David Stonehouse, Chief Executive
Career so far...
After training in London as a chartered accountant with 'Big 4 firm' Arthur (now Ernst) Young, I moved back to my native North East and later joined Price Waterhouse (now PwC), where I spent most of my time working with its small and medium business clients.
After six years as a partner, I moved out of the world of professional consulting and took on the role of FD at a NE based care home provider – my first real career mistake! It was so bad that a year later this diehard Newcastle United fan joined Sunderland AFC as FD in 1996 and in December of that year we listed on the Stock Exchange, which was an exceptionally valuable experience; although contrary to perceptions, football clubs effectively operate as small businesses.
Four years later, I took on the role of Chief Executive at Newcastle United – a boyhood dream! Wish my Dad had lived long enough to see that – sadly he died the previous year – whilst I was at Sunderland!
Leaving the world of football behind (other than as a season ticket holder), I went on to juggle a portfolio of roles, most notably helping Parkdean Holidays list on AIM and as Chair of innovative Newcastle based accountancy firm UNW.
It was during this time that Graham Wylie approached me and the result was that we developed a blueprint for TSG, the business that he’d decided he wanted to set up after his exit from software giant Sage.
After helping with the first two acquisitions (the running total is now 28) and relinquishing a number of other positions, I was appointed full time CEO in 2004.
Fourteen years on from launch, I’m immensely proud that we’ve glued together our acquisitions into a single business with a clear vision, never losing sight of our two most important assets – our people and our customers.
Our industry is undergoing a radical transformation as the full impact of cloud computing is felt and our customers evaluate how and what they want to consume by way of IT. We’re very much on the front foot and perfectly placed to deliver an integrated product and service offering whether on premise, cloud or hybrid, focusing on the customer needs as opposed to what gives us most margin.
What would you recommend as the most fundamental part of technology in a business?
For me the most fundamental part of technology in a business is connectivity, but I’d refine that slightly and say secure connectivity. The world of IT is changing – the capabilities of the web and cloud computing means we expect to be able to access business data/information readily and quickly from anywhere, on any type of device. Therefore connectivity – whether broadband, Ethernet Leased Line or WiFi– and availability and resilience are critical.
However, connectivity cannot stand alone, it needs to be coupled – like hand in glove – with the right security and protection around it; whether that be products covering access, firewalls or anti-virus etc or structures, procedures, policies or training.
Data/information is part of the lifeblood of a business – along with physical assets such as stock and cash it needs the appropriate, rigorous but sensible protection around it. No sensible business would leave cash or stock lying around an open office – warehouses, safes etc would be in place with appropriate processes and controls around access. A business needs to operate - so not everything can or should be locked away - and needs to apply controls and processes to protect at the right level allowing only those that need access at the right times. A safe may be right to store cash or certain other valuables, but leaving the key in the safe, in an open shared reception provides no real security – and nobody would do that.
However, sadly, sometimes businesses may put in the appropriate products to secure their data and information and then forget to apply the sensible controls and disciplines to ensure their effectiveness. Sorry for a long answer to a short question, but the risks of poorly secured connectivity are real.
If you could be anyone else for a week, who would you be and why?
It would probably be Eric Clapton, a man with an incredible life to look back on and talent that has made him the only ever three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s coped with the challenges life’s thrown at him and I suspect that he’s not too famous to blend in at the pub with his pals. I could also fancy a drive in his custom made Ferrari SP12 EC – or any of his collection of Ferraris for that matter.
What will next year’s most overhyped industry buzzword be?
I struggle with terminology that doesn’t really mean anything like ‘unified comms’.
‘cloud’ and ‘apps’ are the same – they’re thrown around by too many people who don’t understand them.
Has 2017 been a good, bad or ugly year? (slightly more than one word answer please!)
Personally a very good year capped with a magnificent holiday to India; a truly fascinating, vibrant and varied country with some wonderful people and culture.
From a business perspective, I’m pleased to see progress within TSG as we continue to deliver our strategy and improve our efforts to deliver a better customer experience. Of course there are challenges and, as CEO, I doubt I’ll ever be happy with the rate of progress!
However, I’ve got a great team of people behind me (and people supporting them) so I’ve every confidence that we’ll continue to improve.
What would you have as your last meal?
Sausage, egg, beans and chips.
Washed down with a bottle of Stag’s Leap Artemis cabernet sauvignon. No need to overcomplicate, it’s a meal that’s elegant in its quality and simplicity!
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing; I am lucky to sleep very well & wake up without an alarm most days – although increasingly wake to pee around 4am but get back to sleep.
The exception is those days when I’ve a very early start to visit a customer or one of our offices when I set an alarm but fret I’ll miss it! (Never have of course!)
I’m very fortunate that I can compartmentalise to shut things away, and I never worry about anything I can’t influence.
What is the best partner/customer trip you have ever been on?
I have gone to Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference a couple of times.
I’m not technical (and hence why I have only gone occasionally!) but for me seeing (not necessarily understanding) the art of the possibility with technology is fascinating. Thankfully we’ve got great people who can decide what is right and when for our customers – as well as deliver the benefits.
What piece of technology could you not be without?
My iPhone – yes stylish kit and intuitive but now the security and range of sensible (not gimmick) apps – One Drive and O365 - mean I can easily access and use it as both a business & personal device.
Have any of your predictions come true this year?
I’m not great on predictions – largely because I have been over ambitious in the past! I’d rather improve my planning skills so that I know what I’d like to happen will!
What do you see as the channel’s biggest challenge in 2018?
I do not focus too much upon the challenges facing the sector – more on those facing our business. However, naturally, there are some common themes.
Firstly, I think we all need to shape our businesses to cope with a subscription/consumption model as our customers’ more fully grasp the potential of cloud services – from platform through to applications. Secondly, and linked to the first point, we can see an increased push from (some, if not all) application authors to take greater control of the supply to and relationship with the end customer, using SaaS to deliver core products coupled with a selection of apps to ‘customise’ to end customer requirements.
Longer term is aa opportunity we’ve taken but many see as a challenge which is an increasing move to mobile and home-based employees. Get the support, systems & culture right and this can lead to more productive and happy workforce more willing to go that extra mile for customers.