“I surround myself with people who are smarter than me – and I’m better for it!”

Your most precious asset is time, and you must choose how to spend it.  That was the key message delivered to the audience on Thursday 23 February, by our final Guest Speaker of this year’s February Entrepreneurship Speaker Series hosted by the Bettany CentreMichael Toxvaerd is a serial entrepreneur who, with his wife Sarah Willingham, is the moving spirit behind one of the UK’s faster-growing listed companies, Nightcap plc.  In a riveting presentation, he shared the story of his life as a serial entrepreneur and investor and his philosophy of how personal and professional values define success.

Raised in a small town in Denmark, Michael left school to go straight into industry, joining what was a small telecoms business.  In the late 1990s/early 2000s, telecoms were booming rapidly in Scandinavia, and the firm grew in line with the market.  Michael’s career progressed quickly and his big break was a move into Sales and Marketing, leading to a senior management role.  To his own surprise, he was subsequently responsible for leading a workforce of several hundred while still in his early twenties.  When the business was sold in 2003, he left Denmark to formalise his management education with an MBA at Cranfield.  The experience was fantastic, he says.  Not only did he learn a huge amount, but Michael also met people with whom he would work with as future business colleagues and, most importantly, his wife, Sarah.

In the nineteen years since leaving Cranfield, Michael has divided his life into three phases: first as an entrepreneur, then as an investor and now as an enabler, with some overlap between these.  Until 2009 he was primarily an entrepreneur.  He founded NeutraHealth as a listed cash-shell on the London Stock Exchange, a nutritional supplements business which consolidated a fragmented market of small businesses into a large profitable company which was eventually sold to a larger Indian company listed in Mumbai.  This taught him crucial lessons about creating and extracting business value: “Pick your timing, go in hard, build fast and create additional value.  Build other people, and they will build the business.  Do not focus on selling your time – it is too precious.  Look where you can bring your talents to bear, and double down on that.”  Convinced that others might make a better CEO, Michael exited from NeutraHealth when the business was sold and entered the next stage of his journey.

The global financial turmoil of 2009 sharply cut the market value of many UK-based public companies.  At the same time, Middle Eastern institutions were sitting on large amounts of uninvested cash due to the high oil price.  For someone prepared to take a longer-term view, here was a great opportunity.  With his old Cranfield classmate, Zak Hydari, Michael created a vehicle for investing in undervalued assets, amongst these the investment bank, now Rasmala, which operates between London and Dubai.  Within 18 months, the portfolio of investments grew by two and a half times as the financial markets rebounded and all but the bank was successfully sold.  His involvement with Rasmala lasted a decade.  At the same time, he was backing other growth businesses and feeding his desire to expand his knowledge by serving on a variety of listed and unlisted company boards.

In the third, the most recent phase of his professional life, Michael has moved mainly into the role of enabler.  Like his work with Zak Hydari and Rasmala that Zak still Chairs, he invests, advises, and mentors the next generation of business founders across a range of business sectors.  At the same time, he cannot resist scratching his own entrepreneurial itch.  In 2021 he and Sarah identified an opportunity in the hospitality sector.  As the UK economy was still struggling to emerge from Covid, many cocktail bars were hampered by debt.  The couple believed that this sector would rebound strongly and created a plan to replace company debt with equity by raising money through a listed shell company.  Every business opportunity, in Michael’s experience, requires its own considered financing structure, it is where most of the eventual value is created.  The end result is Nightcap plc, which is repeating the successful formula of consolidating a fragmented market previously deployed by NeutraHealth.  The company is now nearly two-thirds of the way to hitting its target of creating a £100 mn business by 2024, in only its third year of operation.

To date, Michael has been involved in acquiring some 20 private companies, investing more than £150 mn in equity, and has led 14 disposals with a total value of over £250 mn.  Yet, if it looks like he is a workaholic, nothing can be further from the truth.  By rigorously controlling his time, he devotes three days of his week to business, avoids working weekends and spends at least 50 days a year focused on travelling with his family: in fact, several years ago, Michael and Sarah took three years out to travel the world with their four children.  And he still has time to serve as a member of the Bettany Centre’s Advisory Board.

What makes all this possible is Michael’s ruthless protection of his time.  It’s your most valuable finite commodity, he says.  Invest it wisely!

Find out more about Nightcap plc.