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 an NUFC 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.
Fifteen 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, backup 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 - despite his "colourful" past, he's 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.
Has 2019 been a good, bad or ugly year?
2019 has been a 'decent' year - not good enough to be good, but certainly not bad or ugly!
We've invested significant cost, time and effort into our systems and processes in 2019 to improve our overall customer experience and ability to deliver value to those customers.
As well as the outlay on technology and platforms relating to CRM, voice of the customer and performance management, the related user training investment will take the investment to over £1 million.
However, we've also made significant progress in the day-to-day performance of the business despite the above distractions, so in many respects 2019 has been a good year; but history alone will tell whether the investments have been wise and effective. Therefore I suspect it'll be towards the end of 2020 before I can look back on 2019 and confirm it was a good one!
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. I'm no food or wine connoisseur, but know what I like despite what the experts' views may be!
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 – OneDrive 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 2020?
I tend not to focus on the challenges facing the channel; only to assess whether they represent opportunities or threats to our business.
The world of IT services is changing quite rapidly as cloud/subscriptions become more the norm, and the need to continually invest drives margins on products and applications down. The days of making a good return on supplying routine products and services are gone.
To thrive, we and others need to use our service delivery and culture to drive customer loyalty. Increasingly, buyers see IT components as commodities and will work with those service providers who put delivery and customer experience at the forefront.