If Peter Rigby were a bird, he'd be an eagle. He is strong-willed, determined and stoical. At all times, he maintains a sharp eye, absolute control of the power at his disposal and an air of authority. Rigby is justly proud of his achievements. He is protective of his nest, of his brood and his company SCH, the u500 million business he has built up over the past 17 years.
The only flaw in this metaphor is neither Rigby or SCH could be described as birds of prey. The individual and the company are successful, winning business cleanly and on their own merits. This is the spirit that Rigby instils in the business.
If it were up to him, this article would not be about Rigby and his views at all, it would be about SCH. 'People often write about me and not enough about the company. The business consists of a lot of very able people at many different levels,' he says.
But it is hardly surprising that Rigby gets most of the attention. He is founder, chairman and group MD of one of the UK's biggest and most successful privately held companies.
SCH contains one of the UK's most successful corporate resellers, SCC; one of its most important distributors, ETC; a flourishing services business, SCS; and the fast-developing Byte chain of retail stores.
When PC Dealer was first published in October 1986, SCC was already one of the UK's leading business computer dealerships. Its annual sales in that financial year, ended 31 March 1987, were u26 million.
It formed relationships with IBM and with Compaq early on and, over the following five years, it took full advantage of the tremendous growth in the PC market, opening branches across the UK and growing its annual sales to u318 million in the year ended 31 March 1996. This year they are expected to top u350 million.
No one could have foreseen the growth that has taken place in the computer industry, but Rigby says that he always had a vision and he feels that this has been an important factor in the success of his company. The vision can be modest, he says, but without it, you have no clear direction and purpose.
Even in 1986, Rigby had his sights on building something more than a successful computer business. 'People go into business for different reasons.
It was relatively easy then to make money but I think that, if you want to be an SCC, you have to put a lot more back into the business. I always wanted it to have a long-term future. I wanted to create something.'
There is a definite culture to the business, says Rigby, one that he has played the major role in forming. 'I have to say some of that has rubbed off on the people I have employed.'
SCH has a family culture and focuses on long-term goals, on creating a lasting successful business. Rigby has gone a long way to achieving this goal, if it is not already secured. SCC has become much more than a PC dealer and SCH now claims to be the largest privately owned IT business in the UK.
Rigby sensed the potential of the PC when IBM first got behind the concept in the early 1980s. 'I had spent many years selling technology and when IBM endorsed the PC in 1982 I thought that was the most important thing that had happened in the PC industry to that date.'
The PC made an impression on Rigby because, having sold mainframes to large firms, he knew how much clout IBM had in the market. SCC was started up in 1983 as an IBM dealership and it quickly established itself as one of the leading resellers - a status it has retained ever since.
Rigby has great admiration for IBM and feels that the company was in no small measure responsible for the formation of the reseller channel in the UK. It flourished in the mid 1980s, but for some reason took its eye off the ball. 'It lost sight of the customer and took too long to get the products to market,' he says.
Constant changes to the reseller terms and conditions added to the confusion and frustration, and Compaq was able to capitalise on IBM's weakness.
Compaq had no history and was only involved with the PC formula. IBM was a corporation, was beset by legacy systems and a commitment to the vastly profitable mainframe software business. That contrasted dramatically with the margins available on the PC.
SCC prospered and grew. In 1989, SCH's annual sales reached u47 million, and with growth rates of between 40 per cent and 50 per cent the company was soon a u100 million business. But profits never seemed dramatically high. Rigby was constantly investing in the business, planning for the long term.
In 1990, as the UK was in the grip of recession, he commissioned a top consultancy to develop a five-year business plan. The consultancy established where SCC wanted to be in five years and what type of business it wanted to be. It concluded SCC must be dynamic and form long-term relationships with its clients, paying close attention to their needs.
Even at this stage SCC believed that the dealership business was polarising, with smaller companies going vertical and the other four or five very large organisations taking the volume. Eventually medium-sized companies would find themselves with nowhere to go and therefore SCC needed to grow.
Recession slowed the market down. Sales were almost u80 million in 1991, but SCH was well insulated. It had a solid customer base, good supplier relationships and Rigby's policy of always operating on a cash-positive basis meant it had no borrowings. It was still generating profits and was thus well equipped to weather the storm.
Meanwhile, some of its competitors - also early IBM dealers - had started to fall by the wayside. MBS and Personal Computers Limited were two of the biggest casualties. P&P pulled out of PCs to focus on distribution.
Some of the people who went out of the business at this time, says Rigby, were people who had helped to make it - people like Peter Fisher and Mike Sterland. Others went on to achieve a great deal - Rigby mentions Derek Lewis and Philip Hulme as examples.
SCH survived and prospered by sticking to its principles and thinking long-term. Rigby says few businesses seem to do this in the IT industry.
He believes many of his competitors have done little more than survive over the past five years. Investment in people and in infrastructure has continued at SCH, and Rigby continues to invest in the organisation, working towards the vision of creating a lasting business, one that will out-live all the businesses that don't respond to change.
'There are still box-shifters around and people who don't invest to build a services-capable business. When you analyse what they've got to offer it's just a relationship with a supplier to supply those products. And those margins are getting thinner,' he says.
Volume is a necessary part of the business now, but a business must have more than the ability to ship products. SCC has much more to offer and this, together with its solid financial footing and its independence, puts it in a strong position in the reseller market.
'In the early days we were selling a concept. Now the PC is the platform of choice, it's integrated into the strategy and the expectation of the supplier is much higher today than it was. When you analyse the capabilities of the suppliers, only a very small number can match the profile that SCC has,' says Rigby.
Few companies can meet the real needs of corporate users. Vendors have become more dependent on these organisations. 'I think the power has moved from the manufacturer to the reseller or the systems integrator. I think organisations like SCC are highly thought of by the customer and I think we fulfil a vital role in the industry.'
It ought to be highly thought of - SCH is one of the UK's top 400 companies.
'Ten years ago I don't think you'd have found a reseller in the top 1,000 companies,' says Rigby. He does not now see SCC as a PC dealer, though.
It hasn't been one in the traditional sense for years.
SCC is much more of a systems integration company, capable of providing all the hardware and the services corporate companies need from a single source as one solution. 'That's not being a PC dealer - any organisation that can do that is very different from an organisation that sits there turning out PCs on the lowest possible margins.'
The direct competition for SCC can now be counted on one hand and projects are getting larger. SCC and its sister companies are more often in competition with systems houses such as EDS, Hoskyns and Sema than they are with traditional dealers now. They also find themselves working alongside these companies.
It is a different league.
Rigby's vision now is to turn SCH into a u1 billion business by the end of the millennium. 'I think that for us to retain a place at the table we've got to step up to that opportunity.'
Since 1993 it is estimated that the company has invested u30 million in getting the Byte chain up and running. More openings are planned in the coming year. A new u6 million warehouse was constructed earlier this year to meet the growing needs of SCC and ETC. In May, SCC bought Computer Support, the maintenance business of Network Si, for u3 million.
All this investment is coming from internal funds - it is Rigby's own money. Flotation has never been a goal for Rigby. He believes there are many advantages to being a private company.
'I do not feel I could have done what I have done in business if I had been running a public company. I don't have to sit down with a 24-year-old analyst who theoretically is going to tell me what is going on in this industry. I get on with running the business.'
But while he might not want to be probed by youthful City analysts about his business strategy, Rigby is more than prepared to give the young members of his management team the opportunity to develop their abilities.
Most of the management team at SCH have been with the company for many years. Only in exceptional circumstances is the appointment of someone from outside the business to a senior position countenanced.
Even so, Rigby recognises that, as the company grows and broadens its activities, some abilities can't be nurtured internally. 'They are all very capable and committed and they all enjoy my full support. But there will be skills that we don't have that we'll have to bring in.'
The firm has received numerous awards and accolades over the past decade. Of these the West Midlands Business of the Year 1995, presented by the CBI in conjunction with Price Waterhouse and the Birmingham Post, is the most prized. It symbolises SCH's achievements as a business in the region.
Recognition in the computer industry is important to Rigby - but he wants it to be the right sort of recognition, not just the kind that measures what SCH has achieved against competitors. 'I expect us to be judged by our performance and our capabilities and by the quality of what we have done,' he says.
Even so, rivals will testify to SCH's ability to compete at every level.
'I am a strong competitor. I say it as I see it and I'd like to think that we are perceived as being a very professional customer-facing organisation,' says Rigby.
He is not only candid in his remarks, he also goes his own way, reading and interpreting the market and acting on his convictions. At the end of 1987 Rigby set up Enhancement Technologies Corporation and in 1993 set up Byte. 'People didn't tell us to do that, we made our own decisions to operate in those sectors.'
This is a clear demonstration of Rigby's ability to think ahead. It took 18 months to plan the Byte stores. This means he first committed to the idea in the middle of 1991 when the retail boom had hardly started.
His priorities are the company's priorities. Those who don't or are not equipped to share them are the only people who don't last at SCC. It is a company for leaders rather than followers. 'We don't employ cowboys, and where we have, frankly, they haven't lasted. I am proud of my management team. Some of that has come from me and some from the individuals themselves.'
Rigby believes this is one of the keys to SCH's success. 'Recruiting good people and keeping them fully motivated and active to what is happening in the industry is essential,' he says.
'I think if you don't accept change in this business you die. You have to be flexible but you also have to be resolved and, in the end, have a vision and a plan.'
Businesses also admit to holding data without permission of subjects
Zedsphere says end-point security vendor's offerings will be a 'key' feature of its wider portfolio
New acquisition will bring UK cloud service provider's global headcount to over 700
Law firm claims that Oracle lied to investors over what is driving its cloud revenue growth and boosted sales through 'threats and extortive tactics'