR2 was still to prove itself and the backers said they would only back the acquisition of a loss making business if an experienced turnaround professional was engaged. Michael Tait was selected as INTERLINK’s Interim Group CEO.

The challenges were; four years of loss making, a dysfunctional board, lots of people leaving including key second tier management, cash problems, tired products and an unproductive R&D programme.

Mike managed to persuade all the leavers to stay and work with him. He personally interviewed over a hundred of the staff within his first few months which uplifted staff morale and motivation. Mike set up weekly staff update meetings to aid effective communication in both directions.

Mike compiled an assessment report on the issues of the business and his strategy on saving the company. This was agreed with investors and executed over a six month period. All the old directors left the business on acquisition and Mike carried out all their functions with the support of second level management.

Key achievements were: not a single person left the company throughout the assignment; staff morale was high; within three months cash was being sent to the CR2 parent in Ireland; and the company had the highest sales month in history on Mike’s last month with the business.






Computer Systems

Burroughs and Sperry Univac merged in 1987 to form Unisys Corporation and became the world’s second largest computer company with revenues in excess of $12b. Both companies were seeped in a mainframe background and culture and knew they were not well equipped to manage the transition into a distributed systems business. Both Boroughs and Sperry had small and almost insignificant revenues in this area and had failed to build an indirect sales channel which was critical to success in distributed systems.

Unisys Europe-Africa Division decided to find someone who had the skills to build sales channels across all fourteen western European countries and Africa and commissioned an international search. Michael Tait was chosen because of his knowledge and experience in managing sales channels for Digital Equipment Corporation who had the largest channels programme in Europe. Mike was also considered to have the drive and personality to succeed in a fiercely demanding management environment, and effect change in a resistant mainframe culture.

Mike’s brief was to go out to the countries and assess the situation and define what could be achieved. He then constructed his business plan and presented this and his change programmes to all top management across Europe-Africa and the main Unisys Corporation board.

The management style at Unisys was ‘hands-on’ and ‘lead from the front’ and this was very much Mike’s style. He therefore fitted in well with the top management at Unisys and was quickly accepted as a key member of the Europe-Africa top management team.

For Mike to succeed in recruiting Value Added Channel partners, distributors and dealers, he had to redefine the role of all direct sales people across Europe and the marketing methods used in all areas and geographies of Unisys and drive these initiatives. He led the implementation of strategies and programmes across all Europe-Africa countries and often got directly involved with the recruiting of channel partners. Mike was travelling intensively and was often conducting business in three countries per week.

Mike’s programmes proved very successful and he was asked to take these programmes to the USA and other areas. Asia Pacific also adopted his strategy and programmes and were trained and supported by him.

Mike went on to define the direct sales of desktop level networks and systems and in parallel, ran this programme across Europe-Africa.

Under Mike’s leadership Unisys became one of the leaders in distributed systems and had recruited a substantial indirect channels network. He built a £500m UNIX, PC, and Client/Server Workstation business through over 1000 Dealers, Distributors, Systems Houses and Direct Sales units across Europe and Africa.
Michael Tait – Biography

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)

Computer Systems

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was the largest and most successful of the world’s
minicomputer corporations, famed for manufacturing the leading minicomputers under the VAX
label. Turnover for the UK subsidiary was in excess of £1billion. Michael Tait recalls his successes there,

Michael Tait led the development of DEC’s personal computer dealer network taking the dealer network
from start-up to hundreds of dealers across the UK. Mike and his team created all the marketing
programmes and support infrastructure to drive volume sales through this important sales channel.
Mike ran numerous dealer incentive programmes and large sales conferences in support of the
dealers and utilised famous BBC presenters in some of his shows. Digital became a leading supplier
of personal computers to corporate UK.

After this very successful period, Mike went on to run the overall VAR, Software House, Dealer and
OEM network across the UK covering all Digital products. Turnover reached over £500m. Digital
achieved building the largest third-party sales channel in the UK computer industry.

In parallel with the building and management of sales channels Mike put together a 50-person
telesales team selling PCs, VAX consumables and maintenance contracts.

Michael Tait – Biography

Choice Care Homes

Residential care homes for people with learning disabilities and other mental health conditions

In 2008 Michael Tait was asked by Sovereign Capital, a leading venture capital firm he had worked with before, to take the role of Executive Chairman of Choice Care Homes which had 40 residential care homes and 750 staff members that looked after people with Learning Disabilities, Autism, and other mental health conditions. Private equity investors, Sovereign Capital were preparing for exit and there were a number of performance problems that required attention. Occupancy rates were an issue for example and the company had little skills or resources in finding new service users.

Being at the head of a very experienced mental health management team drew Michael into weekly management meetings where the situation and welfare of new patients were discussed and decided upon. Michael was involved in weekly case assessment meetings and the high level aspects of care that were provided. Michael was also involved in the planning and opening of new care homes.

The whole care home industry at that time was in the middle of fast and challenging market changes. From a history of high prices and high margin the market was fast moving to where the main buyers of services, namely local authorities, had become a much more sophisticated and powerful buyer. Margins had become very thin because of competition in a crowded market.

Enterprise value was much significantly improved because of the successes achieved by better marketing and the closer eye on achieving lower costs without impacting standards of care.


Data General Michael TaitData General, head quartered in Boston USA, was one of the world’s major computer companies that manufactured state of the art minicomputers. With 33 subsidiaries and more than 250 sales and service offices in 60 countries, Data General was a significant international company, earning about half its revenue from foreign sales.

The company was suffering sales problems and the new president assessed the problem as inadequate leadership in the counties and archaic selling methods.

Michael Tait was selected by the President of the corporation to restructure the whole of the European business to implement new sales and support methodology and sales organisation, based on the very successful programmes Michael implemented at Unisys Corporation. Michael worked on an interim basis to reshape country subsidiary leadership and implement programmes across Europe and the USA.

Sales increased substantially because of Michael’s groundbreaking sales model. This had specially qualified telesales people leading the sales drive and owning the sales cycle, with a newly profiled field salespeople engaged with customers when face to face meeting or demonstrations were needed. In addition, countless letters were received from customers, thanking Data General for the marvellous customer support being given because of the new structure.

A study of Michael’s sales methodology can be seen from the link to be added shortly. It is a model appropriate for higher value capital goods that require selling by salespeople rather than products that sell off the page.

Michael Tait – Biography

Data General Corporation - wikipedia