hen an excitable Fergal Mullen gate-crashed the Laurents’ wedding anniversary meal, oblivious not only to the occasion but also – apparently – to the rule of never mixing business with friendship, there’s no way he could’ve known what series of events he was setting in motion.
It was April 2006, and Fergal, a partner at Highland Europe, was so keen to share his enthusiasm for his firm’s latest investment with his long-time friend Stan Laurent, that the former didn’t think twice about heading to the Notting Hill restaurant to share both his excitement – and their nice bottle of wine.
Fergal and Stan at the Highland Europe leadership event in Dublin in 2016.
Unaware of his third-wheel status, Fergal dominated the conversation with animated chatter about how he planned to integrate PhotoBox into the firm’s wider portfolio and develop it to reach its full potential.
He was mortified when he finally realised that the only merger Stan had intended to celebrate that evening was between himself and his wife. As it later turned out, however, Fergal’s humiliation wasn’t in vain.
“That hijacked dinner led to a really exciting life-changing ten years.”— Stan, Photobox President & CEO
Today Stan reflects that the hijacked dinner led to “a really exciting life-changing ten years” and him becoming President and CEO of the PhotoBox Group.
“It’s typical of Fergal that he would plant the seed of something exciting whilst sharing a really nice bottle of wine,” he laughs. “And at the end of the day, I really can’t hold it against him.”
At the time, Stan, a seasoned tech executive who’d held senior roles at AOL and QXL Ricardo, was contemplating his next career move. Fergal’s passion had piqued his interest. When the two friends spoke some weeks later, the partnership was firmly set in motion.
And what about the issue of mixing work and pleasure? Did that ever cause problems?
“Of course we’re always told you shouldn’t do something like this – you shouldn’t involve your friends in business,” Fergal admits, but he says that the two of them have always been very open in terms of communication. That’s created a strong working relationship based on trust.
Timeline of the Photobox Group. Image Credits: Photobox.
Photobox HQ in London. Image Credits: Photobox.
In 2016, PhotoBox was sold to a consortium of private equity investors. Under Stan’s leadership it had become the leading European consumer business for personalised goods. He’d overseen the acquisition and ensuing expansion of Moonpig, the leading site for personalised cards and gifts, as well as Hofmann in Spain and PosterXXL in Germany.
To celebrate these achievements and mark the beginning of a new chapter, Fergal penned a note to Stan thanking him for his commitment and efforts and noting that, in his opinion, one of the greatest outcomes of their shared PhotoBox journey had been the retention of their friendship.
The sale of PhotoBox by no means marked the end of the two friends’ professional collaboration either. In 2017, Stan was named Partner at Highland Europe, paving the way for plenty more exciting projects, adventures and no doubt shared bottles of wine – something that even Stan’s wife approves of.
“Of course we’re always told you shouldn’t do something like this - you shouldn’t involve your friends in business - but we have always been very open in terms of communication. That’s created a strong working relationship based on trust.”— Fergal, Partner