What has been your personal highlight of 2020?
The best thing is that Fordway's business has continued to thrive throughout the COVID crisis. One of our company values is ‘adapt and thrive'. Having survived the 2008-10 financial crisis, but taken a few body blows, we learned that we needed to rebuild our business on contractually recurring revenue from Fordway delivered services, which we have done in the last 10 years.
Due to this focus, and because we concentrate on working with unsexy businesses, government and the NHS, we have not had to furlough any staff or make any redundancies due to the pandemic; we've actually recruited and onboarded 12 new staff since March. Our revenues have stood up very well, turnover is 12 per cent down from where we were aiming at the start of the year, over our financial year (just ended) we've broken even and have used lockdown to deliver some key internal changes which will stand us in good stead when the recovery comes.
On a purely personal level, my youngest child has just gone to university so I'm now looking forward to some quality time with my wife and the ability to travel to interesting places during term time, when we're allowed.
Which three celebrities would you invite to a Zoom party?
If it has to be Zoom I'd love to pick the brains of Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great to understand and learn from what drove them and how they inspired and led their respective armies to conquer the known world at the time. If we could meet in person it would be Oliver Reed, Keith Moon and Elle Macpherson, on the basis that we'd have a fantastic craic and I'd get to leave with Elle as the other two would be too drunk to care.
What has been your guiltiest lockdown pleasure?
As an unashamed petrolhead, in the earlier days of lockdown when the roads were empty, I did take advantage of the peace and quiet to have some fun in my car and on one of my motorbikes.
As I was still going to our offices a few days a week and the weather was lovely, I normally took the long way home in the evenings. I'm claiming it's due to a dodgy fuel gauge on a new (to me) motorbike, but I did manage to run out of fuel one evening a few miles from home and had to be rescued by my grown-up children, who were home for lockdown, with an emergency gallon of petrol. My son takes great delight in reminding me of this at any opportunity.
Which tech figurehead has inspired you most this year, and why?
I wouldn't say inspired, but I've been impressed by the cultural change and business transformation Satya Nadella has been leading at Microsoft, particularly the breadth and capability of their cloud offerings and their embrace of non-Microsoft technologies such as Linux and Android. It's a breath of fresh air compared with the Gates and Ballmer days.
I've also been trying to learn from Netflix's and Amazon's business practices. While Reed Hastings and Jeff Bezos don't come across as the planet's most likeable people, they are leading extremely successful businesses that are vanguards of digital transformation and have some useful business ideas and practices we can use to run better businesses ourselves.
What piece of technology, or app, have you not been able to do without during the pandemic?
It's not really technology, unless you count carbon fibre and titanium, but riding around the back roads in the Surrey Hills close to home on my bicycle for a few hours on summer evenings and weekends has kept me reasonably fit and given me some excellent thinking time. Plus, I've had the chance to enjoy the beautiful English countryside at its best.
If you could be anyone else for a week, who would you be and what would you do?
For a few years after I left school I tried to make a living as a professional musician (well drummer, a.k.a. bloke who hangs round with musicians), playing for a couple of bands with limited success - one band was signed but we never broke through. I fell into IT as a complete accident when I needed a job because music wasn't paying the bills.
My dream was - and to some extent still is - to be John Bonham (Led Zeppelin's drummer) for a week on one of their legendary tours in the mid to late 70s. Play a massive gig every night to thousands of screaming fans, party until dawn with a few groupies, wreck a hotel and on to the next one. Modern bands seem a bit clean living by comparison.
I'm still gigging, in fact my band have even played a couple of open-air, socially distanced gigs during the lockdown. The last audience we played to was about 50 people in the garden of a local pub, and most of them were older than I am.
Do you miss face-to-face events?
Yes. While you can maintain existing relationships and even make new ones over videoconferencing, meeting in person - ideally over a beer or meal - is still the best way to really get to know someone and develop meaningful business relationships.
How will COVID leave its mark on the way the channel operates long term?
I think the short-term impact of COVID on the channel will be limited, apart from the business impact on product-only resellers that don't generate service revenue who I'm sure are struggling. In the longer term I believe customers will take a more detailed look at the underlying company stability and their values, and how they coped with the pandemic, as much as the solutions they are offering when awarding contracts.
I believe the coming post-COVID business downturn will reshape the channel, similar to what happened after the 2008-10 financial crisis, where unprofitable or heavily leveraged channel players who have to show rapid growth or have poor business ethics will struggle to survive. I'm very glad Fordway doesn't have any borrowings and is not in hock to a private equity funder demanding short-term, unrealistic returns for the money they have invested.