As a teenager, Zoë Tibell didn’t want to be a pop star, vet or even a nurse
she wanted to be an accountant. There was no point in studying or taking a break
after school, instead aged 16 she followed her dream because she believed that
was the quickest way to achieve it.
‘I decided at thirteen I wanted to become an accountant. I wanted to be in a
profession, have a qualification, and made the decision to leave school at 16 to
start working, despite what the teachers said.’
Tibell went to work for Larking Gowen and study for her AAT qualification. By
the tender age of 22 she had gone on to qualify as a fully fledged ICAEW
‘Because I started at 16, I was able to study while working and got practical
experience at the same time, which helped me get through that quite quickly. At
that time it was quite unusual,’ says Tibell.
‘AAT is still a good qualification and good stepping stone into chartered,’
Eight years at the firm put her at a crossroads: should she become a partner in
practice or the big wide business world? She spent two not particularly
enjoyable years at a packaging company as financial controller but at least she
cut her teeth there ‘number-crunching’ through group consolidation and
Then Bounty, a baby marketing group, came along in 1997 and took her on as
financial controller. While Tibell was aware it had been sold again after a
management buy-out and the incumbent FD was likely to move on, little did she
realise that the company would change hands several times, crossing continents,
before she got the chance to invest in ownership of the business.
Bounty had been acquired by Snyder, NASDAQ-listed at the time. Tibell
reshaped the finance team to deal with international reporting requirements,
which included converting figures to US GAAP.
‘It was a great time to join, everything was completely changing. It had been
an MBO business yet was still fairly quiet and slow then, but had to change
becoming part of Snyder, in particular in reporting.’
FD Alan Hayward moved on a year later and Tibell took the top role, just four
years after qualifying, but crucially she points out by then she had ten years’
accountancy and business experience. Bounty has almost become a national
institution through its blanket coverage of UK hospitals, supplying ante-natal
and post-natal marketing and product packs for parents.
Bought and sold
It has proved popular for private equity firms and each owner has provided
Tibell with new experience. For Snyder, Bounty was part of a buy and build
strategy at a young investment firm.
‘We were the second substantial acquisition so none of their management was
placed into business and they left us to it,’ says Tibell, but Snyder had
‘tight’ reporting deadlines and ‘fairly hard’ profit targets. ‘We had to become
much more professional.’
Later Snyder itself was bought by Havas, with Bounty something of a ‘spare
part’, Tibell explains. ‘We were acquired as part of the mix and weren’t
terribly happy being part of the large corporate environment. They were an
advertising agency group and we’re more of a media owner.’
Tibell and her team still reported under US GAAP, so this made little
difference to her department, nor did the consolidation work. The biggest relief
for Tibell was that Havas sold Bounty just as it was preparing itself to handle
ECI Partners wanted to invest in the business, and took Tibell and the rest
of the management team along for the ride to another MBO. The team had just
three months to put together its business plan for the next three years:
‘Suddenly there was financial and commercial due diligence crawling all over the
business, it was a bit daunting at the time.’
With Bounty’s turnover kicking around the £20m mark for the last few years,
the business has undergone further change. The finance function for example has
restructured so that Tibell’s 17 staff are split between financial accounting
and planning and business support.
‘That means on one hand the nitty-gritty is looked after; the reporting and
the integrity of numbers, but we can also support the business with
And so to Kaboose, Bounty’s current owners. The US-based ‘family-focused’
online media company has certainly shown some faith in Bounty’s future, and in
the process it has provided a nice return for ECI and Bounty executives. The
purchase price was £70m minus long-term debts and liabilities of £12m. The
opportunity to take the money and head to pastures new was too much for Bounty
MD Simon Williamson to resist, leaving the company just weeks after the deal was
But unlike Tibell’s predecessor Hayward, who left a year after the company’s
previous sale following the MBO, the potential of the new deal means Tibell has
not put a limit on her continuing career at the company.
The Kaboose deal could potentially see Bounty expand into Europe where
similar baby scheme providers exist. Bounty’s unique selling point is that it
has 400 people who have daily face-to-face contact with mums and maternity
units. ‘No-one else can say they do that,’ she boasts.
But Europe is still far off. Bounty will work closely with Kaboose, itself a
large provider of maternity marketing services in the US, to expand its online
Tibell’s role allows her to operate as a general manager rather than just an
accountant, which she suggests shows that her accounting qualification was in
fact a means to an end: ‘I don’t see myself as an accountant, but as a director
of Bounty who happens to be the FD. There’s no socialising with accountants
although my hubby owns his own practice,’ she admits.
While Tibell believes that Bounty is more of a support network for parents
than a marketing business, it undergoes what she describes as ‘stringent audits’
of how its marketing programmes are used, particularly in terms of renting out
client lists to other businesses.
It also works closely with health professionals to make sure the goods and
information supplied in the baby packs are appropriate.
‘Health professionals really value what we do, we bring information where
parents are completely information hungry, but the professionals have a final
say on anything that goes into the packs, if they don’t like it, it doesn’t go
And with the launch of a Bounty charity, begun by Tibell, the company has to
be even more careful about not blurring the lines between advice, support and
its business model. ‘It’s not commercial. We’re about supporting family-related
causes, but our work as a business in supporting the NHS is at the heart of
Bounty anyway, that kind of thinking is already here.’
For now the nearly 2.5 million parents subscribed to Bounty services seem
happy with its service.
Birth is a big business
While Bounty has had a host of suitors interested in its business model in
recent times – it has been acquired five times in 12 years – its core product of
new mum packs is by no means a new phenomenon.
In fact its first pack was introduced in 1959 by founders Heinz, which
reportedly used birth announcements published in newspapers with addresses to
send a congratulations letter and free products direct to new mums. In 1961 it
broke through the maternity market by agreeing a deal with the London College of
midwives to distribute ‘new mum pack’ claim cards through its 200 branches.
Other highlights included sending a ‘new mum pack ’to the Princess of Wales
in 1981, and a ‘pregnancy guide’ in 1983.
Some 20 years on, and the business has changed almost beyond recognition.
Today it distributes 3.4m packs, and employs 590 people – 465 of whom operate
as its field operatives, delivering the packs to mums.
While the baby packs are still core, it offers clients a host of channels to
access the lucrative baby market: sample packs, information guides, syndicated
mailings and email newsletters.
Its website has 600,000 opted-in members, with 19m page hits a month.
‘We have a community of mums online who ask each other for advice,’ says
Bounty FD Zoë Tibell. ‘As a club what do mums and families want? That’s what we
strive to achieve.’
Tibell admits that some mums will be pleased to receive product marketing,
‘and some won’t’.
‘But we have a stringent audit procedure on how our marketing programmes are
Future product marketing could well be aimed at dads, suggests Tibell, and
Bounty is looking at how to provide them with the info and advice they need.
‘You have to consider dads in the mix. We’ve done some research on what dads
would like, so we are considering products.’
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