Laybourne steps down at Real Digital

By Darryl Danielli, Monday 15 January 2018

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David Laybourne has stepped down as managing director of Real Digital International as the business looks to continue to expand beyond its core markets.

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Stephens: stepped up from production director to MD

Laybourne left the £17m-turnover, 90-staff business at the end of December as part of a staged exit strategy that included production director Barry Stephens stepping up to the managing director role. Laybourne remains a shareholder in the business.

“I think it’s good for me and good for any business to make a change at the top after eight, 10 or 12 years. I don’t think anyone should ever be afraid of change,” said Laybourne.

He joined the business, which was founded by majority shareholder Peter Rivett and Andy Ruddle, shortly after it began production in 2006. He helped steer the business through a turbulent ramp-up period during the financial crisis, during which it lost millions of pounds before finally turning the corner in 2010. Under his stewardship, the company subsequently regularly achieved double-digit profit margins and was crowned PrintWeek’s Company of the Year in 2012.

According to sales director Chris Tagg, his low-profile departure had been carefully planned for some time, with Laybourne steadily cutting down his hours to three days a week and handing over some responsibilities to the senior management team; Tagg, Stephens and finance director Robert Woolridge, who joined last year, to minimise disruption.

Tagg praised Laybourne’s impact on the business over the past 11 years, saying it owed him a massive debt.

“David was the calming hand on the tiller in the early, difficult days. And after he had got the business through those early challenges, by absorbing that pressure, his inclusive management style enabled the business to thrive and be agile, and be aggressive and challenging in terms of what it did because we knew David was there to make sure we were pointed in the right direction.

“So, the checks and balances were in place that enabled us to come up with our mad ideas. I don’t think I can pay anyone a bigger compliment.”

However, he said that now was the perfect time for Laybourne to step down, as the business had recently completed a series of major investments to support a strategic shift to broaden its markets and services and that, in some respects, this had dictated the timing of his departure.

“In many respects we all felt it was the perfect time to let that new team pick the ball up and run with it,” said Tagg.

He added that the evolution was progressing well and that the business had just had its second strongest Q4 and best December in its history.

Tagg said that there was no urgency to fill the production director vacancy created by Stephens’s elevation, but that business “will look to add to the board at some point, but we’re in no rush”.

“As part of the planning around David’s departure, we spent much of last year bringing through the senior management team, so we’ve got a group of seven that we’ve done a lot of development work around, so that’s why we’re in no major rush.”

53-year old Laybourne said he intended to spend the next few months deciding on his next move, but planned to also enjoy his first significant break in work since he was 18 years old.

“I’m certainly not retiring. While I’ve got no immediate plans I’m not in a rush to make my next move, but I certainly can’t see myself gardening for the next 20 years.”

Laybourne said that while he had no constraints as to where he could work in the future he “certainly wouldn’t want to go head-to-head with Real Digital" and had mixed feelings about whether he might stay in print, or look for something in a new field.

“Real Digital has been a fantastic platform to work from and we’ve been masters of our own destiny, but I think replicating that somewhere else will be incredibly difficult.

“But on the other hand I’m sure there are turnaround or re-engineering opportunities, which is what I’ve tended to do, that might be really interesting. So if it was something that I could really get my teeth into, where I could make a difference then I would love to stay in the industry.”

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