Q&A: Jonathan Jorgensen, Access UK
Jonathan Jorgensen is Group Business Development Director at Access UK Ltd, which has just been shortlisted in the ‘Business Enabler of the Year’ category at the UK’s National Business Awards, being presented this year on November 13 at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. We spoke with Jonathan about why his business has caught the judges’ attention – and about some of the challenges his organisation’s clients are facing in what remains for many an extremely tough operating environment…
Outsource: Jon, can you give our readers a little bit of background on yourself and your organisation?
Jon Jorgensen: I’m Business Development Director, responsible for the revenue and the growth side of the business. As an organisation we grew through the recession – it was only single digit growth, but compared to all our competitors who were negative, we actually grew through the recession. We now employ just over 400 people – this time last year we were 300, so we’ve experienced quite a lot of growth since the MBO that we carried out in March last year. I was one of the team involved in the MBO from our founders with our investment partner, Lyceum Capital. The new impetus became, the ability to acquire more businesses – which we have done. We’ve acquired most of our resellers in the last year and we’ve just acquired a warehouse management solution called Delta that we announced in July.
We’ve got over 5,000 clients and what we’re trying to do is offer products where we’ve had gaps in our portfolio – where our customers are coming to us saying “hang on, this would be good.” As well as looking to innovate in our own products we’re looking to buy to plug larger business process gaps which our current portfolio doesn’t cover. We’re about to announce another acquisition within the next few weeks.
Fundamentally, we provide systems that run businesses. We supply systems which enable an organisation to get economies of scale when they grow. We supply a whole ERP piece; we upgrade loads of people on Sage. We are in the mid-market – so between £3 million and £200 million, roughly, is where we target a lot of our activity (although our HR offering scales beyond that – we’ve got a number of the top law firms such as Irwin Mitchell and Hill Dickinson, who use our HR system on its own within their business, which is multiple thousand employees).
We supply everything from HR, finance, payroll; then we have a whole workflow system which is self-service, where the actual employee interacts with the system – so I can go on there and put my expenses on, I can go on there and project manage, project plan, view employee time-sheets. I can go on there to work out billing, and we can build all different workflows into that. Then we have a service management offering.
They are all tied together, so some of our customers have all of this; some have pieces of it, our clients do range. So we’ve got someone on one extreme – the Eden Project down in Cornwall that runs their business on our finance system and everything else – right the way up to CRS GT who build cars through it.
O: What is it about the company itself what has enabled you to thrive during these troubled times in particular?
JJ: Although you can see from the web site that we can cover quite a lot of industries, we’ve actually verticalised within the business. We have split our markets into wholesale, distribution, professional services, and manufacturing. That’s the high level split of what we do. Then we have streams of people from marketing-to-sales-to–implementation, that work in those sectors. So when you’re a not-for-profit organisation, (we’re quite big in the not-for-profit space) you will end up with someone coming to talk to you about income and expenditure. If you’re in a professional services business, that deals with, say, advertising, they’ll come and talk to you about your billing issues and contract profitability.
So that’s how we’ve managed to do it. The people we deal with, our customers, get people who know their industry, know their sector, rather than trying to be all things to all people. When the recession hit, our manufacturing side (as did a lot of clients around the manufacturing and construction part of our business) actually did really struggle. Acquiring new sites in that time was tough – but what happened was the not-for-profit space continued to boom. Now, because they get budgets set two or three years in advance, the not-for-profit space starts to feel the pinch a bit more – but areas like manufacturing will really see a massive pick-up. Where companies that cut down on staff during the recession have seen output starting to increase, rather than bring staff back in, they’ve started to look at systems and more efficient processes so they can work smarter without having to have the inefficiencies of more people to plug process gaps.
O: Are those trends that you see across business at the moment – and certainly within the UK?
JJ: Yes, it’s strange. We deal with the mid-market and you hear the noise about double-dip recession, negative growth – we are on a double digit growth (that’s organic growth) within our business. What we are seeing is; customers are investing in technology – they’re not investing in “just a new accounting system”; what they are doing is looking at smarter ways that they can operate, cleverer ways they can get information to help them with decision making. I think that has been the big trend since the recession.
Some people say we are still in it, but post-recession what’s happened is a lot of people used to use systems and processes just to administer their business; now we’re getting customers coming to us saying, “Well, we want to get good at forecasting, we want to see if things are going to come down the line and hit us so we can adapt our business earlier and quicker rather than get caught out and think ‘crikey!’ and having to let a whole load of people go”. We’ve seen a big drive from our clients saying “We are growing and we also want to grow within an economy of scale” and that’s where their investments are coming from.
O: You are talking about a relatively deep level of partnership there, presumably: “How can you work with us to solve a problem we’ve got?”
JJ: Absolutely. One of our clients I have personally known for a long time is a company called The Pluss Organisation down in Devon. They help disabled people in the community; they get funding from the government and their job is to get independence for disabled people. They’ve been a customer of ours since 1995; it was a very small organisation with one office, they were fully government funded. They’ve gone through change – in 2001 they became an autonomous organisation – and they’ve now got around 12 offices; they’ve got a full web-based procure-to-pay solution – no-one keys a purchase invoice in in that organisation. They’ve been able to grow with us. It’s very much a partnership in terms of our account management team going in and seeing the client and saying “OK, this is where you’ve made investments, this is what’s coming down the line, this is what a lot of our customers in your industry have been telling us and saying what they’re doing” – and we share that best-practice across our customers.
O: What do you think has been your key challenge, while you’ve been growing, to keep that level of partnership in place? What steps have you taken within your own organisation to make sure you don’t lose focus?
JJ: There are a couple of things. One of the things we’ve worked on is, we’ve deployed our own HR system throughout our own business. That, HR, has actually been the fastest-growing part of our business in the last two years – providing HR systems and HR solutions. Employee engagement has been not just a big driver in our business, but a big driver in a lot of our clients’ businesses – because what they want to do is retain staff, but also get the most out of them.
All of our people have a portal into our business and they feel connected. We’ve also just rolled out a flexible benefit scheme within our business as well; that’s all done through HR so you can now go online as an employee and say “This month I want to double my pension contribution; next month I don’t want to pay it; I want to apply to the Cycle to Work Scheme; I want to apply for gym membership” – all that sort of stuff, we’ve done.
We also encourage a lot of charitable work in our business. We’re trying to balance; obviously we want to make a profit, we want to grow, but we also need to make sure we bring the people along with us.
O: Do you think those elements were what got you shortlisted for a National Business Award? What caught the judges’ attention?
JJ: There are a couple of things. We have quite an open-door policy as a business in terms of ownership. We introduced in the last couple of years our own values into the business – that was a big change for us, going from a small business to a medium business, from £18m to £33m in two years. So we’re starting to introduce some more corporate things – but also to try to retain the fact that when you work for a smaller company, you feel part of it. The whole values piece meant that people felt engaged. When people feel engaged they feel they own a customer or they own a problem with the client. They don’t feel that they come to work at 9 and go home at 5.30.
Now I would be ridiculous to say that’s how everybody feels – but that’s what we strive to make people feel. When a consultant goes on-site to a customer, they are actually working for the customer as if they are their employee; they actually feel part of the fact that the customer is a success; the customer becomes a reference site; that reference site will then generate more business and so on and so forth. It does help massively. We’ve got a lot of growth out of our customers investing with us.
On the new business side of things, we’ve signed up over 250 new sites last year. We’ve got an extremely strong product set, but what we also have is people who are able to convert the product set into solving problems. So, with technology a lot of people have been through failed implementations or challenges with systems and things like that, because they take their eye off what really are the fundamental issues they’ve got in their business. And that’s where we work with the client to help them identify the areas they need to solve; these are the areas they can have improvement; based on our experiences with six or seven other clients doing exactly what they do, these are some other things they should bring to the table.
For more information on the National Business Awards, see our event listing here.