Mastering the Tech Middle Market today and tomorrow – Insights from Gordon Wilson, CEO of Advanced
Paul Wright, Head of Software & IT Services Practice at Odgers Interim, talks to Gordon Wilson, CEO of Advanced, the UK’s 3rd largest head-quartered business software and services company, about leadership challenges during a global pandemic, valuable lessons learned for business management, and the future of the tech middle market
As CEO of the UK’s 3rd largest largest head-quartered business software and services company, Gordon Wilson is a highly experienced leadership executive not just across the tech middle market, but across business transformation and change management.
In this article, we will share an extract from Paul’s conversation with Gordon, which forms part of our CEO interview series. Gordon spoke to us about successfully steering Advanced through the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons he learned in challenging times, and his views on the ‘next normal’ for the UK technology market in a post-pandemic economy.
Paul Wright: Gordon, what were your priorities and goals when you first accepted the role of CEO of Advanced in 2015 when it was taken private by Vista Equity Partners from the (then) Founder CEO?
Gordon Wilson: Advanced is the UK’s 3rd largest head quartered business software and services company employing ~3,000 people. We offer market-focused software solutions across the public sector healthcare, and education as well as field service, not for profit, legal, manufacturing, sports, and entertainment. These are underpinned by horizontal software offerings for all sectors: finance, HR & payroll, workforce productivity and spend management with public and private cloud infrastructure and managed services.
When I took over in 2015, I had two major goals. The first was to bring together a disparate organisation of 14 siloed businesses, operating under 14 brands with 14 MDs across multiple offices into one.
And the second was to ensure that we continually improved our technology, which is mission critical to our customers and impact the lives of the customers of our customers. This we meant raising the quality of our people and, in turn, on the quality of our software and the service that we deliver to our customers.
So, we underwent the biggest transformation probably of any business in the UK at the time to turn Advanced from a good business to a great business. This meant focusing on the were 4 Rs: Re-organising, Recruiting, Rebranding and Relocating to form ‘One’ Advanced. Today we have modern, regional hubs around the UK offering a vibrant modern environment our people can thrive and build their careers. And we are on a focused path to deliver excellent customer service to drive our business to £600m of revenue by 2025.
Paul Wright: What leadership qualities do you think helped you steer the growth of Advanced significantly since then?
Gordon Wilson: I think I would probably call out two characteristics that have helped me grow the business:
- Having a very clear end goal, a destination I do not ever lose sight of.
- Building an outstanding team where my role is more of orchestrator ensuring we come together to achieve our growth goals.
Paul Wright: Can you talk about leading the business during the challenging period of Covid-19?
Gordon Wilson: The PE reinvestment by Vista and the new investment by BC Partners was made in October 2019 – so just before Covid happened.
The pandemic was tough for all businesses. First and foremost because no one had a rule book – it was completely unprecedented – so as leaders, to some extent we were all finding our way and I do not think any of us had the answers simply laid out in front of us.
Our focus was clear though: we focussed on our people, our customers, and our business health.
- People focus: Almost overnight all 2,600 people within Advanced moved to remote working. We had to keep our workforce motivated, ensure their health and wellbeing was where it should be whilst at home and maintain productivity - understanding that many were home schooling children or caring for extended family.
- Customer focus: Just as we were in a state of uncertainty, so too were our customers, who are incredibly diverse. One of our values is ‘do the right thing’ so we have supported customers where we can. Specifically, not ‘profiteering’ from the additional demand in healthcare, helping customers that were struggling financially where we could and launching a £1m Back to Business recovery fund to help companies invest in the technology they needed for the ‘new normal’.
- Business health focus: Means keeping a close eye on our business health primarily to support our peoples’ employment. We quickly switched to weekly reporting of KPIs, though we are fortunate that we serve a broad set of markets so were less impacted than others. And we have invested in accelerating those parts of business doing well. For example, our new unified cloud platform (MyWorkplace) brings all our cloud solutions together in an accessible way for our customers to give them the agility to adapt to the future. We also continued investing in M&A and completed six 6 acquisitions since March 2020.
In summary, I think that when leading through tough times, if you put your people and customers at the heart of everything you do, you cannot go far wrong.
Paul Wright: The successful vaccine rollout has created business confidence. As we emerge into the recovery are there any lessons learned that you’ll retain in the post-pandemic world?
Gordon Wilson: There a definitely some key lessons learned:
- Remote recruitment works: We were forced to pivot to remote hiring at first, but feedback we have received from both candidates and managers has been so positive that we will likely continue to do this in the long term.
- Technology is an enabler of change: What we have learned Is that cloud-based solutions give employers greater insight into what their people are doing and daily productivity. They provide well-planned workflows, simplify, and speed up processes, harmonise how work gets done across teams whilst reducing the need for checks to see where they’re up to and making it easier to work asynchronously. Video technology has, of course, been a very acceptable alternative to flights or road travel for us to meet and put related sustainability firmly under the spotlight.
- Future workplace, culture & environment: As the pandemic has gone on, we are working to ensure everyone feels valued and that absence from the office does not equate to lack of career development or opportunity to progress. I believe that ‘presenteeism’ is really no basis for promotion in a forward-thinking organisation and as we move to a new flexible future of work. Our model is empowering each employee to adopt a flexible work pattern that suits them and their role – which might be wholly remote, hybrid home and office or wholly office. It demonstrates respect, trust, and the value the organisation places upon its people. Our office spaces in in hubs around the country are being transformed into places for collaboration and team working to support this.
Paul Wright: Whilst the vaccination program in the UK has been excellent, there are 21 variants on the government’s risk register. How long do you think we will need to maintain vigilance against these viruses and potentially maintain contingency plans in future?
Gordon Wilson: I am afraid I am not a medic, nor a politician, so I cannot really answer that. But I can only assume that we will reach a point when we accept that we will never combat it, but we need to learn to live with it. And the measures we have put in place throughout the pandemic will serve us well in the near future.
Advanced, and other technology businesses are fortunate because we have been relatively immune to the pandemic with the ability to carry on working and deliver our products and services remotely. We understand not every industry will be able to shift to a remote model long term, with industries such as manufacturing and distribution always requiring a mostly on-site presence. The question for these industries will be in how to utilise technologies and practices adopted over the course of the pandemic in order to supplement the wellbeing and productivity of their on-site staff.
The past 12 months has demonstrated the ability of organisations to adapt and manage and maintain their on-going processes to safeguard their continued success. As we look towards what the model for the new working world might be, it will fall to business leaders and HR teams to decide what form it will take for their business and safeguard their workforce. 95% of HR professionals we surveyed said they felt their organisations had adapted well to remote working, with over 53% also saying they were confident that their businesses were well prepared for a return to the office.
Paul Wright: What is your outlook for Advanced as we enter the second half of 2021 and start thinking about 2022? Any pockets of opportunity or threats that might keep you awake at night?
Gordon Wilson: I feel very positive. We have just finished Q1 of our new financial year and it has been one of the most positive in my tenure. The one thing the pandemic has done is to force businesses to look at the technology they run their businesses on. You would be surprised by the number of large, successful businesses using legacy on-premises solutions – which in normal times work well f – but over the last 18 months have hindered their ability to be truly agile and adapt at pace. So, I see demand for our cloud solutions, of which we have over 20 now – both back office and line of business – increase as businesses get fit for the future.
And as for what is next – we still have strong growth ambitions. We will achieve those organically through the delivery of our next generation cloud solutions and through new additions.
If you would like to get further information from our Technology practice, or find out more about of CEO interview series, please contact Paul Wright.