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Iris boss: “We’re investing £20m in new products this year”

If you want to hear an upbeat business story, talk to Martin Leuw – a judge at last year’s Growing Business Awards – about the meteoric rise of his software firm, Iris.
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Leuw joined the firm as chief executive in 2001, when it was turning over £9m and employing 100 staff. Today, Iris is the largest private software company in the UK, pulling in sales of £125m with 1,200 employees on the payroll.

Leuw tells us that his biggest priority – especially during a downturn – is financial stability. “We completed a £500m MBO in 2007, securing a long-term secure financing package from private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, with no financial covenants. We don’t have to renegotiate any facilities until 2015 – and that puts us in a very strong position.”

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What’s more, Leuw claims that he’s still hiring new employees and will continue his spree of buying up other companies: “We’ve made over 30 acquisitions in the past five years," he says. "Three of those were made in November last year. And the latest was announced this month.”

Iris started out as a software provider to accountancy firms – but now develops technology packages for the legal, charity, GP and architecture sectors, too. “We won’t be diversifying into any new sectors this year – we want to concentrate on getting to know our existing markets really well," explains Leuw. "But we will be investing £20m on new software products over the next 12 months.”

Leuw welcomes Lord Carter’s vision of a connected online government by 2012, which has led to a sharp rise in the number of tax returns filed online. UK accountants and citizens filed a total of 5.7 million returns via the internet last year – and a whopping 1.7 million of those were filed using Iris’s software.

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