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Our first Masterclass of 2019 in Sheffield featured one of Sheffield’s most famous entrepreneurs, David Grey MBE of OSL Group, who gave a brief description of the ups and downs of his career and the lessons he has learnt.

Early Days

Most entrepreneurs either sold stuff when they were young, or knew an entrepreneur really well. David sold newspapers at a profit when he was a kid (age 11). At 17 he started a mobile disco, then a DJ at a nightclub, but messed up his A levels (0). He went to Tommy Wardens, a well known Sheffield firm as a trainee accountant, left, and got a job selling bearings, but the products were often late. He saw an opportunity to sell seals which are part of bearings.


Set up Oil Seal Services Ltd (OSL). Got to have a competitive edge. In OSL’s case it was market inertia, stay with the supplier you know mentality. Grew it but restricted geographically so sold the business. OSL had 12 companies at its peak but sold 6 because they were limited by various different factors.

In 2008 David bought a business for £6m the day before the financial crash; OSL owed £13m in total and was bust-but so were the banks. It took 4 years to repay it.

Disaster – The strike at British Coal and the miners strike nearly finished him off-much the biggest customer of OSL’s seals were the mines-had 120 customers -all mines but they all went on strike!

Lessons Learnt

Got to have a competitive edge. Understanding the market is key. Learn where you sit in it. This is critical to growth

Only do business with people you trust. Instinct is important about people.

As CEO never let anyone think you are in trouble.

Be fleet of foot when difficult financial problems arrive.

Take competitors out for lunch-you always learn something-even if its about another competitor.

Businesses need to have diverse customers-don’t be reliant on 1 or 2 customers.


Nick Butler