STL Technologies MD, James Garnham
BACKGROUNDER: James Garnham has been managing director of STL Technologies since 2005. He joined the company in 1996 starting as a project manager. James has been instrumental in the company's successful development of turnover and profits. James has been personally involved in many of the company's projects including Police Custody and Case Systems, Court Systems for the Isle of Man, Scottish Courts and the Ministry of Justice.
In recent years James has focused his attention on implementing strategy for the organisation and recruiting a management team to help him deliver against that strategy. Central to this strategy is the creation of a research and development function to introduce new technology to the company and raising the profile of the organisation through effective sales and marketing.
STL Technologies delivers ICT business solutions to public and private sector clients and employs over 170 staff. Operating nationally, STL Technologies is headquartered in Suffolk.
1. Four years ago you took over from Geoff Frost, a man who founded and ran the business for over 40 years; what kind of challenges did this present?I had worked in the business for some time and had a view on what was good and what needed to improve. I also knew we had to take a forward view of where we wanted to be and develop a strategy to deliver this.The main challenge I faced has been to change the management team and to build a team on whom I can rely. The company culture also needed realignment to where we wanted to go and this is an ongoing process.The biggest challenge in the sector now is recruiting, motivating and retaining suitable talent and I forecast this will become more difficult as we recover from the recession and skills shortages manifest again. Changing our culture to become more commercially aware and sales focused is a further challenge we will be addressing.2. What have been your finest achievements since taking over?There have been several in which I have been involved but it would be unfair to say they were achieved by me alone.The negotiation of a major subcontract securing Public Sector services for five years was a key milestone for us, the establishment of a new research and development function within the business and the creation of our Advanced Technology Centre have all been key steps. The recruitment of a strong and committed board to work with me has been a rewarding challenge.3. How has the harsh economic climate affected the business in a year that has still seen you invest in new facilities and staff?New business development is slower than I would like. Sales lead times are longer, decisions are more investment return and benefit focused and face greater scrutiny, and in some sectors there is plenty of competition.That said, our public sector revenues have supported our investment plans and we remain in excellent shape for when the economy improves we are a profitable organsiation and retain most profits for reinvestment.This year we have traded profitably and have invested that which we felt was sustainable in the longer term. Currently our growth plans can be funded from reserves but this may not always be the case and we may need to consider external funding.4. The ICT sector is hotly contested, particularly in the East of England; what makes you stand out?We also have critical mass in terms of our resource base. We currently employ over 170 staff the majority in a technical capacity.Also, we are only as good as our people and we invest hugely in our staff and strive to build their professional development and accreditations. Our sales message is not about selling products, it is about improving clients' business performance and solving their business problems.5. You have strong representation in the public sector and criminal justice sector; what makes you so suited to these markets?It really is about track record and being very close to that sector for many years. Our Criminal Justice involvement started in the early seventies and we have specialised in the sector since then. I have always believed our success was down to the ability of our staff to get very close to the client, particularly at the user level, to understand exactly how their business works.That way you develop a real empathy and understanding for what they are doing and the challenges that they face and can develop solutions to improve this.6. The Ministry of Justice deal in 2003 appears to have been a transformative one for the business; how has this shaped the company's evolution since?Yes it has had a transformative effect on the company. To service the contract we grew 100 per cent headcount in 18 months which stretched management hugely. I think working for Government is a real challenge especially for an SME. We have had to adopt rigorous practices and procedures not typically associated with organisations of our size. Whilst this can improve self discipline it can also have the effect of stifling agility and creativity unless you are careful.On balance, the project has resulted in a huge increase in the professionalism and capability of our organisation but it has been a challenging path to follow and we have learned a great deal.7. In terms of revenues, the UK software industry lags heavily behind the US and India, with just a handful of companies in the top 100 and none in the top 20, surely an issue for a knowledge-based economy. What is holding us back?This is a great title for a dissertation! I think there are a number of factors at play including skills availability and training, the relationship between education, industry and funding and entrepreneurial vision all play a key part.Many of the major software companies started up decades ago and have taken many years to reach their current size. Others like Google have grown vast in a decade.Recent visits to Silicon Valley have shown me (even in a recession) how powerful the relationship between education, entrepreneurial spirit and funding are. We have some of this in the UK but not nearly enough and I think we need to take more positive action to grow this vital sector.8. What are your plans for the company over the medium to long term and what challenges are inherent in that?
It's a great company and has real talent amongst its staff. I want to see the company grow and to reach it's true potential. Our five year plans see us doubling in size through a mixture of organic growth and acquisition. It really is about the new product offerings we are starting to bring to market. Desktop Virtualization is a key area for us and one in which we expect to see considerable activity in 2010.However, recruiting, motivating and retaining suitable talent is the biggest challenge in the sector these days and I forecast this will become more difficult as we recover from the recession and skills shortages manifest again. Changing our culture to become more commercially aware and sales focused is a further challenge we will be addressing.9. Do you have any major developments in the pipeline? Are you able to drop any hints?We are investing in and working with an American start-up company on an innovative RFID solution that has potential applications in numerous businesses and has unique technical characteristics that we believe will result in a highly successful item tracking solution.10. What three pieces of advice would you give any budding entrepreneurs thinking of starting their own business?Believe in yourself and your product, understand your market and most importantly do your research.