Looking back from where I am now with Fordway, I haven’t followed a traditional career path – like many people in the 1980s and 1990s, I fell into IT by accident.
After leaving school with minimal qualifications and joining the building trade, I’d come back from three years travelling and met a friend who was earning a good salary working in IT sales, so got an introduction to his boss and convinced him to take me on. I was outselling my friend within three months.
I was then headhunted by Ruby Computers, which was where I had the idea for Fordway. Ruby were totally focused on selling hardware and software with minimal support and I couldn’t convince my boss to invest in technical staff. A customer had a major failure leaving 200 staff unable to work, but all we offered was phone support, so one of the support team and I went there over a weekend and resolved the problem. We got the customer’s undying gratitude and were well-paid for our services, which gave me the idea to start Fordway.
Fordway are currently undergoing a major internal change programme as we transform the business from a traditional IT integrator into a cloud-computing service provider. The catalyst was the 2008 recession, when the large IT transformation programmes on which we’d built Fordway dried up, so we had to change or go out of business. It’s taken three years so far and it will be another two years before we fully realise the benefits. One of the things I’ve learned is that when things get tough, doing nothing is not an option.
We’ve built the company through helping our customers to prioritise business-critical problems and offering them constructive, vendor independent advice. It often means asking difficult questions and challenging assumptions. To quote one of our customers:
“This is a long-term relationship and one of the many benefits is that we can be honest, brutally honest sometimes, in debating requirements, proposals and radical solutions that throughout we know will be given time, consideration and respect. For me the telling difference with this partnership is that it has never become comfortable. It is professional, innovative and is able to raise and deal with challenges with confidence.”
As these comments suggest, we’re always looking for innovation, whether that’s investigating new technologies and challenger vendors or simply questioning the status quo to ensure that it’s delivering what our customers need, not what the vendors are telling them to buy.
In these diary entries I’m likely to cover a wide range of topics, from business to IT, with an occasional smattering of sports and hopefully humour. It could be negotiating with a new partner or customer, the joys of working with government procurement teams as an SME, recruiting for new roles, and the challenge of developing a management team to help make me redundant to Fordway’s future success. Whatever the topic, I hope it will give some insights into what I do and provide some useful ideas which readers can apply to their own business.
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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