When John Barton, co-founder of Quick Reach, tragically passed away in February 2020, his death not only devastated the lives of his family and his brother David, who he formed the company with in 2014, but also left a seismic hole in the business world and deeply affected all those who knew him. We recently spoke with David about the unbreakable bond of love he had with John and the enduring legacy he left behind.
“Life and business is a journey and the hardest part of that journey for me was when John passed away,” explains David Barton. “He was not only my brother but also my best friend, best man, business partner and soul mate: my ultimate hero. On the 29th February 2020 our lives changed forever when he was taken from us.”
John Barton’s own journey began 52 years ago in Liverpool when he was born into a family whose love and support has been integral to everything he and David accomplished. “So many people doubted us when myself and John took the decision to create Quick Reach,” says David. “However, our family advised us to just have a go and that’s exactly what we did. We never looked back.”
This faith at the very beginning has since been matched every step of the way, which gave John and David all the support they needed to lay the foundations on which to build the company. “We were brought up in the most loving and supportive family,” adds David. “It’s fair to say that the only dramas our family ever had were caused by me and Our Kid! Our mum and dad always gave us 100% of their support, regardless of whether we were guilty or not. My dad said there were enough people in the world to knock you down so it’s important to stand by your family. John also made it his rule in life to always put family first and made the point that when the world falls around you, family will be there for you. He got this from my mum and dad and this rule has helped me through this time.”
In addition to the love John had for David and his family, he was also a very generous man. He would struggle to walk past a homeless person or someone in need without giving something, while it will be no surprise to learn that Quick Reach also has a strong altruistic streak and has raised thousands for charities.
As well as his generosity, John was also renowned for his ability to make anyone laugh. The fact he always had a smile on his face is a clear indicator of why he had such a positive impact on people, as David outlines: “My brother was a people person and saw the good in everyone, no matter what. He used to say to me – and it’s now one of the core company beliefs – that if a person does one thing wrong, don’t dwell on it. Instead look at the 99 things they’ve done right. John Garrison, the Chairman and CEO of Terex, once said to John and I: ‘Surround yourself with positivity and if you encounter one negative, always follow it up with three positives,’ which is another mantra we have within the business.”
As well as having such a positive outlook, the deep connection that John and David had also served them well on the business front. “One particular advantage myself and John had was that we always knew what the other was thinking. This was a great help in business, although it also meant we’d sometimes make each other laugh at the most inappropriate of times. It didn’t take much to set us both off giggling, which would soon grow into full-blown belly laughter. I’m just sorry if it became inappropriate at my sister’s wedding, funerals or christenings, business meetings…”
Working in tandem, the Barton brothers formed many fruitful working relationships within the business community and these were reflected in the countless tributes to John, as David outlines: “Because it is such a surreal time you can never really thank everyone personally but we’ve had some lovely messages of support. It’s hard to single out too many individuals but the likes of Deano and Charlie at Sky Jack, Natwest, Genie, JLG, Manitou, Snorkel, Steven Millward Schofield Sweeney Solicitors, Gill, Wayne at Mercia and John Barnes, as well as all our family and friends, all played an essential role in assisting myself and John in developing Quick Reach, as well as helping me during this very difficult time. Life doesn’t get easier but it does move on and we will get through it.
“The loyalty that John was able to bring out in people is vital in business. This was especially evident when one particular powered access company saw John’s death as the opportunity to begin an attack on our business, clients and staff. Thankfully the respect people had for John meant we were all able to pull together even stronger in his name.
“John had a knack for getting the best out of people and he was so proud of Quick Reach and our staff. His thoughtfulness and consideration came out in his business approach and while we couldn’t give huge pay rises, John would buy lunches, ice-creams on a hot day or some other little surprise that would bring a smile to someone’s face. In his later years he orchestrated some really impressive business deals. Rather than shaking his hand I’d instead give him a hug and tell him how proud I was of him. We used to childishly celebrate each business deal with a little dance, even though John couldn’t really dance!”
Two particular deals that John was instrumental in (and definitely would have had him dancing!) were the negotiation of a private equity deal with Mercia Fund Management. He went onto organise and court banks to create a high quality ABL (Asset Back Lending) facility before finally signing with RBS.
“If I’m honest John was a better businessman than me,” says David, modestly. “He was calmer and more calculated in his approach. He used to say I was the tornado and he’d sweep up behind me. He was talented in so many ways but his character also helped attract other skillful people into the business. He called our senior management team ‘The Kingsman’s Table’ as they all excelled at something. We’ve got a great team to drive further growth of the business. It’s interesting that the week before he passed away, John stood up in front of a selected few and said: ‘You are the Quick Reach business now – not the Barton Brothers,’ as if to lay out his future for the company. I’d constantly tell John how proud I was of him and now it’s my job to make him proud, so that’s what I’m endeavoring to do.
“It isn’t about the Barton brothers anymore, it’s about a senior management team that is really pushing the company. They’re doing a tremendous job for me and we have a solid footing to move on. We’re still immensely ambitious about where we want to take the business and that hasn’t changed, whether it’s through organic growth or acquisitions. We’re still looking to purchase companies to enable our growth to become one of the largest independent powered access companies in the UK. That’s always been our vision: to be the best.
“The last moment I had with my brother was on a typically grey Manchester day after a pint. As we said farewell, we hugged and said we loved each other. The world of business changed when John died and the pandemic has led to further uncertainty. No-one can say how we will come out of this as a society or as a global economy. Due to John’s work, however, he left us in the strongest position in our short history to respond to this crisis and to hopefully prepare for the recovery to come. This includes the strength in our balance sheet and cash flow, as we remain focused on disciplined capital allocation and cost management. 2020 has taught me to prepare for all worst-case scenarios.
“Life’s one big journey and to quote my brother: ‘We are here for a good time not a long time.’ My brother’s journey has come to an end but his legacy will live on forever. It’s very easy as a business owner to get stressed about our future and the uncertainties of life but you’ve got to be grateful and celebrate life as you never know what’s around the corner.”
Quick Reach’s success since its creation was only achieved thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Barton brothers and the tremendous respect they earned from clients and customers alike. It is clear that David is determined to continue the phenomenal work that’s taken place down the years to build further on John’s tremendous legacy and keep his candle burning.
“My dad had this wonderful expression where he’d say that he ‘loves the bones of his family’,” says David. “I loved the bones of my brother and we said that to each other often. In life John used to call us two sticks because they are harder to break when they are together. He used to text and email me pictures of two sticks as a reminder of our bond. Two sticks have now become one but Quick Reach has regrouped as a business, while family and friends have turned a single slightly broken stick into a tree trunk in John’s memory.”
Brad Abrahams, Sales Director of JLG UK
“Personally and professionally I’ve known the Barton Brothers – John and David – for 21 years! The surname Barton during this time has most definitely become synonymous within the UK Access Rental Industry. John, the more reserved of the two brothers (with my dealings with them anyway), was a consummate well-mannered polite professional. John was someone people gravitated to – he had a calmness about him that was to be envied and was a tremendous people leader.
“Dave – I have a great history with Dave. Back in 2002 during our time working together, we were both promoted to the position of National Strategic Key Account Managers. Dave was promoted for his ability to knock down doors and secure ways in to businesses that most sales people could not. He was and still is a jovial chap, who has an endless smile (or was it a smirk – we couldn’t tell) on his face and his enthusiasm comes in bundles – these traits have always been his strong points. I was there right behind him, putting the door back on the hinge, structuring the deal (whilst Dave spoke pricing) and working to achieve internal alignment with the branches around the UK. It was a partnership that worked and was delivering tremendous success. Our paths in 2003 abruptly went different ways, however, the Barton Brothers are two former colleagues I remained in contact with.
“Quick Reach and the values the company has today, has been built on the values these two brothers have carried throughout their lives. John’s passing leaves a tremendous gap, not only in the business and in our hearts but in the access industry. John will never be forgotten, he’ll be with those of us that knew him forever. John’s legacy lives on in everything David and Quick Reach is continuing to achieve. The relationship Dave and John had was an unbreakable bond and in spirit remains this way today. I wish Dave and the Quick Reach team the utmost of success and look forward to being an integral part of their next phases of their evolution.”