Inside the channel's most talked-about workplace

Trevor Treharne
clock • 10 min read

As Martin Hellawell steps down after 12 years at the helm of Softcat, he reflects on the work culture which has underpinned the reseller's success.

"Some people think that's a typo," Hellawell laughs as we walk past Softcat's ‘Boredroom'. But it is all part of an office space in affluent Marlow which boasts a culture almost as famous as the business which operates it.

Softcat's headquarters, coloured in the company's signature purple, has everything from bean-bag breakout spaces to badminton courts and a lounge designed in honour of the company founder to replicate the humble beginnings of the firm.

The workforce, spread across two buildings in open-plan spaces, has a cohort of largely young employees, a testimony to the success of its graduate programme - an approach the rest of the channel has tried to imitate.

CEO Martin Hellawell is at the centre of all this - quite literally too, his nondescript desk is on the main floor with all the other employees.

However, these are the final weeks of Hellawell's 12-year reign in the Softcat hotseat. During his tenure, Softcat's revenues have rocketed from £56m to £832m.

So how has Hellawell managed to combine the channel's most talked-about work culture with the sector's biggest success of the past decade?

"We don't take ourselves too seriously," Hellawell told CRN. "The work culture is vibrant, fun, hard working and collaborative."

By Hellawell's desk is a huge tub of chocolates, which are ready to be tossed at the day's highest-performing salespeople. However, the culture is one that Hellawell inherited, rather than created.

"The company was created 25 years ago this year and the culture was very much put in place by the founder Peter Kelly. I would like to think I was a reasonable guardian of that culture and moved it on and evolved it," he said.

"We always had a very fun and quirky culture which is anti the traditional corporate culture and that was always instilled. However, it lacked a bit of confidence in its ability to go out into the market and win against some of the big players.

"We believed we could do a lot more than software licensing, which was the vast majority of what we did when I joined the organisation. It was about raising the ambitions of the company and its confidence to go and win in the marketplace. Turning that culture into good business was something I hopefully helped with."

Hellawell said the people who succeed at Softcat are first and foremost what he calls community players. "That sounds a little bit trite but we are a traditionally sales-driven organisation," he added.

"Sales jobs often attract people who are very individual-focused, not particularly collaborative, not particularly community-focused. They are more out for themselves and I think we've tried to nurture a culture which is quite different from that."

Hellawell said Softcat still wants people who are competitive and want to be number one and win, but not at the expense of their colleagues.

"So we look for people who look out for their colleagues and help their colleagues and want to win as a team, as well as an individual. That is probably quite rare in an IT sales force," he said.

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