Adversity often brings opportunity

Peter Done: Managing Director and Founder

October 02 2018

One of the topics in today’s In the Loop is how to avoid an employment tribunal. Reading it reminded me how and why we founded Peninsula in the first place. There’s a valuable business lesson to be learned here. Thirty-five years ago, we were running another medium-sized business. At that time, we acquired a smaller company and took advice from our employment lawyers as to how to integrate the two companies, including transferring over all the contracts of employment. We knew as much about employment law as the next business owner does, i.e. not a great deal, but we trusted in our lawyers to provide the right advice. Unexpected legal action We were surprised, then, to be taken to tribunal by one of the employees from the smaller company. It was the first time this had happened to us in all our years of business. But we followed our employment lawyers’ advice to the letter until, the day before the tribunal was due to be heard, they advised us to settle. We did as they recommended and ended up paying costs plus legal fees. All in all, it cost us about £25,000, which was an absolute fortune in those days. But—and here’s the lesson—from adversity comes opportunity. A gap in the market At first, we were livid with the lawyers for what we perceived as both a lack of bottle and poor advice on their part. But once we’d let off steam, we started to think that there had to be a better way of doing this. There was no one else to get employment advice from other than the lawyers, and it seemed to us like they only got involved when it was already too late to sort things out in a reasonable way. As the business books say, always think to yourself, “WTOH?” It stands for, “What’s the opportunity here?” and it’s a great mantra when things are going pear-shaped. And there was a better way. A fresh idea We devised a model where companies who couldn’t afford or didn’t need their own HR department (primarily SMEs) could have ongoing, regular, 24/7 employment law advice on tap from the best people in the industry, who dealt with real, commercial situations every day. Basically, the idea we’d come up with offered an SME its own HR department and employment law team rolled up into one, at the end of the phone or fax (in those days) and now by email and app, with the added and massive benefit of an indemnity package, should the SME be taken to a tribunal. That’s how Peninsula came about. I gave myself a year’s sabbatical from the other company, leaving my brother in charge of it, and we developed the concept further by hiring some great people in the employment law field. Then we hit the road to get the product out there. Face the challenges Of course, we faced challenges—we were a market disruptor, taking on a long-established model of industry practice. But we knew the idea would work because we also knew, from personal experience, that the existing way of doing it simply didn’t serve the needs of SMEs. There was demand and Peninsula’s model offered a way to answer it. Thirty-five years later, we’re the market leader not only in the UK but also Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The idea worked. And my point is this: we all face really tough times in business. But look for the opportunities. Look for the reasons why it’s happened and seek solutions or alternatives. Think laterally and strategically. There’s always a way through and beyond the current situation. Incidentally, when it comes to avoiding an employment tribunal, the best way is to get on the phone to our advice team and ask for their help. So, however small the problem, always seek their advice on 0800 028 2420.

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