A Norwich businessman who saved the business he founded from collapse sets out on a mission to make it profitable again.
Larry Rowe is back in the chair of the director of his educational software development company LJ Create, after the company he sold him to five years ago decided to wind him up.
Electronics engineer Mr. Rowe founded the company in 1979 after obtaining premises in Bowthorpe rent-free for a year through a sponsored program.
At its peak, the company – which developed software for science, technology and engineering education – had a turnover of £ 12million per year and had 100 employees in Norwich and 40 in the USA.
He sold the business after failing to obtain planning permission to convert the listed buildings of the Costessey Park Golf Club – which he also owns – into office space.
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However, within five years, LJ Create ran into financial difficulties with the new owners of Infinitas Learning.
Mr Rowe said Infinitas had “completely changed” the direction of the company, closing its US offices in Long Island and Atlanta to focus on European markets.
“Business savvy says if you are hoping to open up new markets, keep doing what you did, which was making money, but they shut down the pieces that were successful and the like. did not work, ”he said.
In April this year LJ Create went into liquidation and Mr Rowe, 74, stepped in to save it – paying around £ 1million for the company he sold five years earlier for £ 5million. of pounds sterling.
It employed 40 people when it went into liquidation, but 20 have since agreed to return. His senior team of three, including his son Chris Rowe, also remains in office.
“There is a loss of trust among our customers, so we are trying to restore that trust and reassure people that we are back in business,” he said.
“But our first objective must be to rationalize in order to become profitable.”
Mr Rowe said the company is rebuilding “strong relationships” in the United States and has a backlog of potential business that it has not been able to fill in its final months under Infinitas. .
He estimated that annual sales of £ 3-4million would be enough to bring the business back to profitability.
The company will move to new premises in Bowthorpe in the coming weeks.
A desire to design
Before being a businessman, Larry Rowe was an academic.
An electronics engineer by training, he taught electronics at City College Norwich in the 1970s. His career in software production began with creating programs for his students.
“I went into business on the peak of the microprocessor, which appeared in the 1970s and has had an impact on everything since.”
In an era where learning is increasingly done on the computer, LJ Create builds software primarily for universities and colleges, but also offers resources for elementary and secondary schools.
At its peak, the company had 60 software developers working in Norwich, now over 3,000 products. Mr Rowe said the downsizing means the company will reduce its lineup.
After resuming his role as Managing Director, Rowe hopes to get LJ Create back on its feet within three years, when he retires.
At its peak, LJ Create operated through agents in 80 countries, providing educational software in English and Spanish.
His biggest contract, worth around £ 6million, was to help the former Soviet country Kazakhstan set up an independent education system, as part of a program involving 100 schools. He planned weekly teaching programs in Russian for Kazakh teachers for two years.
Mr Rowe said: “We got involved at a time when they were looking to move from an education system to the blackboard and take a big step forward in teaching technology.”
According to Rowe, the UK’s strong academic reputation is a major selling point for LJ Create’s products, especially in countries with less established education systems like Central America or the Middle East.
“Most of the places we go, the quality of the teaching staff is lower and they are more dependent on the use of resources.”