Technology Lunch: Differentiation, and moving up the ‘value chain’ in preparation for exits

Published: 12 October 2015

Attracted by a great guest speaker, Steve Vaughan, formally Chief Executive of Phoenix IT Services, Berwick Partners’ Technology Practice recently hosted a number of senior figures in Technology and Telecoms over lunch at our Cannon Street offices.

Steve has a track record of turning around under-performing organisations, which has culminated in the recent sale of Phoenix to Daisy, after an exceptional one year transformation, two years ahead of schedule. Steve shared the journey of this transformation pointing out five key areas which led to his success:

Strategy: Keep it concise, simple, and understandable. Steve has historically and continues to measure his businesses on profit and cash generation, not revenue. If a business does not have a clear and concise plan to profit generation, then in Steve’s view it isn’t creating any value for a potential buyer.

Vision: Communicating a vision to the market and employees is absolutely critical in allowing you to execute the strategy. The vision should be clear and easy to understand with a medium to long term time horizon. In the TMT world, Steve’s view is that should be about three years - long enough to get things done, not too long to be caught out by technology change.

Focus: Critical in light of Phoenix, which was struggling to be viewed as a value added provider for its customers. Steve’s approach was to focus on growing existing customer relationships and developing a small set of higher value services. This transformed the mind set to increase customer value therefore increasing margin, rather than pursuing revenue. Though easier said than done, Steve’s strength of character ensured he led from the front and relentlessly ‘made it happen’.

Delivery: Strategy is all very well, but thinking the great thoughts is only about 10% of the job - the rest is about execution. Phoenix was no exception, and the programme to execute the strategy involved 57 change projects in the first year alone. Steve created KPI’s and metrics enabling specific outcomes such as more cross-selling and high quality delivery. Useful non-financial KPI’s can be produced this way, such as how many customers are buying more than one service. As a result the management worked closer together and could see the progress.

Customer advocacy: Keep it simple be distinctive - have a clear reason for your customers to see you differently from your competitors, a reason that they will pay a premium for. Measure customer accounts on long term profit growth: this drives the right behaviours across all capabilities. On the subject of exits, Steve’s strategy was to drive profit and not to look for an exit. Well run companies naturally attract attention from buyers and investors. However, Steve is savvy enough to align himself with investors and prepares for due diligence, which is becoming ever more rigorous. Tidying up the basics is key, concurrent with delivery of the strategy.

This event was run and managed by Callum Wallace and James Blackwood, who are Consultants in the Technology Practice at Berwick Partners specialising in recruiting senior leaders within the Technology Sector.

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