Noble already has her eye on two other acquisitions that will help to establish CMM as a leader in the mail communications sector. She has set her sights on growing turnover to £65m in the next three years and possibly seeking a listing on the Alternative Investment Market.
She admits that the mail industry is not a very sexy proposition, but says she's been hooked on all things mail since landing one of her first jobs as a sales representative with SR Communications. Noble moved on to a position as sales director at Mastermail, before borrowing £80,000 from her parents to set up mailing house City Financial Mail (CFM), together with her brother, Alastair Maclean. She sold the company 10 years later in a buy-in-management-buy-out backed by Barclays Private Equity. At the time, the business was turning over £17m, making just under £2m pre-tax profit and employed about 250 staff.
But a year after the sale, Noble went back to what she does best, founding data processing operation City Laser and buying polythene wrapping business Assembly and an overseas courier business.
The story of what happened next to CFM is testament to Noble's growing reputation for business comebacks. In 2003, Noble received a call offering her the chance to buy back CFM. Since the sale, the business had racked up serious losses and was facing receivership. Noble incorporated all the businesses under the CMM banner. "We closed down a factory and moved operations in-house, saving £500,000 on overheads," she says.
The turnaround was a success and within a year, Noble had managed to pay back the debts. Last year, CMM recorded a £1.2m pre-tax profit.
It's not hard to see why Noble has earned admiration from her industry peers. "The mailing house industry is very commoditised and competitive, but Noble is very astute," says Jo Lloyd, commercial director at direct marketing services provider Lloyd James.
CMM's co-founder and group production director Karen Hayley praises Noble's leadership skills. "She's hard-working, motivated, approachable and very hands-on."
Noble clearly has a passion for the industry. "The mailing industry always gets blamed if something goes wrong," she says. "We don't strive hard enough to make our services valued. Consolidation of the sector is key to changing this perception and the efforts of the Direct Marketing Association and regulatory procedures could be improved."
While Noble says issues such as Pricing in Proportion are a worry, foremost in her mind is the threat that domestic and foreign postal operators pose to her business. "We have to be aware of what Royal Mail and foreign postal operators are doing - the danger is that they will offer more value-added elements and become a one-stop service," she says. "Royal Mail has the resources to do this quickly, but lacks skills in client services and creativity. Our ability to inspire confidence in clients is one of our biggest strengths."
Noble has been busy seeking areas that will help to counter these threats.
CMM has recently secured two as yet undisclosed contracts for its overseas postage operation, FastPost, launched six months ago.
Noble also faces challenges closer to home. More than half of CMM's business relies on delivering financial mail, but changes to the Companies Act, whereby firms will be able to send financial documents electronically, could have a serious impact.
But, if comments by Peter Phillips, managing director of database marketing firm Hexfax are anything to go by, Noble is likely to take these challenges in her stride. "She's very single-minded and she's a tough cookie," he says.
- To develop new revenue streams to counter the threat posed by Royal Mail and foreign postal operators
- To help ensure that the mailing house industry is valued for its services
- To take advantage of digital print developments to scale the business.
This article was first published on Marketing Direct