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Looking back on 25 years in business and forward to new opportunities

While it's a quarter of a century since Richard Blanford set up Fordway, he reflects on new opportunities and why he's in business for the same reasons.
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The last week week was marked by two very different events – one internal, one external. Last Wednesday we celebrated Fordway’s 25th birthday with cake and champagne at our quarterly update meeting for all staff, followed by a meal for all attendees in a local restaurant.

The cake was made, and beautifully iced, by one of our service desk team who makes and ices cakes as a paid hobby in her spare time. We’re sure she will be appearing on the Great British Bake Off soon, whichever channel it’s on. Whilst our financial results this year were not the best we’ve ever achieved, there was a phenomenal sense of team spirit and goodwill from everyone there.

It’s hard to believe it’s 25 years since I was sitting in my then very recently purchased flat (and worrying if I could meet the mortgage payments) working out how I was going to deliver the new PC network I had agreed to supply to a locally-based shipping company for their new offices.

We delivered it, thanks to a short-term loan from my mother to buy their servers and other hardware needed, plus the goodwill of two ex-colleagues who gave up their weekends to help me install the cabling, PCs and server and configure it. My mother was very surprised to be paid back, in full, three weeks later. I’m sure she believed she would never see the money again.

The money we made from this plus refurbishing and reselling 150 PCs we bought from a large corporate and sold at a decent profit helped fund Fordway’s first paid employee, and allowed us to move into our first office in Bagshot. I still have a copy of our first invoice, and the client’s chairman personally paid me the cheque within two days of completion as he knew we were just starting out. They remained a valued and growing client for the next dozen years until being taken over by a large Chinese company who took all IT in house back to China. I promised myself at that time I would learn Mandarin, but I still haven’t.

Whilst the technology we were providing 25 years ago was different, the fundamental reasons businesses exist rarely change. Are we helping our customers achieve their business goals? Do they trust us to deliver what they need? Are our processes the customer sees simple, friendly and efficient? Is our offer better than others alternatives? If not, what are we doing to improve it?

Before the company celebrations I had a phone interview with the editor of one of our trade publications, talking about the last 25 years and our plans for the future. We’re currently undergoing a major internal change programme, which I call Fordway Mark 3, as we transform ourselves from a traditional IT integrator into a cloud-computing service provider. It’s taken three years thus far and it will be another two years before we fully realise the benefits of the transition. New opportunities such as Fordway Mark 3 have meant a major investment in new facilities, skills and staff – our headcount has more than doubled since 2012 and we have job titles in our business that didn’t exist 18 months ago.

Reacting well to changing circumstances is a key attribute of any business leader. Last Friday I had to clear my diary as we were shortlisted for a major public sector contract in South West England, and we were given a fixed time to make our final presentation to the selection panel. As we are a private company, they wanted to meet the owner as part of their due diligence.

Facing a mix of business, IT and procurement staff means being prepared for questions on a wide variety of topics, most of which weren’t technical but about our values, history, ability to meet their specific requirements and how what they required aligned with our business strategy. I’m pleased to say the presentation went well and we were formally told a few days later that we have been appointed as their preferred supplier.

We’re now working on defining and agreeing the contract which means we will be their primary IT services supplier for the next five years, which is excellent news and a reflection of the skills, capabilities and hard work of the team who responded to the requirement and are now working on putting the contract together. Our new financial year is off to a good start, with new opportunities on the horizon.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Richard Blanford

Richard Blanford set up Fordway in 1991 and grew it through winning and delivering increasingly larger contracts. In 2011 he led a major investment in infrastructure, staff and training to enable Fordway to offer managed cloud services, which now provide approximately half the company’s total revenues.

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