Interview: Thomas Maerz; CEO tmgroup

With a Competition and Markets Authority investigation hanging over them until recently, and with new ownership which has brought about changes in the management team, it’s fair to say conveyancing search and technology provider tmgroup have had a testing last 24 months. And that’s before we consider the impact the current property market volumes have had on theirs, and many other businesses.

In July 2021, Canadian group Dye & Durham agreed to acquire tmgroup from longstanding owners Connells , Countrywide & LSL. The acquisition, which followed extensive activity in the UK conveyancing services market by Dye & Durham, triggered a Competitions and Markets Authority investigation in October of 2021 where it identified that “it is or may be the case that this merger has resulted or may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within a market or markets in the United Kingdom.”

An in-depth investigation was launched in December 2021 which resulted, 18 months later, in the instruction by the CMA to Dye & Durham to sell tmgroup in August 2022.

In July 2023, almost 2 years to the day since the sale to Dye & Durham, tmgroup was sold to AURELIUS, a German investment group. In August 2023, following a demanding couple of years CEO Joe Pepper stepped down with Thomas Maerz installed as CEO as the AURELIUS team starts to get to grips with the business and the wider conveyancing market.

Today’s Conveyancer sat down with Thomas Maerz to discuss the current state of play at tmgroup, the view of AURELIUS on the market, and plans for 2024 and beyond.

Who are you and what do you do?

On a professional level I am the CEO of tmgroup responsible for the overall strategy for the business. I have been with AURELIUS since 2019 and although I live in Munich, I am at the head office in Swindon 3-4 days a week working with my teams at tmgroup to deliver growth to our shareholders.

The response from the team so far has been exemplary. We’ve got a small team in from AURELIUS to support the existing management infrastructure and the welcome we’ve had has been brilliant. I am a big believer in collaboration – the team is always first, which means we operate with flat hierarchies and focus on transparent communication which I believe has helped with this first phase of the transition.

Although I admit that this market is relatively new to me personally, I have over 15 years’ experience delivering complex change programmes in private equity investments, mergers, and acquisitions, and in investment banking as a trader of Asset Backed Securities.

Now that the CMA investigation is concluded and the sale of tmgroup has been completed, what are the plans for the future?

Understandably the last 2 years have been frustrating for so many of the team here at tmgroup, with much uncertainty. I am really pleased for the team that this is now behind us, so we can move forward, full steam ahead.

For me it is reassuring to join and lead such a well-established business in an ever-evolving industry. It was clear from the outset that tmgroup is a respected business with a plethora of talented people and a very good customer base with plenty of opportunity for growth and development.

We’re a service business in a commoditised market and we must ensure we are offering the right service to our clients. That also means focusing on our core business so the decision has been made, as a team, that anything that is not core to our strategic objectives must be placed on hold. For us this includes our estate agent communications platform, mio, which has been paused for now, while we ensure our focus is on the right bit of our business and service.

I’ve met with numerous key customers already and heard first-hand how much they value and appreciate the knowledge, experience, and support of our brilliant staff. The objective for us now is to continue to build on our excellent customer service which we know is well received, appreciated and vitally important to our customers. We are focused on customer-centricity in terms of really listening to our conveyancing customers and providing them with the very best service and products to make their business processes more convenient and effective.

Are there any plans for future acquisition?

Right now, we’re focused on tmgroup and supporting the team here. We plan to grow organically in the market and focus on releasing our potential, after the constraints placed on us by the CMA, which prevented us from building new partner relationships; so that is going to be a big part of our short-term activity.

But you’ll appreciate that having invested in tmgroup there will be other acquisition opportunities, especially as the market inevitably returns. AURELIUS has a long standing “buy and build” approach; so, it’s a not now but never say never.

What is your view of the current state of the property market; what opportunities and threats are out there?

The glaring threat now is the current state of the property market with figures that we have not seen since around 2008. If the market stays weak, interest rates high and with ongoing high property costs, then we will continue to see low volumes, similar to 2008, where the recovery was slow.

There is no denying that we’re still amidst a crash, which is dragging on and painful for all involved, property professionals, consumers, and service providers alike. As transactions continue to take too long, it is frustrating for everyone. With our market reach we hear every iteration of how the market is doing and speculation about how and when it will return – this time last year, many predicted a recovery by now but sadly we are where we are.

That said, we also recognise that this presents a big opportunity for us, to build foundations so that when we move into the recovery period, we’re well placed to take advantage of the opportunity to grow. The million-dollar question is when that will be, and truthfully, we’re simply not sure. I’m optimistic but mindful that there are other geopolitical issues at play abroad and at home, such as the situations in Ukraine and Israel, the risks posed by new variants of Covid over the Winter months, and anticipated elections in 2024.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I remain upbeat, and I am a glass half-full person so I am hopeful we will see a steady recovery over the next 12-18 months. I am confident that tmgroup will thrive and grow over the next few years as we commit to delivering not just first-class customer service but a market leading conveyancing solution as well.

Thomas Maerz was speaking to Today’s Conveyancer.

One Response

  1. As I understand it there will be sweeping redundancies at TM over the coming weeks and months, so many changes afoot…..

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