Chris Hanley

When I started my tenure as Ownerships operations manager Allen told me that he had taken a loan from the bank to fund Whisper. This was confirmed during the Owners Meetings at the Great Barr Hotel autumn 2004 where Allen talked about the Whisper project, it had been to the London Boat Show and more recently the Southampton Show.

During the presentation Allen apologised for bringing up non-Ownership business up during the meeting, (This one is between me and the bank) but he was very excited about the project and was convinced that it would be a great success. In reality it was being financed by the Free Management Bank. Yes the owners thought their money would be invested in new narrow boats for the scheme but Allen justified this deception because subsequent sales of Whisper would make such a huge profit the money would be paid back before anyone realised what was going on.

Unfortunately Whisper was not only badly financed it was badly designed. I could go on at length about how bad but sufficient to say that it did not generate a single sale and was sold for about one hundred thousand pounds/euros? in Saint Jean de Losne in 2008.

The cost to Ownerships? Well, by Allen’s estimation the construction came to about four hundred thousand and the subsequent modifications and marketing costs a further one hundred thousand.

Philip you are quite right, OS was doomed from the moment the whisper project was conceived, I became aware of the financial situation when about April or May 2006 boat yards and contractors began to complain about non payment. I had a meeting with Allen where I found out that there were 280 owners on the free management system and that the company was no longer generating enough income to pay for the running costs of Ownerships Ltd. As a result the Sinking Fund i.e. the owner’s money was being used to meet the wages bill etc to the point where that was also running on empty. It would appear that Allen had and continued to play fast and loose with the owners money with little regard to the consequences.

Allen’s response was to issue another round of Free Management invitations. Forty unwitting owners responded, which was enough to keep the company afloat for a few more months (and to finance his wedding). At the end of June with the coffers once again empty the buy-back scheme was launched simply as a method of generating money until the Whisper project started to make money.

By this time I was very disillusioned and very vocal to AM about the way the company was being run. In return he decided in the interests of the owners and Ownerships it would be better if his new wife was to run the operations side of the business and someone who knew what was going on was sidelined. Obviously someone with a background in HR was far more suitable than someone with thirty years experience in the marine industry. A short time later I was thankfully made redundant.

I thought the company was going to fold in 2006. It is incredible that Allen Mathews was able to paper over the cracks for another four years and I wonder how many more owners have been sucked into the financial black hole during that time.

And here, for now at least, the story ends, but I have managed to get my hands on a copy of a leaflet handed out by somebody trying to discredit OwnerShips back in 1996. You can read it from the link below.

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