Blackstone + Cloudreach - a year on
What a difference a year makes. I’m writing these lines on a transatlantic flight (there’s no better place to find some uninterrupted time!) after some reflection on past and future. I also just realised I wrote this article over a year ago already.
Looking back at the 14th February 2017 (what an unusual Valentine’s gift), I think about the strategy and the goals we set out to achieve. I also think about all the challenges we thought we would face and the "unknown unknowns" we tried to guess. To me, it’s simply fascinating to revisit so many achievements and lessons learned - many more of the former than the latter! - over such a short period of time. So I thought I would write them down as follow on from last year’s thoughts.
Strategy-wise, we continue to deliver on our promise and are on track to becoming the category leader in the software-enabled cloud services market. "Software-enabled" being the key expression here. Everyone agrees that the cloud has radically changed the way organisations consume IT resources but also, and most notably, how it democratised access to innovation. So why wouldn’t the IT Services industry be subject to a radical shift too?
By software-enabling our services we also democratise the creation, modernisation and management of cloud applications, delivering more value to more customers without the need to scale headcount in the same proportion. Dumb and repetitive tasks should be performed by software, leaving the hugely talented people we employ to solve the highly complex problems. And, if possible, automate it via software when they do.
It’s been an incredible year. We’ve pretty much hit all our financial targets (and, believe me, they’re aggressive!), we have several transformative programmes underway, we’ve strengthened our capabilities with two organisations (this one and this one) who decided to join us on our journey. We’ve also grown from roughly 250 people at the time of the acquisition to edging close to 550 at the time of writing. We’ve brought in some important hires for key positions. The list is long.
I should perhaps mention that we achieved all of this while considerably improving our customer NPS score (which was already industry beating) and our internal employee satisfaction survey (which, again, was well above par).
It’s unbelievable the things you can achieve when you hire and nurture incredibly smart individuals and provide them with an environment in which to thrive.
What about those lessons learned then?
Let’s face it, the unknown unknowns do arise, but it’s the way you deal with them that defines your chances of success. Fortunately, we didn’t face that many adverse surprises along the way (he says while touching wood). What we’ve primarily learned is that hyper growth is scary. Scarily exciting I may add, but scary nonetheless.
To deal with it effectively, you have to constantly evolve and adapt the way you manage change and communications. It gets trickier as you go from personally knowing everyone in the organisation to only half (and then a quarter and so on) in a very short period of time.
Another interesting aspect is the "how fast can you grow?" question. We’ve gone from growing organically, where you can only grow as fast as your cash flow allows, to having the ability to invest in exponential growth. Growth has always been in our DNA and we’ve been pretty good at it, but to take it to the next level you need to make sure the whole organisation also adapts to it. The art of cautiously "not holding back".
As you can see from the above, we’re doing a lot (a lot!) of things at once. We’re implementing multiple systems, making acquisitions, moving to a more productised (and software-enabled) approach to the market, hiring very aggressively, amongst many other things, while selling and delivering customer excellence. This imposes an incredible load on the overall organisation and requires careful planning and execution.
And what about Blackstone?
This is, by far, the question I get asked the most - what is it like to be backed by a PE firm? How hard is your life now with the new "owners"?
The more sceptical readers will perhaps think that I’ll paint a rosy picture for fear of losing my job. Although I do fear losing my job, primarily because I love it, I honestly have a very positive opinion of the relationship so far.
The best way to describe it is that they 'get it'. Our investment team and board members understand growth equity (as opposed to more traditional private equity investments). The main 'push' we get is to be better, to grow faster, to look after our people - all positive things. We also benefit from their experience and know-how. We have a lot of smart, knowledgeable and enthusiastic people across the business who are going through such a transformational process for the first time in their careers. The combination of Blackstone’s wealth of experience with the leadership and technical excellence of our people, produces an unbeatable recipe for success.
I started my post little over 12 months ago with a cheesy quote:
"Getting to the top is hard, but it’s harder to stay there".
We’re staying there for the moment, and given what I described above, it’s hard to see that changing any time soon.