In line with many thousands of people in Aberdeen City and Shire, for Shaun Eardley 2016 was his annus horribilis and he hopes 2017 will be his annus mirabilis.
After spending nearly three decades building a highly successful shipping company from scratch, buying and developing a recruitment company and growing a substantial property portfolio, in the space of just three weeks his current business suffered two life threatening blows.
However, the entrepreneurial spirit which drove success for Shaun and his business partner and former wife Anna, has helped them through the tough times and 2017 looks like being as good as 2016 was bad.
When he left school in Great Yarmouth in 1982 his dad encouraged the right work ethic by giving him the option of rent free accommodation if he found a job or £50 per week rent if he went on the dole.
“I thought I had better go and get myself a job and applied for three – one in a photographic studio, one with a coach operator coordinating mystery tours and one with a shipping company called Halcyon Shipping. I was offered all three jobs and took the one with Halcyon and really enjoyed it.”
He spent six years there and it was only when, after visiting him in his office as he worked late one evening, his wife Anna suggested “You could do this for yourself, you know.”
“In January 1988, we set up Seletar Shipping and almost lost it all in the first year due to a horrendous bad debt of £30,000 which, to put it in perspective, was the then equivalent value of our first mortgage.”
They survived and prospered and, on the advice of their ship-owner clients, opened an Aberdeen office in 1994. They continued to expand and, while looking for accommodation for Seletar in Peterhead, bought the recruitment company Genesis Personnel in 1998. Two years later, they also bought the first of the former warehouses which have become Waterloo Quay Properties from their landlord. Over the next sixteen years they continued to turn buildings, including Ocean Spirit House, Provender House and Voyager House, a dilapidated, pigeon infested former abattoir, into top class ‘Grade A’ office accommodation, attracting companies like Peterson UK, DOF Subsea, BW Offshore, Apollo Offshore Engineering and KD Marine.
In 2009 ASCO made an offer for Seletar which then had 80 staff and was operating in Great Yarmouth, Aberdeen and Peterhead. They accepted and after committing to a two year earnout period, Shaun then spent the next six years running first Asco Marine and then latterly Seletar alone, expanding it into Lerwick, Scrabster, Invergordon, Dundee and Sunderland while Anna successfully built up the property business.
Between 2012 and 2015 they sold Genesis in a management buyout and the company is now one of their tenants.
In early 2015 Shaun felt it was time to leave ASCO and the shipping industry and with Waterloo Quay Properties booming he re-joined Anna to support that business which by then had 100,000 ft² of office space under its ownership. “When I returned in August 2015 we seemed to be riding the crest of a wave but then last April in the space of just three weeks, we lost more than a third of our income when our number one and number three tenants collapsed. We were left with nearly 35,000 ft² of empty space and a huge rental and service charge income void looming large.”
All they had worked for since 1988 had been re-invested in their property business and in less than the space of a month, they were “left staring into the abyss.”
However, supported by the Nationwide Building Society, they refinanced the business, consolidating six mortgages with two lenders into the one basket and considerably reducing both their interest and capital repayments.
“We are now securely until late 2021, things are picking up and I hope we never have another year like last year,” said Shaun. “We have confirmed several substantial new tenancy deals since last July whilst there are a few more bubbling under the surface which we hope will come to fruition soon. Since May last year we have filled over 40% of the space we were encumbered with because of those business failures.
“We have also started an initiative to attract new start-up businesses by offering three months of completely free space - no rent, no service charge and we don’t even charge for utilities.”