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All for one

There’s a lot of talk about culture these days, and as organisations reflect on what it means to not just survive but thrive, the common denominator is always people. Here, IT Europa Editor Carl Friedmann speaks with AdEPT CEO Phil Race about how listening is integral to leadership and growth.

Ahead of attending CommsVision at Gleneagles in mid-November, Phil Race, CEO at IT managed services, unified communications, connectivity and voice solutions provider AdEPT Technology Group Plc, has a lot to look forward to, especially considering progress he can look back on over the last year.

AdEPT performed with resilience looking at recent stats, including revenue of £61.7m for full-year 2020, ending March 2021, as well as £30.2m gross profit and an underlying EBITDA margin of 19%. Cloud centric strategic services revenues were also up 9% year on year to £23.1m and there was over 11% organic growth in cloud telephony with a 10-fold increase in calls fielded by the support teams despite a dent in call revenues due to further moves into video conferencing.

From a more holistic perspective, Race is committed to as flat a corporate structure as it is diverse, focusing on equity, inclusivity and communication to nurture existing staff, as well as attract new talent to narrow the skills gap.

“We’re on this journey called One AdEPT where we’re constantly refining how we behave so everyone in the business can operate consistently and speak on behalf of the entire company,” he says. “But there’s still work to do. It’s like knocking down psychological walls between different teams, making sure they can easily cooperate and, as a result, make use of best practice and innovate by acting on great ideas from those teams. That continues to be our big mission. It’s really important given our ever-changing market that we constantly spend time educating our team so we’re able to adapt to whatever comes our way.”

Having 340 talented people in multiple locations across the UK—from Tunbridge Wells to Central London to Doncaster, servicing about 15,000 sites ranging from 4,000 schools, several hundred doctors’ surgeries, critical care sites and hospitals across the UK—Race has to make sure everyone can connect. “We’ve done a lot of systems-wise to enable that with our own intranet to share knowledge alongside company-wide core platforms,” Race adds. “But we continue to invest in training and development so our people can evolve. It’s clear our customers face a skills gap challenge and it’s something we continue to invest in to help our customers, but I don’t think it’s a new challenge; it’s always been there but perhaps it’s a bit starker now.”

Regardless of fluctuations in the market, the underlining mission of AdEPT, simply put, is to unite technology and inspire people since we live in what Race calls a converging world of technology. As a result, AdEPT has evolved the business to provide capability in technology services, network and data infrastructure, as well as unified communications and contact centre. With that in mind, Race’s top priorities are cloud-centric services. “We see this big push across our entire client community to get to frictionless technology, and we want to help them do that in a straightforward, secure and cost-effective way,” he says. “I think this is why you’re seeing market consolidation and we’re part of that with some recent acquisitions. Companies like us need a broad range of technology experts to satisfy the diverse needs of customers, and that’s a very significant driver for the consolidation you’re seeing.”

But this rapid rate of tech convergence and M&A can’t be at the expense of service. As Race illustrates, MSPs like AdEPT sit at the fulcrum between the two worlds of product vendors who have invested in product capability, and the customer who wants their problem taken away. “Our job is to service customers by delivering a full range of services in a seamless way,” he says, “and the way we do that is by having strong partnerships, a focus on educating our teams and sharing knowledge, underpinned by robust systems so you can support customers in a very methodical and disciplined way.”

Being in that position is a natural fit for Race. He cemented a tech focus early in his career, having spent a placement at Plessey Telecommunications, helping to build System X exchanges, and then moved into computing, software and software development businesses. However, his time at Computer Management Group (latterly Logica) in 2000, when he was appointed associate director and leader of a team of around 20 consultants delivering projects and technology capabilities to the financial services marketplace, provided the foundation for his leadership career. “I’ve always had this technology thread through my world because it’s constantly changing and keeps you interested,” he says. “But when I was given this role as a manager and thrown in the deep end with no knowledge, I learned a huge amount on the job, but I also undertook an MBA to give me a really strong structure for thinking about how you run businesses and how you engage with business problems, and those lessons have stood me in good stead since then.”

And building on that, especially now that people are working more in a hybrid fashion, he is even more convinced that being surrounded by a cohesive and trusted team is vital to business survival. “A focus on two-way forthright communication has been crucial, and I think that’s why we’ve had a very high net promoter score from the staff,” he adds. “We have a very clear and open culture and communication helps immensely. The fundamental principle I apply is that I don’t exist unless the people in the business are performing to the best of their abilities, so if I can get my direct reports and their reports performing as a coherent team, then we have a good chance of a motivated company, happy customers and a positive financial outcome, which is of course important for our investors and shareholders.”

AdEPT Operational Highlights

  • Revenue from Public Sector & Healthcare has increased to 55.5% (FY20: 44.7%)
  • Cloud Centric Strategic Services organic revenue growth of 9% year on year to £25.1m (FY20: £23.1m)
  • Traditional Telephony as a percentage of revenues reduced to 19% (FY20: 21%)
  • Managed services accounted for 81% of total revenue and EBITDA (FY20: 79%)
  • Project Fusion platform (suite of commercial off-the-shelf solutions) utilised by 85% of team and every Division within AdEPT
  • New enlarged £50m senior debt facility put in place with NatWest and Bank of Ireland
  • Significant customer NPS of 83% and Employee NPS of 85%