Cancer diagnosis leads to business re-think

A kidney cancer diagnosis forced a Watton businessman to completely restructure his company after he realised it was too dependent on him.

Doctors confirmed Steve Swallow, managing director of storage firm TS Associates, had the disease in August after it was initially thought he had kidney stones.

The 40-year-old had to stop working for two months following an operation to have the organ removed. A biopsy revealed he had stage-three cancer which had spread locally.

Mr Swallow, who began the business 10 years ago with his wife Suzanne and has two employees, said up to that point he had been working 'silly' hours.

He said: 'We had to think what we were going to do with the business. In a small company, the MD still has a lot of input into the business – basically if I didn't work, we didn't get any business in. The whole company was reliant on one person to do so much.'

The businessman realised he needed to drastically change the way TS Associates worked to secure its future.

'I thought I was immortal,' said the father-of-four. 'But where companies are reliant on one person, they are technically not a company – it's just a job. The company is valueless if it only works with them in it.'

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TS Associates used to create storage systems for companies to give them more space.

Mr Swallow had been carrying out site visits, doing surveys of the buildings, coming up with drawings and project managing the jobs.

Now it has changed its focus to purely supplying the storage equipment and have become largely internet-based thanks to a new website – www.4theworkplace.co.uk – designed by Norwich-based Metalfrog Studios.

The managing director said it meant he was now working reasonable hours and did not set foot inside the office at the weekends. He added: 'Suzanne could still run the business without any input from me.'

The enforced change could also prove lucrative for the business with Mr Swallow hoping turnover – which was at �1.5m before his diagnosis – could hit �3m in three years.

He said he was also looking into taking on two administration and customer service apprentices in the next four to six months.

The Watton businessman said he now felt his firm was moving 'in the right direction' and hoped other traders would learn from his situation.

n victoria.leggett@archant.co.uk