Episode Fifty-Seven: The Power Of Organic Growth

Adjusting To New Ways Of Working

We use data to be able to make better decisions about where we invest, how we grow our people, who do we hire and where, and how do we expand our reach within existing customers?

In this episode of the Power of Data Podcast, Richard Wyn Griffith, Managing Director, Softcat explores how data has played an important role in Softcat’s organic growth. Richard also discusses adjusting to remote working and the importance of instilling a culture that champions employee wellbeing and maintains great customer service.

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(Please note that this podcast was recorded remotely.)


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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 57: The Power Of Organic Growth

Guest: Richard Wyn Griffith, Managing Director, Softcat
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO, Dun & Bradstreet

Sam 00:00
Hi, and welcome back to The Power of Data Podcast. You're joined by me, Sam and today we're joined by Richard Wyn Griffith, who's Managing Director at technology and services provider, and client of Dun and Bradstreet, Softcat. Welcome, Richard.

Richard 00:13
Hi, Sam, how you doing?

Sam 00:14
Yeah, I'm good, I'm great thank you. And we were talking about earlier, I'm currently in a WeWwork space and I hope the echoing of this enormous office that I feel spoiled to be in, isn't that reverberating around your ears as much as it is around mine. Let's start at the very beginning. I've been going through your LinkedIn profile through your biography. And one of the things I love exploring when speaking to leaders of great organizations is their journey through to their success, and you've been a Softcat for a long time. You joined as a graduate I believe in a sales role in the early 2000s and now you're leading the company. So give us a little bit about your career journey and how you ended up being the MD.

Richard 00:52
Yeah, sure. Firstly, a merry Christmas to everybody that's listening, it's that time of year, so you've got to get that one in, I think. My journey, yeah, you're right, 18 years I've been at Softcat, which feels like a lifetime and actually, given the fact that we actually recruit quite a few apprentices in our business, it actually is a lifetime for some people. But you're right, I joined as a graduate in November 2002. I just finished a degree in chemistry from the University of Durham. I’d gone back home, you know, doing the typical graduate trying to get a job, in what was actually probably quite tough times, and because we've just come through an economic crisis, and I remember applying for absolutely loads and loads of jobs, and just getting nowhere. You know, I didn't have the best degree and I thought, gosh, well, I don't want to be a chemist, I don't wanna be a pharmacist, I don't want to use my degree. One of the things that attracted me to Softcat was the job title was Microsoft Business Executive, which at the time, sounds very grand. And I thought, gosh, if I, if I actually go work for this company for a couple of years, then I'll be able to go and work for Microsoft. So I went off to this interview of at Softcat, and it turned out to be a sales job, I sold pretty well. And I sort of moved up through the team, taking on a little bit of management of a team in terms of becoming a deputy team leader. And then eventually, an opportunity came to become a team leader of a team. And I did that for probably about eight years and we opened an office in the City of London. You know, I was still doing the day job of looking after accounts and Account Manager, Account Director in those accounts. But I had this additional responsibility in terms of new people into the business, building a new culture. And then in the last two years, I took on a number of other different functions and departments within the business that either needed some care and attention or just needed a new owner. So I took on marketing, which was one of those cases where it's almost like, be careful what you wish for, because I didn't think marketing was close enough to sales. So because I've been fairly vocal about it to our CEO, then CEO, Martin Halliwell who is now Chairman, Martin turned around and said to me, well, why don't you do something about it and take marketing on, which I did, and tried to transform the way that we think about marketing and do marketing. And then I took on services, it was a bit of a dark art. So getting myself stuck into that was really good. And then earlier in the year, this year, 2020, our Managing Director Colin Brown decided he was ready to retire wanted to leave the business and I was fortunate enough to step into his shoes as you say. Colin, actually, his last day was yesterday. And yeah, I'm very fortunate and feel incredibly proud that I'm the Managing Director of our business and I'm humbled by it, to be perfectly honest with you.

Sam 03:25
The serendipity of this conversation, being really on your first day at work is extraordinary. And I say that, because you talked from the very start about Microsoft, and you're actually hot on the heels of the Chairman of Microsoft, John Thompson, who's a great friend of Dun and Bradstreet, and was on this series just a few episodes ago. So you've done full circle.

Richard 03:45
I listened to that podcast with John, it was really good. I'm amazed that I'm on the same series as him, it's fantastic.

Sam 03:51
You talked a moment ago about joining in a recession and finding your feet in your career. And we're in a pretty interesting time at the moment. Interesting is to soft a word perhaps you also talked about shifts in marketing that you've experienced through self-care and my personal view. And I would say this, because I think about it every second of every day as a CMO is that we've never been in a bigger digital inflection point. Everything has gone online, digital marketing is becoming more and more important, and particularly the tooling we use. And through your 18 years at the company, they've been incredible advancements in technology that have changed, not just the way that business is done, but the way that your business has operated and what it's sold, ultimately. I know the Softcat were a beta test customer for the COVID Impact Index that we released. And from what I understand speaking with a team, it helped him form some of your internal governance reporting, which is great to see you guys using tools that are real-time cutting edge and helping give a really clear view of the world you're operating in. But the question I want to ask you is what have you witnessed in terms of digital transformation over the years and specifically today, how are you using new tooling to help you be more effective at Softcat?

Richard 05:05
Yeah, I mean, as you say, the pace of change has not just accelerated, but you know, IT itself has become so important to almost every business. And I don't think I would have predicted where we are today, 18 years ago, and we've seen some real fundamental shifts, IT being something you might have, to now IT being something that you need. And you kind of really do need, if you're going to grow a business, if you're going to push your business forward, as you say, in terms of your footprint, in terms of your digital footprint turns everything else. I think about specific areas that have just exploded, they're probably too many to really list out and I would definitely miss some really key and important ones, and people will be cursing me. But you know, if I think about the importance of the data center, we went from a very distributed IT infrastructure environment to have a centralized environment. And even now as we see that merge between public cloud and on premise infrastructure, and everything that's in between, in that sort of hybrid world, the importance of the data center has never been more than it is today, you've seen things like the rise of email and the amount of email traffic that's grown, you know, the rise of social media has just been phenomenal. And you talk about marketing, and certainly from a marketing perspective in terms of people sharing their data and what people are doing with people's personal data. And then this rise of just data, both personal and data that businesses are using, so business intelligence that can come out of this exponential explosion of data. And we'll see even further explosion of data. 5G becoming much more accessible from a cost perspective, but also how businesses and applications may use that fast connectivity to drive even greater data growth. And then gosh, what are they going to do with all that data? And where are they going to analyze all that data? There's just a whole world of what that could look like going forward. And then you know, you think about data, and you just think about probably the biggest challenge that we hear from our customers, securing that data and how important it is for businesses to be in control of their data, to be in control of their data, and also to limit access to that data. And we think about that personally, as well don't we, even think about what we do with our own personal data as well. It's quite scary where your actual personal data is and how accessible it is to people. I mean, some of the things that I think that we're trying to drive forward within our business in terms of jumping on the bandwagon in terms of the digital transformation is clearly, there's been some stuff out of COVID that has changed our business, but if we take that aside, things like trying to use automation, and intelligence, and use that data to be more effective, and how we can help our customers on all of those journeys in there, not just a security journey, and not just a data centered journey and not just with public cloud, not just in terms of what are they doing with their digital workspaces. There's just so much opportunity for us to tap into. Internally we're also trying to be as much of our own dog food as possible because we've got to really make sure that we move as quickly as we're preaching or helping our customers move. I think that's really important.

Sam 08:10
It's so refreshing to hear a business leader talk so knowledgeably about the power of data. And I have to say one of the biggest privileges in my role is, as you say, getting to eat your own dog food, or take your own medicine or drink your own champagne. And D&B has such a plethora of tools, particularly around the sales acceleration, marketing solutions. But as you said earlier, everything is underpinned by data. The quality, the structure of it, and ultimately how you're approaching Master Data Management. One of the biggest privileges, certainly of my learning has been the acquisition, we did have a customer data platform, a company called Lattice that we acquired last year. And that company allows you to do three things: segment, connect and activate. So you have always on campaigns based on a 360 view of your customer having segmented and propensity analysis. It's really, really powerful. And you think where we've come from as organizations from the 80s and 90s, the call center and the boiler room, you know, the people hitting the phones that doesn't need to happen, in fact, is wildly inefficient. Customer Data platforms are the equivalent of that. It's the next generation of modern marketing that I get really excited about. And something you must be super proud of is Softcat's growth. I can blow your trumpet for you, you guys have grown exponentially over the recent years, since your career there. So how is Softcat moving towards being a data driven business from where it was previously? What sort of things are you doing? What are those big digital transformation shifts that you're in?

Richard 09:45
Yeah, I mean, our growth has been phenomenal and thank you for not blowing my trumpet, I always get a bit embarrassed by it because, you know, I joined the business and we were turning over £36 million, we now are turning over one and a half billion pounds and we've done that in 18 years through completely organic growth. We've never acquired a business, we've built everything from scratch from ourselves. And we quite often will sit here and say that is absolutely the best way to do it because you're in complete control. And you're organically growing. And you're, you know, you're not taking the steps are going to take you too far, you're not taking too much risk in terms of, you know, perhaps acquiring something that may or may not fit culturally, or work or technology wise. We've clearly taken risks internally, but they've been calculated, and we felt entirely in control of those. And I think it's worked, you know, our strategy has been fairly simple and fairly stable for a long, long time in terms of trying to sell to more new customers and trying to sell more to existing customers. That's been our sales strategy for as long as I can remember. And it's so simple, but it's also so effective. And we have a really clear plan around how we do that, you know, for us, it's about making sure that we create a culture and look after the wellbeing of our employees, as the paramount importance is the top priority within our business is looking after our employees. And we know that if we can motivate and give our employees the workplace that they'll enjoy coming to, then they'll do a great job. And if they're doing a great job, then we will deliver great customer service. It's a virtuous circle, if we're delivering great customer service customers are going to keep coming back to us, they're going to keep buying more from us, and that's going to in turn, you know, drive a happier salesperson, and therefore a more motivated salesperson and background, the circle we go. And of course, we've invested, you know, we've invested in resources and teams to be able to support ourselves motion to be able to support our customers in the challenges that they face, we've broadened our portfolio of what we sell, and that's created more markets for us to sell into. So we've done all of the things that I think you would say that they're the obvious and the right things for us to do. The things that I guess we slightly missed by not being acquisitive in some ways is we've kind of missed what do other people do. So everything we've done in terms of our own sort of digital transformation, now we're becoming more data driven is because we think it's right. And because we've not acquired anybody that does things slightly different way we've not been able to acquire outside knowledge or skill sets or technologies or whatever it may be. Clearly, we've bought people into the business, we bought a new CIO in a few years ago, with a clear focus on transforming our business digitally and from a data perspective and I think that's really starting to pay dividends. Now, it's probably meant that in terms of being data driven, we've perhaps been a little bit slower than others might be, perhaps some of the limitations that we've put on ourselves by growing in the way that we have done. I think the key transitions for us was when we became public when we IPO’d back in 2015. And one of the demands of being a public company is you create better data, you're able to give analysts and you're able to go into a bit more detail than perhaps we were as a private company. And I think that definitely manifested, you know, we've got commercial finance team, for example of up to six people who help us to understand our sales output data, our performance data, to be able to make better decisions about where we invest, and how we grow our people, you know, who do we hire? And where do we hire them? How do we expand our reach within existing customers? What market opportunities may occur? So we're definitely using data much more than we ever did. And that that's definitely become an advantage for us. And then like you said, you know, think about where Dun and Bradstreet support us and in terms of the data, we're using your platform to make more intelligent decisions around credit management, that enables us to support our sales teams with customers more quickly and more effectively, ultimately, giving better customer service to our customers. You know, it's all about that mentality of how can we use a phrase, how do we make the boat go faster, and we're trying to make sure that we're taking advantage of those opportunities to deliver that better levels of customer service. But I don't think we're fully there in terms of utilizing data and driving the best outcomes from the data we have, obviously, we collect a lot of data, that marketing data, or customers purchasing habits or what they're looking at on our e-procurement portal. We're aware of it, but are we maximizing the opportunity with it, we're getting there. We're trying to use that data a little bit more intelligently. But it's a journey. And I think it will always be a journey, right? Because there are going to be new things that open up, and the opportunities that open up and new insights that we can glean and new areas, we might want to focus on the war continuous on this journey as data explodes.

Sam 14:19
And I think that that analogy you just gave Richard, of helping the boat go faster is a great one. The way I would see that, in a data world, is, you can put more people in the boat to pull faster on the oars, and that would just be bulking up your sales organization. But if you've got a hole in the boat, it's going to be hard, your retention will be difficult and data can help plug the holes, streamline the boat. It can tell you more about the weather conditions. It can tell you more about who needs to pull Well, it does everything. And I know our teams are working closely together to ensure that everything from Master Data Management through to sell acceleration and risk management tools are embedded in the future of Softcat which I certainly get very excited about. We've spoken about our partnership but one of the things we're deeply passionate at Dun and Bradstreet about is collaboration. And recently, you may have seen, in fact, because we discussed it with John Thompson at Microsoft, we launched Dun and Bradstreet Accelerate. It's our partner program where we work with partners to mutually create value together. We combine our assets with their assets for the benefit of our clients. And one of our key partners actually is Microsoft. What's your view as Softcat, on the importance of partnerships and your own growth story, and what kind of role they played?

Richard 15:31
Yeah, we've also built our business building partnerships, right, and they're at the very core of what we do. And you can probably describe them in many different ways. You know, the way you describe in terms of the sharing of data, and everything is one type of partnership, we have a few others as well. So by our very position within the buying chain of an end user, we rely on strong partnerships with companies like Microsoft, or Dell, for example, or Cisco or HPE. There are manufacturer partners whose technologies we sell, we rely on them to continue to have reasons for us to interact with our customers. You know, they're the ones that are spending money on R&D, creating the products driving the technology decisions that customers are taking by being innovative and forward thinking. And we are their sales agent essentially, taking those to market and giving them the breadth that they need in terms of reaching many more customers than they could do on their own. So partnerships like that are really, really important. But those partnerships, like many are a two-way street, we've got to give something back to those partners, we can't just take from them. So by having this broad customer base, by having this big sales team, having this UK reach by having this level of customer service and experience that we pride ourselves on, we represent those partners effectively in the marketplace.

We also have partners that form part of our ecosystem in terms of the offerings that we have for customers. So it's not just the technology, but honors that help us to fulfill the opportunities where perhaps we don't have the skill sets in house, you know, we pride ourselves on running a fairly lean organization. And we don't want a full bench of technical engineers who can support customers and go out and deploy and deliver solutions to customers, we want to make sure that we're running that and resourcing that optimally. So we also rely on partnerships to help us deliver those broad spectrum of products and services. And then as you say, we have partners who help us to operate our business and Dun and Bradstreet are one of those partners that helped us to operate our business from supporting our finance department, or we have partners to help to build, support and maintain our own IT systems. We have partners that help us with marketing in terms of some of the content we create or the events that we run, we have lots and lots of partners across the business and without them, we'd almost certainly wouldn't be successful as we are today. And I hope that we're seen as a company that's good to be partnered with and who hold strong and long-standing relationships. I think Dun and Bradstreet have been a partner of ours since I've been with the business, so that's a pretty good example, I would say.

Sam 17:54
It's amazing. It's a great end to the question. You guys are a publicly listed business, your share prices continue to perform well through the year, that can't be said of a lot of businesses out there. And I suspect a large part of it is the way you've been agile and adaptable to the conditions we found ourselves in with COVID-19. How at Softcat have you modified your business this year? And where has data helped and preparing and capitalizing on the COVID-19 environment?

Richard 18:21
Yeah, this year has been challenging for many and I feel very fortunate that we work in the technology industry, because it is an enabler to most businesses. And it's been there to support a lot of businesses through what is a challenging year. But I'm very acutely aware that there are some incredible businesses out there that have really struggled in sectors that perhaps haven't had the ability to operate at their full potential because of the pandemic, and also have a lot of public sector customers. And I just think about some of the key workers and the work that they've had to do in this pandemic. It's just been incredible and they've absolutely flogged their guts out, which I'm so grateful for to have a country that's got that infrastructure to be able to support through this. So I feel incredibly fortunate to work in technology but it doesn't mean that we haven't had challenges to overcome or we haven't had to modify businesses, you say. Clearly, culture is so important to our business, and we hold it so incredibly high, that we feel that the office environment, it really helps and supports that culture in the workplace that we provide for our employees. So this move to remote working has been a challenge for us and it's probably not one that we want to be permanent either. We hope that we can get back to having those relationships and energies that we pull from each other as people within an office space and it's really important for us to do that. I’m sure that the future holds much more flexibility and data has helped us to see what impact being remote has had on the ability for us to operate as a business. So, you know, we've been constantly monitoring things like call times and productivity steps and all of that sort of stuff just to make sure we're there to supply our employees as much as possible and perhaps notice some trends when people aren't as productive as they can be to be able to help them through because there's a big wellbeing thing that comes out of people working remotely when they're not used to doing so, so we've been focusing on that quite a lot. Clearly, we've also had some real challenges around onboarding new recruits into the business, that's been a big change for us. And we add about 200 people to our business every year. And that actually probably means recruiting a fair few more than that, because in sales, specifically, that early attrition rate is a challenge. And therefore, virtual onboarding has been something we just didn't know whether it would work or how it would work or how it would turn out. But the learning and development team have just been fantastic and they've created a really agile program of remote working and remote learning, that have really helped our new recruits to settle in and for them to be engaged and feel part of the organization, the feedback on it's just been fantastic so far. But at the same time, I can't wait to see those new recruits back in the office so they can really feel the culture that we've talked about a lot for themselves, and really then kick on even further in, in terms of their energy and passion and enthusiasm.

And obviously, we've had to think about how we approach customers in that remote environment, you know, both existing customers, but also, our sales strategy hasn't changed. We want to sell to more new customers so how do we approach new customers, and I think we've done a good job in adapting to that as well. And salespeople have done a very good job in adapting their approach to customers and how they approach talking to customers in the remote environment. We ran our annual customer satisfaction survey back in July, we usually run it a little bit earlier, but we delayed it because people are in the throes of COVID and trying to get back to some sort of stable working environment. And even running it in July was a concern, because it's just crikey, what's the feedback going to be like. Not on our business, but just your frame of mind that people are going to be in in terms of answering a survey, and they're probably answering a million surveys a day, some heavy survey fatigue. But we actually got more responses than we've ever had before. And the results were great, overall satisfaction was up almost a percent at 96.6%, and our NPS score, which is obviously an indicator, which can be leveraged across many different industries and areas was up to 66 NPS. And I'm just so incredibly proud of our organization for doing that for being agile enough, sticking together, really, you know, just trying to get through what it's been a tough time for some within our organization too, and really driving us forward as a business. So as you can tell, you know, using the data, like customer satisfaction to reinforce what it is we're doing.

Sam 22:26
Well, firstly, congratulations, I mean, your NPS score is always impressive. But actually, it was a comments around wellness that I think really drove home. And I feel grateful every day to be in the technology sector, like you Rich, and my wife is a doctor, so she's on the front line, it couldn't be more polar. And wellness is something that our people teams are leaders, everyone in our organization has spent such a great deal of time thinking about because when you're a home and you don't have that interaction, even the smallest of things can throw you off track. And these things compound these feelings, and everyone has different circumstances at home. It's not always a level environment. So I'm delighted to hear you talk about that as the modern day leader.

Richard 23:08
it's just so important. And you know, we have an organization of just over 1600 people now. So getting it right for everybody, all of the time is really, really difficult. And of course, you know, some people are going to feel in low places, and some people are not going to deal with things. But you know, some of the support networks that we've put in place in our organization, just reaching out and speaking to people, it's just so incredibly powerful, I've now set aside a couple of hours every week to spend time going around and just ringing people in the organization that I normally wouldn't speak to, or perhaps normally would, in a normal environment. And people get a lot from just you paying interest that you're just spending time talking to them, you don't want anything from them, you just want to talk to them and just see how they are and that is a massive two-way street because for me, I feel very fortunate I have a study at home that I sit in. My work setup is probably a little bit more structured than some people who perhaps have come out of university and it's their first job or you know, they're living with their parents or living in a flat share and it's just, you know, difficult working environment when they're at home. You know, I also struggle with being here and not interacting with people. So just speaking to people within the organization I find incredibly uplifting for myself. And it's amazing how it can affect different people and even you know, our senior leaders within our business are affected by this. And wellbeing is the biggest challenge we all face but we're all trying to try to do something about it and trying to keep the spirits up. And hopefully 2021 has a brighter outlook.

Sam 24:31
I certainly hope so. And it's definitely looking that way with vaccines, and positivity in the horizon. But as you say, empathy has never been so important. And I do hope in a somewhat ironic way, perhaps we will end up with heightened empathy for one another, and a renewed focus on wellness, mind and body, health and all those positive things, you know, maybe that will be a silver lining. Rich, we're coming to the end of the conversation and I have 1000 more questions I want to ask you and particularly given you guys have been a client of ours for so long and a great partner, I think there's many synergies between our businesses, and there's definitely a meeting of the minds in terms of power of data itself. But I always end on one question. I'm particularly fascinated to ask this question to you, because of the career you've had, within one firm that extraordinary growth from £35 million to one and a half billion, who's been a great guide or source of inspiration for you, if you had any mentors in your time at Softcat?

Richard 25:28
Yeah, without a doubt, and it's really difficult to pick one, so I'm going to cheat and pick a few, you absolutely cannot deny the impact that the founder of our business Peter Kelly has had on Softcat as a whole, on the IT industry in terms of the channel, and how we do things, but also personally on me. You know, he came in and started Softcat on the basis of creating a workplace that people actually wanted to come to, and that that would drive productivity, which ultimately has laid the foundations for where we are today. And you've heard me talking about that sort of stuff is still embedded in our culture. So he's really helped me to understand how our culture enables business to grow. And obviously, he was also the person who offered me a job in the first place. So I'll always be thankful to him for that. I think as I've more recently moved into the MD role, as I said, about Colin's transition, having worked for him for six years, and then spent the last four months not working for him, but kind of working with him, I realize how much and how grateful I am for how much I've learned from him and working for him for six years. And how I will take a lot of those learnings forward in the way that I’ll operate as a managing director of our business. So yeah, Colin definitely has guided me and steered me over the last six years. I think if you were to push me for one person, I think it would be very difficult to swerve Martin Halliwell, who was our CEO for 11 years and is now our chairman. I've learned so much about business just full stop, and people within it, about building a network, and how important that is. And I'm indebted to him for everything is imparted on me over those 11 years because I definitely have taken a lot of good learnings from Martin, and he's a fantastic, fantastic guy as well, go with it, really good fun too.

Sam 27:09
Awesome. I'm so pleased to hear it and particularly the baton is well and truly handed to you today. It's a lovely way to end. Rich, thank you so much. Firstly, for joining us on the podcast, our last one before Christmas, but also for just being a wonderful partner with Softcat to Dun and Bradstreet. I know as the world becomes ever more data infused and powered by those capabilities, we're going to have another 18 years of awesome times ahead.

Richard 27:36
Thank you and thank you for your partnership. It has been great and it will continue to be great. So I really appreciate the time and the opportunity to come and speak with you today.

Sam 27:43
Thanks Rich.