Betting on Game, Set, Match

By Martin Haigh 11 February, 2014

Ex-stockbroker Martin Haigh, on how tennis led him to a potential game changer in the making of leather hides

LiteHide's process for preserving hides is better for the environment and allows for production chain savings
LiteHide's process solution is simple and can easily be applied to current workflows at very little cost
Good for business + good for environment (less pollutant discharge) = invest in the huge potential

We came across LiteHide and thought it was one of those small ideas that had the potential to be a game changer. Not in the water sector itself but in an industry which is water intensive and can be highly polluting – Leather (read our review here.) That said, LiteHide still faces some of the barriers highlighted by Will Sarni in commercialization. Nevertheless, we thought an insight into why one of their key stakeholders invested into LiteHide would provide another perspective…

Why did I invest in LiteHide?

By accident. Not because I was looking to turn the planet green.

I’ve been playing tennis for a long time. First holding a racquet aged 7 at my local club in Woodford Green in Essex. This London suburb is a natural catchment area for stockbrokers given that it’s just a 25 minute direct tube ride into Liverpool Street, Bank and St Paul’s on the underground’s Central line. I worked in The City 14 years trading emerging market equities for HSBC, Banco Santander and lastly Merrill Lynch. Throughout my time I would be playing tennis against friends, colleagues and the occasional client. Business trips would send me to New York quite frequently and more excitingly to Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. At every opportunity I would arrange tennis matches.

Merrill sent me to live and work in New York aged 32, where I resumed tennis battles with my greatest adversary and one of my best friends. New York was wonderful but stockbroking for me was a means to an end, providing the freedom to travel extensively, eat well and to buy time whilst waiting to find my calling.  I enjoyed a two year career break to travel the world and to ‘find myself’ and to better my tennis skills, but the depletion of cash reserves and my failure to find an opportunity that grabbed me saw me stockbroking once again, this time for six years in the super charged world that is Hong Kong.

 “I threw myself into investing both my time and money in companies that had a social bias.”

After my second, and hopefully last retirement from stockbroking, I threw myself into investing both my time and money in companies that had a social bias. I started a technology business aimed at helping charities raise money via mobile phones; I invested in a philanthropic company that helps High Net Worth Individuals impact invest and institutions to raise funds; and a company that uses waste plastic rather than trees to produce pallets used in the cargo business.

At the Hong Kong Football Club, I continued my social tennis with a typical Hong Kong group, made up of a peripatetic group, ex-pats, locals, Chinese diaspora, alpha males, bankers, semi-retired, business owners – all very interesting.

Given the wide melting pot of people, and overriding entrepreneurial spark, it came as no surprise that I should find amongst our players, a man who heads up a company with potentially the most far-reaching social impact I have ever met: Desmond Ko, the CEO of LiteHide. He is also a man with a surprising second serve (when it goes in). Also involved in both social tennis and an advisor to LiteHide is Duncan Spooner, a semi-retired actuary with a head for numbers and a wicked forehand.

Des gave me his elevator pitch for LiteHide, a revolutionary process for preserving hides to make them ready for transport, storage and tanning. I was underwhelmed. Not by Des’s sales ability, but by my lack of quickly realising the idea’s far-reaching ramifications.

Leatherteq Limited has developed and patented an innovative method, known as Litehide. Litehide is a saltfree preserved hide, delivered in a dehydrated state thereby eliminating the entire upstream salt issue whilst allowing a tanner to retain their art of tanning. Litehide has already been independently proven by leading leather research institute, BLC Leather Technology Centre, to produce quality leather, be environmentally friendly and with substantial cost benefits over traditional methods of preservation.


The LiteHide process removes salt from the leather making business, saving costs throughout the production chain: water costs, energy costs, shipping costs, toxic salt costs and costs associated with The 3 R’s. At the same time, revenues are improved as the process enables just-in-time manufacture and more efficient use of the hides. There is also the upside of new income streams such as collagen. When the penny dropped it did not take the banker in me to realise the huge potential for this company.

But the kicker for me is that the LiteHide process is way less damaging to the environment than the current process (which unlike any other industry I can think of) has not changed or evolved for hundreds of years. The social impact investor in me needed to get involved.

The leather industry has been targeted by NGO and governments for the pollutants they release into the environment. Legislation and emission targets are rightfully concentrating on the downstream discharge because no one ever thought that you could create an upstream solution to the salt problem, namely by removing it from production cycle entirely.

 “…the solution [LiteHide’s leather treatment method] is so simple, and can be easily applied to current workflows with very little need for additional capital expenditure.”

I hope that more companies will continue to work towards solutions to reduce pollutant discharge in the leather industry, and given the huge size and complexity of the industry, there is enough space for many environmental companies to make a positive difference. Where LiteHide stands out to me, is that the solution is so simple, and can be easily applied to current workflows with very little need for additional capital expenditure. It’s good for business and good for the environment. I hope to see the LiteHide logo appearing on leather goods everywhere soon, knowing that less waterways and land are polluted as a direct result.  Now all I have to do is help spread the word. I love their catchphrase ‘doing the right thing environmentally won’t cost you the earth’ – and might just help to save it.

Further Reading

  • China Water Risk’s 5 Trends for 2014 With environmental risk cited as one of the top risks most likely to derail economic growth, check out our top 5 trends in water for the year of the Green Horse
  • Big Spender: Buying Up Water A savvy investment or villain in the making? Debra Tan looks at the HK tycoons’ water shopping spree, buying up water rights, water philanthropy and venture capital in water innovations
  • Leather: Time for Business Unusual Leather is amongst the top ten most polluting industries globally. Are ‘eco-leather’ efforts ‘green’ enough given renewed attention by the Chinese government? Or is it time to go business unusual … we take a closer look at hides & tanning
  • Bridging Gaps to Water Innovation Water scarcity and pollution will drive innovation in partnerships and technology. But for water tech, the potential for commercialisation remains the biggest challenge to innovators. Here, Will Sarni discusses the barriers and opportunities associated with innovation in the water sector
  • Sustainable Leather: More Steps to go…. China exports over half the worlds leather shoes, this export industry has grown to more than USD 56 billion but during this process 249 million m3 of water is wasted. The question is raised to whether the leather industry is sustainable
  • Water & Leather Find out how much water is used in producing leather with Sarah Swenson of PrimeAsia Leather as she walks us through the company’s water footprint and efforts in reducing their water usage within and beyond their own operations
  • Fashion Update: Brand Winners & Sinners With the new Phase III Textiles Investigative Report released by 7 China NGOs through IPE, we look at who has managed to stay on top since the first report published in April 2012
Martin Haigh
Author: Martin Haigh
Martin Haigh is a serial social enterprise investor. A career in the financial industry spanning many roles in different counties has created a great foundation for Martin to gain exposure to, and analyse, many early stage investments. Being an active supporter of various social, charitable and community initiatives and seen these two passions collide.
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