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Thames Valley SME 100 Growth: CEO insights

By Sara Klusch
13 July 2021

The past year was a kaleidoscope of experiences for business owners and leaders, filled with challenges but also with successes. The Business Magazine asked the CEOs and leaders of the 2021 Thames Valley SME 100 Growth list, which celebrates the region’s high-growth small and medium-sized enterprises, the following three questions:

  • What were your toughest challenges over the past year?
  • What were your biggest wins?
  • What are your wildest ambitions for the coming year?

Regardless of sector, the business leaders that qualified for this year’s Thames Valley SME 100 Growth list said their biggest challenge was responding to Covid-19. They struggled to maintain their company culture while working remotely, find ways to support the mental health and wellbeing of their team members and react to the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic. While company leaders were united to an extent in their struggles, each celebrated different types of successes with their teams and had different ambitions for the coming year.

What were your toughest challenges over the past year?

“Timing of decisions, which should not be confused with actually making decisions (running a business is just a series of decisions that need to be made anyway). Throughout the past year, no one really knew what the outcome of the pandemic was going to be and the situation was so fluid that it really made it difficult to know when to make certain decisions. The timing of these decisions was critical to keeping customers and staff happy in equal measure” – Matthew (Matt) Joy, co-owner of Conveyancing Data Services, a conveyancing search provider based in Reading and number 18 on the Thames Valley SME 100 Growth list.

“As a small business, S4labour has developed a great working relationship with the team. It was challenging to maintain team engagement and communication while being furloughed or working from home. Utilising video technologies helped, in addition to regularly checking in on everyone to continue to maintain wellbeing and morale” – Alastair Scott, CEO of S4Labour, a labour management software company based in Bradbury and number 37 on the Thames Valley SME 100 Growth list.

“Managing the health and safety issues around working during a pandemic was a huge challenge. We made significant investments in PPE, sanitisation, signage and staff awareness training to help with that.  In the early days of the pandemic, the company directors would also meet every evening (on Teams of course) after the government press conference to enable us to react to the latest advice and to ensure we implemented systems and procedures to protect staff, clients and members of the public. It was a huge effort, but helped us as a business improve communication with our staff” – Simon Newton, managing director at Darke & Taylor, a building services company based in Hanborough, listed as number 30 on the list.

What were your biggest wins?

"If there’s one positive or overall win from our collective experience over the last 12 months its seeing how societies are again understanding the value of the human and, for businesses, the need to place their people (not automation) at the very heart of their economic recovery." - Sabby Gill, CEO of Thomas International, a talent assessment platform based in Marlow and number 39.

“Growing the business 75% through a pandemic while also gaining Private Equity Investment to fuel our growth overseas. Doubling headcount to 200 people. Expansion into North America and Asia. Being recognised as a top 5 independent cyber security company in the UK." - Anthony Young and Scott Nicholson, co-CEOs of Bridewell Consulting, a cyber-security company based in Reading and number 8 on the list.

“Retaining our team so we could deal with the influx of business in Q4 of 2020.  I feel proud that we sacrificed profits to keep everyone employed and paid them 100% of salary despite some needing to be furloughed” – Simon Schnieders, founder of Blue Array, a Search Engine Optimisation company based in Reading, number 50 on the list.

What are your wildest ambitions for the coming year?

“Seeing the UK’s vaccination programme completed, having a mask-less Christmas party with the whole team and going on holiday!” – Joanna Jensen, founder and chairman of Childs Farm, a children’s toiletries company in Basingstoke, ranked 55th.

“Continue to grow as a business in line with our company values: be brave, commit, be fair and enjoy it. We aim to deliver inspired working environments for businesses to thrive in” – Michael Potter, owner and managing director at Curve Workplaces, a company that specialises in office, warehouse and laboratory design based in Bracknell, number 26.

“Have all staff return to work in our respective offices and be able to travel safely to see customers, partners and employees around the world” – Nick Earle, CEO of Eseye, a company that empowers businesses to embrace IoT without limits, listed at number 68 on the Thames Valley SME 100 Growth.

The 2021 edition of the Thames Valley SME 100 Growth list is sponsored by law firm Herrington Carmichael, commercial property consultants Hicks Baker and corporate finance advisers Wilson Partners.

Supporting partners are Laithwaites and Lamborghini.