In a statement on Linkedin, Customade Group CEO David Leng has announced that he has left the business. The statement is as follows:

After an exceptionally tough 4 years at Customade Group I am pleased to be able to step away from my Chief Exec role and successfully leave the business in very good shape. So much has been done during the lockdown year by suppliers, staff, and customers to support the business it has been a great achievement by them all to reach this point.

I have learned a huge amount during the journey and am proud to have played my part in securing the future for so many people. The administration period during lockdown was incredibly tough and it was a real shame that we could not find a solvent solution that would have helped more people, but I am confident that every possible option was considered.

Customade Group is a great business and has a great team and I wish them and all the suppliers and customers the very best.

Read the Linkedin post here:

Milestone moment for Customade Group

When I think back to that period last year, just as the industry was getting to grips with the economic landscape and how to operate in a pandemic, this story was beginning to play out. There had been long term concerns about the Customade Group before the pandemic hit, but the first lockdown and inevitable economic consequences that followed it simply hastened the fall of the company.

Suppliers weren’t being paid. Then again barely anyone was being paid during the pandemic. But as the sector reopened the quest for suppliers to be paid became more and more difficult. I was having daily conversations with key people involved and it was becoming clear that there was a messy end coming.

In my 12 years running this site, covering all the major mergers, acquisitions and administrations in UK fenestration, this is perhaps the most farcical, shameless, undignified and shambolic end to the collapse for a company I have seen. First, there was the general handling of the entire affair. Everyone was talking about it. It was literally the centre news story of the sector for weeks, if not months. The rumour mill was in overdrive. Everyone was talking to everyone. There was no corner of the sector that did not know about the trouble at the company or the huge mess they were in. So where was the management of the situation? Where were the statements to calm the market? Where were the press releases to provide clarity to the situation playing out? The answer was there weren’t any. Instead, what we got was a delusional social media campaign that was the equivalent of burying your head in the sand and pretending that the very thing every single person was up in arms about wasn’t happening.

Normally, when a company is going under or is being bought there is a certain amount of secrecy to protect the process. However, this was a very different scenario. This was a company being ripped apart in public. Everyone knew what was happening when it was happening and who was involved. This was very much the opposite of a normal situation and it was handled in the most bizarre fashion. The responsibility required from those at the top to steady the ship, reassure those worried about their supply, reassure those they owed money to, never came.

Today’s news is a milestone in the story of Customade Group. This is not the end, however. There is no indication who the new CEO will be. Whoever the owners, Nimbus, choose, it needs to be a deeply experienced person, and I would argue it needs to be one from outside the industry with skills specifically in turning around companies. I do not envy the person who lands that role. They would be joining at a time where the industry is crippled by supply chain problems and the reputation of the business has been badly damaged. Damage has to be laid at the door of those running the company. As always, the buck stops with the people at the top.

A different outcome?

Could things have been different for the company? Many of you will remember at the time the intense and deeply personal outrage from many who were directly affected by the fallout of the collapse of the company. Jobs were lost, suppliers were going unpaid and installers were strongarmed into continuing to buy from the “new” company else risk their previous warranties being voided. Anger, as you can appreciate, was louder and more vociferous than I had ever seen in reaction to the collapse of a company.

As a result, vast swathes of the sector, including ourselves, pledged not to deal with the business in response to the collapse and subsequent handling of the crisis. It would have made for interesting reading to know what the people at Nimbus were making of it all. They could not have anticipated such a reaction.

In other sectors, when this sort of thing happens, the top level of management usually resigns or are sacked to make way for new people to take the reformed company in a new direction. It gives the business a fresh face, a different perspective and some hope to those looking in from the outside that things might get better. This did not happen. The upper-level management team stayed in place, showing little remorse or humility in the wake of the crisis that was playing out. It left a bad taste in the mouth with many and it has allowed the anger and ill will to fester and smoulder until today’s inevitable news. Had they moved on at the formation of the new company it would have taken some of the sting and venom out of the situation, calmed passions that were running high and would have helped to settle things.

I do believe that had David and others moved on at the time of the buyout, the reputational damage and the backlash from the rest of the sector wouldn’t have been anywhere near as bad. As a result, that could have allowed the group to come back stronger, quicker, and more companies would not have been so wary to deal with them.

My last observation on this story is on the statement made tonight on Linkedin. This line in particular is what has once again angered people: I am pleased to be able to step away from my Chief Exec role and successfully leave the business in very good shape. Success? Good shape? Sites have been closed, jobs have been lost, suppliers have lost significant amounts of money. By what measure of success is this? The tone of the statement was way off tonight. Humility, restraint and acknowledgement of the true impact the crisis had. This statement is not likely to repair any of the bridges burnt.

What happens now remains to be seen. A new CEO will be announced soon. The business still needs rebuilding. All whilst the industry struggles to supply amid product shortages, endless price increases and consumer demand that is far outstripping what can be delivered. The task at hand is huge. I hope that the people placed at the top of the company are able to guide the group through what are perhaps the most difficult conditions yet to come during this pandemic.

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