How Phillip Cable masters maritime business

Phillip Cable is the co-founder and CEO of Maritime Asset Security and Training Ltd, or MAST for short. As a former naval officer, he's weathered his fair share of storms, but after his business left the growth phase and entered choppy waters he had to work hard to rise above this new challenge.

We spoke with him to hear more about how he founded his business, the lessons he's learned and how his team are working to make the maritime environment a safer place to live and work.

Could you begin by telling us what you do at MAST?

In a nutshell: risk management and security. We focus on the maritime environment, dealing with super yacht and shipping clients as well as the insurance market. But this also extends to services for overseas governments too. Our services cover physical protection, including armed security in difficult environments. We design and instal security systems on yachts and high-value homes and, at the extreme end of our business we deal with kidnap and ransom situations on behalf of clients.

What made you start the business?

I originally trained as a solicitor, then had an early mid-life crisis at 24 and gave it up to join the Royal Navy. I served at sea for nearly six years as a Warfare Officer and a Diving Officer. When I came out in my early 30s, I did a Master's degree in Maritime Law and worked in the Middle East conducting security assessments. Then I met my business partner. His background is UK special forces, and he'd done a lot of work for high-net-worth individuals, so together it was a fairly neat skill set to start MAST.

How did the challenge of starting a business compare to the Navy?

It's hard to compare, but in both cases you have to be doggedly determined, tenacious and absolutely focused on the end aim. You don't get shot at in business, but it does feel like that sometimes. You have to think on your feet, to adapt.

What's the most exciting thing you've done at MAST?

This industry didn't really exist 10 years ago. I get quite a lot of satisfaction from having pioneered the establishment of the private security industry in the marine environment. Fundamentally our mission is to make that environment a safer place to live and work. That's what it's about. Protecting people. When our team goes on board and you see the sigh of relief, it's pretty satisfying.

What matters most about where you work?

Flexibility is an important thing to have in a business. I think the reason serviced offices succeed isn't that they're necessarily the best value per square foot, it's that you get the full office set-up and facilities for a rental period. You don't have to lease, worry about business rates or anything else. You pay, and you can walk away quickly if things change – which is important, because things do change.

Can you tell us about a change you've dealt with?

We were at a point where the business had grown exponentially, we were hiring and we over-expanded. The market rapidly changed and we suddenly found we were sustaining serious losses. That was an extremely difficult period, much more than the growth phase, simply because it was shocking. You have to not panic, and work quickly.

I brought in a turnaround specialist who had done a lot of restructuring at big companies and knew the right methodology. Together, the senior team worked out a plan that, unfortunately, involved redundancies. But methodically and quickly we worked through how we were going to save the company and get it back into shape.

Is that one of the biggest challenges you've faced?

Operationally we've had a number of very difficult things to deal with, of course. Staff being ill at sea and people getting injured. Getting these people off the ship, dealing with insurance and supporting their families in a 24/7 environment is tough. It's a dynamic business, and you get used to that, but it does have its moments when you're put to the test.

Do you find it hard to balance your work and your personal life?

I do. When I first started my business, I didn't have children. I would find it extremely difficult to start a business now – it would put a lot of pressure on my wife. Because the business is established and I have a good team around me, I'm able to concentrate on the big, strategic decisions.

The work/life balance thing is really important, though. Otherwise you can burn out. I make it my business to take the children to school and pick them up a couple of times a week, and try to schedule things around that. With some of the tasks I'm doing it really doesn't matter if it's done at nine o'clock or noon.

Is it the same for your team?

Definitely. For me, the culture of our business is all about delivery, and I'd rather someone was honest and open if they have an issue and they need to work from home. I always support that. But equally you want them to be flexible too, because a lot of our work can be out of hours, on weekends or involve going away. It's an adult balance, and I find it works quite well.

Phillip Cable is CEO of MAST Ltd, based at Regus offices in Stansted.

Three tips from Phillip…

1. Don't believe your own hype. You need to have a clear business plan that includes a product or service people actually want, and then you must be able to sell it. But get your financials right. And watch Dragons' Den – never say I don't do finance!

2. When you start to make money, don't assume it's going to be forever. Retain some of it, and don't buy things you can't afford. Cash flow is vital.

3. Don't be put off by failure. You will get setbacks, and that's when you really tell if you can make it or not.

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