For twelve years Michael Quinn of Liverpool apprenticed himself to an electrician until, with £10k in savings, he started his own electrical and mechanical contracting business, specialising in security and fire systems. In the early 90’s, he moved away from subcontracting for large companies — many of whom refused to pay promptly (or at all), putting subcontractors like himself out of business. Instead, since 1994, Quinn has partnered with his larger rivals, sharing their risks but enjoying their bargaining strength. Such a strategy has won Quinn a share of huge projects, with companies like Railtrack and the London Underground. Playing with the big boys has its challenges. The larger players, says Quinn, can afford to complete a project and get paid later. Without interim cash flow, Quinn relies heavily on bank overdrafts. When overdrafts proved insufficient, he approached the quasi-private, quasi-governmental Merseyside fund, and raised cash by selling options on equity.
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