4 April 2011

I was quoted in the press this week having commented on the budget and the recent changes the chancellor has made. Whatever my politics and whatever my beliefs, what is plain to see from where I am sitting is that there is a brighter horizon approaching.

I am ever the optimist and I have been wrong more times than I have been right on most subjects. However, it does feel as if the mood in the board rooms of businesses is continuing to lift.

It is difficult to ignore the politics in other parts of the world; there are so many countries and people fighting for a myriad of causes. It certainly is a reminder to us all of how fortunate we are in the UK. Yet back here in Westminster, politicians argue on the idea of AV (The Alternative Vote.) Whether it is right or wrong, can we afford this debate? Has the current system not served us well enough in the past?

My idea of a utopia would see the country run as businesses do. In a well run business, I can’t imagine people sat around debating a process of electing board members. It costs huge sums of money and diverts the attention from important life-changing agendas.

I don’t have an opinion on The AV system. However, I do think it’s a waste of resources and time. I rather like Winston Churchill’s comment: “The most worthless votes go to the most worthless candidates.”

Back to business, it does look like things are on the up. I was speaking to a friend who operates an amazing commercial property business called Bruntwood. I am always keen to hear Chris’s opinion. We sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in business terms yet we both get to see early signs of activity in the economy at ground level.

Bruntwood rent commercial office space. It is safe to say they are the market leaders by a country mile in Manchester. I am proud to be one of their customers and we occupy the top floor of City Tower in Piccadilly. As a business renting out office space, Bruntwood see and feel first hand the immediate effects of businesses in trouble. At the same time, when things pick up, they are able to spot this early on their radar.

Talking with Chris at the opening night of the Grill On New York Street in Piccadilly, it definitely sounds like things are on the up.

And for us at UKFast, it feels so too and I have blogged before about the number of business owners beginning to invest again in R&D and technology. Outsourcing is becoming fashionable, not only for the cost savings but also for the convenience and technological advantages it brings.

The result within UKFast is very noticeable, with a massive surge in devices sold in the first quarter of this year, with March breaking every record in the company’s history. I’d like to put it down to clever marketing. However, I can assure you it’s not. It’s literally a change in attitude.

It appears to be across sectors too. During the early part of the recession, we were fortunate to continue to grow along with many other businesses in IT, whilst other sectors were hit very hard indeed. It feels more balanced now, and it’s great to see such a wide variety of businesses flourishing.

Sat amongst friends at the bar in the Grill, there was talk of Apps, Cloud and Outsourcing from just about every business person I spoke with. It’s just mind-blowing when you consider that 5 years ago these words didn’t exist in the capacity we know them in now.

And what’s around the corner?

I couldn’t even begin to accurately predict the future and I am at the helm of a technology company helping to drive change. But driving and encouraging change is different to being a visionary.

I believe the internet has changed more in the past 12 months than it has in the past 12 years.

The same people who just a few years ago firmly said, “the internet is of no interest to my customers,” are now ambassadors of the revolution taking place.

It is extraordinary to think that Gail and I set up UKFast in a tiny office in the spare bedroom. It only seems like yesterday when we risked everything by moving to our first office on Fountain Street and employing our first team member Neil Lathwood, our IT director. When I look back, the process to sell our services was very different to today. No one really used the internet for business as such. It was a “nice to have,” and it was a tough thing to sell for many years.

If you compare the 2 eras in technology terms, we were in the dark ages a decade ago. Although a great many people had the appetite and the imagination, it was untried and untested. The internet at that time was the great gamble. Back then, there was no Google and the designers of Facebook were still in school. None of us had any real idea of what lay ahead.

Regardless of this, it was new and I was addicted. And that addiction grows stronger and never subsides. It brings with it a huge amount of variety and satisfaction. Being at the heart of an industry that dedicates its existence to helping others grow and trade around the clock, across the globe, in the blink of an eye, is extremely rewarding.

And 12 years after incorporating UKFast, I am in exactly the same position. I still have no idea what lies ahead.

What I am certain of is change. Expect change, always. Be nimble, listen with big ears and never take anything for granted.

I am often asked for advice because of our good fortune in the IT sector. We have seen the dotcom boom, although we were too small then to enjoy that era. We saw the bubble burst and, luckily for us, we were still too small to feel the effects of this era too. We have seen the economy rise and fall and rise again, so what is it that keeps us on track?

Actually, it’s very simple.

My philosophy is based on enjoyment. If people enjoy coming to work and doing what they do, the results they deliver are far more impressive than someone who is disengaged. The challenge to make everyone enjoy their career is much more difficult. People seldom tell you that they are disengaged. You usually find out when they leave, when it’s too late.

I am a great believer in spending as much time as I can with people in our business. By hanging around the team and being part of it, I am able to find out a great deal more than if I leave it to others. Middle managers are often very good at reporting what you want to hear and hiding things that make them unpopular. It’s important to create a channel of communication that flows freely through our organisation.

Friday is a good example; about 40 or 50 of us went for a drink after work. I got my ear chewed off by a couple of people on something that was infuriating them. It’s no surprise that my first job after pressing send on this blog is to go and support them and make the necessary changes required to make their lives easier.

If you have opinions on what works for you, I’d love to hear them.

Have a great week.


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