Thirlby and Rae team up for new buy-and-build venture

Jo Francis
Friday, March 5, 2021

Former Heidelberg executives Andy Rae and Anthony Thirlby have teamed up on a new buy-and-build venture – the duo have already made their first acquisition and have more buys in their sights.

Thirlby and Rae: duo plan to capitalise on their know-how and networks
Thirlby and Rae: duo plan to capitalise on their know-how and networks

Rae and Thirlby’s Venn Holdings completed the deal to acquire John Dollin Printing Services yesterday evening (4 March). The buy was backed by Compass Business Finance. 

The pair worked together for a number of years at Heidelberg. 

Thirlby is the former managing director of ESP Colour and was then chief operating officer at Pureprint before joining Heidelberg, where he spent nearly three years and became global senior vice president for the commercial segment and head of subscription sales. After leaving Heidelberg in early 2019 he focused on his consultancy business. 

Rae worked at Heidelberg for more than 20 years. He was divisional director in the UK before moving to the States to head up the manufacturer’s US operation. He then became head of group marketing. After leaving Heidelberg in the autumn of 2018 he subsequently joined rival Koenig & Bauer where he was vice president of global strategic selling prior to heading up marketing for its sheetfed business. 

Rae told Printweek that he and Thirlby had been talking about working together for a few years, and the timing was now “perfect”.

“Anthony was the best example in the world of living the dream of the Smart Printshop approach,” he explained.

“That approach to process manufacturing has predominantly been actioned in commercial print. We’re pretty sure, in fact we’re convinced, that it’s just as applicable to other markets such as labels and packaging. We’re both sure the approach will work in any segment and we want to prove it,” Rae stated.

“We also thing we can work with different suppliers to showcase what’s possible.”

He said he and Thirlby aimed to capitalise on their large and diverse business networks to identify future potential buys. 

Compass Business Finance flagged the possible opportunity to acquire Whitchurch, Hampshire-based John Dollin, where the owners had been looking to sell, and events moved at pace from that point. Directors Nigel and Ian Dollin are planning to retire. The family-run firm was set up in 1976 by their father Wilfred John Dollin.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, also includes the firm’s property. 

Compass Business Finance director Mark Nelson commented “When Anthony and Andy spoke to me late last year about their aspirations and remit for an acquisition, John Dollin Printing Services seemed the ideal fit. Following the initial introduction, I worked with both companies throughout the process, and created a deal structure that complements their strategy.”

John Dollin runs B3, B2 and B1 litho presses, all from Heidelberg, as well as HP 7600 and 12000 digital presses, a Heidelberg Linoprint and a raft of in-house finishing equipment. It offers a range of “one stop shop” services from marketing collateral to packaging and point-of-sale, to personalised mailings. 

Thirlby commented: “It all happened very quickly. We probably weren’t looking to do anything until the middle of this year, then the John Dollin opportunity presented itself, and they’ve got a fantastic company down there.”

“We knew the business from our Heidelberg days as they had the first XL 105 and first Anicolor,” Rae added. “They have a good management team. Our intention is to influence the way it’s run and also look for other opportunities. I think our timing is good with the roadmap out of lockdown date in June – customers will be planning for that and ramping up activity.”

Pre-pandemic John Dollin had sales of around £3.5m. It has 25 staff and Rae said the firm had “done okay” over the past year.

Thirlby added: “It’s a fantastic clean, well-run, strong business and that’s our target. We don’t want to get into pre-packs. We’re looking to do another two or three deals by the end of June/July. This isn’t about creating a massive printing company, it’s about making sure we’ve got the right offering to the market and are making the most of the opportunities that come up.”

Thirlby said he would complete his current consulting commitments with international clients. He is not currently consulting with any UK firms. He stopped being a non-executive director at Telford’s Precision Colour Printing last month.  








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