TWO’S COMPANY: BRIAN WILLIAMSON AND JAMES FAULDS OF JUMPSTART
In this article of the Two’s Company series, entrepreneur Brian Williamson, managing director of Jumpstart, describes his chairman, James Faulds, as both a set of reins and a set of spurs, showing just how much impact this role can have on a business.
Jumpstart is an innovative, fast-growing company but it could easily have been a victim of its own success. By bringing in an adviser, who has been there, done that, the young company was steered straight. James Faulds jokes that he is obsessed with the “F word” – focus, but that is frequently what growing companies need above all.
This is also an interesting insight into how to recruit a chairman to the company board – you don’t have to tiptoe around candidates, you can set some pretty tough rules to make sure that you end up with the right person.
In this case, it’s clear that Jumpstart – one of the UK’s leading R&D tax credit specialists – is much better off because of the relationship between management and mentor, and that both sides are learning valuable lessons as the business grows.
BRIAN WILLIAMSON – MD, JUMPSTART
I got involved with Jumpstart in 2010 when it was two people in an attic. I was fascinated by the business model and as time went on I got more involved. It was a company that secured refunds for SMEs, and my view of it was that even if this wasn’t the business I thought it was, getting such a significant amount of money back for so many people was a good enough motivation in itself.
At the beginning I spent six months working out exactly what the business could achieve and realised there was lots of opportunity for growth.
My job was to build a sales force, the challenge being that the business was started in the depths of a recession and there were very few funding options. I took over as MD in 2013 as there were four people at the top of the company and we needed someone to have the final say and make the final decisions.
In 2014 we were rocketing ahead as far as growth was concerned and we had a great reputation in our native Scotland, but we needed infrastructure through the UK. The investment would require “smart money” – someone who would bring skills, attributes and connections to the table. BGF was the investor that came out on top. Jim and I take our turns at being the reins and the spurs… the balance works really well
We recruited our chairman in the same rigorous way we recruit our employees. BGF said that we were “not really dealing with people who will fill in psychometric tests”; that said, we felt that anyone who refused wouldn’t really be a good fit for us. The traditional selection method would be just liking the cut of someone’s jib, but we didn’t necessarily need someone we liked; we needed someone who would bring something to the business.
With James, we ended up with the best person, no doubt. The danger with building a business is that you believe your own story and you’re reluctant to do things differently to how you have previously done them. Jim came in as an entrepreneurial chairman who could really figure out where the commercial success of the business lay.
I’m in my 35th year of running businesses, so it isn’t a new thing for me. Jim and I have debates and he challenges me all the time, which is for the benefit of the business – he just wants to get the best out of me.
A pair of reins and a set of spurs is necessary in this environment, and if you have too much of one and not much of the other it is quite dangerous.
JAMES FAULDS – CHAIRMAN, JUMPSTART
I didn’t realise before I joined Jumpstart how great the R&D scheme is – and some companies don’t even realise it exists. The Government has also enhanced it in the last two budgets, and so it should if it wants to invest properly in making the UK a centre for business excellence.
Jumpstart has succeeded because of how well it has focused on one particular area, and embedded in the company are excellent systems, qualities and values. There’s also some really enthusiastic and talented people, which is always a critical point for me because, regardless of what industry they are in, people are crucial.
My first reaction to the recruitment process for the chairman’s role was to be a bit indignant. It wasn’t an easy ride. Once I got into it, rather perversely I enjoyed it – I think it appealed to my competitive nature. It also dawned on me that if they were putting me through this, then clearly they were working hard to filter all applicants through the company to those with a high level of talent and experience.
So I was impressed, ultimately. Most of the chief executives I have worked with have been a bit younger than me, and with Brian, it is different because he has a lot of business experience. With all these relationships, you have to win each other’s respect, and you realise that you’re aligned, that you have the same objective.
The relationship between Brian and me has been absolutely natural. When BGF introduced us it said one of his great qualities is that he is open to debate, to being challenged constructively.
I’m there to support and encourage him. They all tell you their market is different, but even in niche businesses such as Jumpstart, the core issues are usually the same: making sure your income outweighs your cost, that your people have the right mentality, to ensure quality. All of these things are crucial to all companies.
I joined the company back in March 2014. The vast majority of R&D claims are made in the south-east of England, so the priority was always to set up a sales base there and hire a financial director. Alot of time so far has been taken up building the team, but now we are ready to go in the South-East.
And that’s not all. We have a strong model that could work in around 40 other European countries. Brian teases me that I’m always on about the F word – focus. We have so much to go for in the UK that we need to stay focused. Once we have a foothold, there will be time to grow.