HR & Management

Delivering change and innovation to customers’ businesses

7 min read

01 August 2013

Stewart Smythe on why the prime minister should behave like an entrepreneur: "Cancel your diary for a month and then go and spend a day with 20 different UK businesses and really listen."

Name:

Stewart Smythe

Role and company:

CEO of Adapt

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

£45m turnover, £5.5m EBITDA

Employee numbers:

180

Growth forecast for the next three years:

With all the innovative work we are doing in the UK with customers such as National Trust, Cheapflights, LOVEFiLM and Cubic Transportation Systems, we plan to treble our profits over the next three years – half of this will come from our existing account base and half from new business. This growth is also down to the platforms we are deploying overseas and the select acquisitions we will make over the next year or two.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

Adapt’s goal is about becoming a seamless extension of our customer’s IT teams. We work to deliver the most effective technology, wrapped in the highest quality service management and most importantly we always know where our customers’ data is at all times (amazingly, a lot of companies cannot make this same claim.) Our unique high-touch model means everyone at Adapt individually focuses on a small number of customers, including our technical teams who are dedicated to supporting named, specific customers. None of our competitors does this.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Our vision is to become the “go-to” provider for enterprise-grade cloud services in the UK market: a company that our customers are proud to tell people about because we help them achieve more, designing the right solutions, customised and aligned precisely with real-world commercial outcomes and objectives, delivered by the right people. Ultimately, we want to deliver change and innovation to our customers’ businesses that has a visible impact on their bottom line.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

The UK is our primary focus. But we do have a number of overseas cloud platforms to support our customers’ overseas operations. We will continue to expand this side of our business and we have some really interesting things happening in the Asia-Pac region at the moment.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

One of my biggest frustrations was trying to persuade a large PLC employer to invest in innovation and growth markets at the expense of its declining legacy business. Their size meant they lacked flexibility and were more nervous about the legacy business shrinking than excited about the emerging growth opportunities. After struggling with this lack of vision for a short period I left, determined to make this happen which is how I found myself at Adapt, with financial backers who are buzzing about the huge opportunity in the industry.

What makes you mad in business today?

People with an ego, particularly those that let it manifest in how they speak to and treat others. It happens all over the place at all levels. Sadly, too many people tolerate it rather than calling it out which means too many people get away with it.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

The cloud. Customers of all sizes are now getting comfortable with the cloud and are starting to really understand it. With this knowledge comes higher expectations, which in turn makes customers more demanding. They will also find it easier to work out who is good and who is not and the reasons why. This will lead to a lot of company churn and consolidation in the coming few years. I am really excited about the opportunities in the market and what this will mean for Adapt.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

As a general rule businesses struggle with any sort of financial support and therefore are striving to achieve any sort of growth. The UK banking sector has to start supporting its customers for the medium term but I do not see this happening – the banks only have two priorities at the moment: bolstering their own balance sheets and investing in overseas (high growth) markets. Adapt is privately backed so we benefit from fantastic support from our investors.

How would others describe your leadership style?

I try to be straightforward, approachable, direct and consistent. It is also important to me to be really visible to our front line colleagues and customers. I want to have a style that removes the negative pressures from work and allows everyone at Adapt to really apply their talents to our business in their own style, be confident doing it and enjoy coming to work. I certainly do!

Your biggest personal extravagance?

Outside of work, my wife and I have had four children in four years. Twins of three, then one of five and one of seven, so I have absolutely no idea what your question means!

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Behave like an entrepreneur. Cancel your diary for a month and then go and spend a day with 20 different UK businesses and really listen – you need to truly understand their challenges before you can make a difference. Then go back to government with all the answers you need to rewrite the rules and help UK businesses to prosper. It would also give you the conviction to stand up to the people telling you not to change things. The process would completely re-energise you because of the experience and attitudes of the people you would meet in the field. I bet it would also make you a better PM as a result.