James Wickes, co-founder and chief executive of Hampshire security specialists Cloudview, explains the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong team and the challenges he has faced in his career so far...
What does your role involve?
I take responsibility for the company’s strategy and its resulting commercial performance along with all the standard duties of a director. Importantly, Cloudview is a new, disruptive technology, so I spend most of my time working out the best way to maximise its disruptiveness to the fullest possible extent.
What is it the company does?
Cloudview securely consolidates footage from CCTV systems, enabling people to easily see and manage that footage from any smart device and from anywhere they happen to be. Believe it or not, this is unique! The service is extensively used by organisations where the protection of people, property and places is key to what they do, so we take the reliability, security and performance of our service very seriously indeed.
Our product was recently awarded ‘Police Preferred Specification’ status, the only CCTV product of any description to have received this accolade. We also work in partnership with Care Protect, which has adopted Cloudview’s technology across a number of care homes to protect the wellbeing of thousands of residents and staff.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I have over 30 years’ experience in the IT industry, where I started my career as a salesman for Xerox. I went on to be the co-founder and CEO of IT hardware distribution and Internet software company, Ideal Hardware, taking it from its start-up in 1986 to its public company listing in 1994 and a market capitalisation of £1.5bn before its sale in 2000. Ideal Hardware was a highly innovative and profitable data storage and peripherals distribution business and became the industry benchmark for excellence in all its areas of operation, from sales to customer service.
Since then I have held executive and non-executive advisory roles for several mid-sized private companies on both sides of the Atlantic, including Examinetics, the Listening Company and British Ceramic Tile, launched my own satellite TV channel for the tech market and been an early adopter of the internet for business, creating a content management system that is still used by large media firms. In 2012 personal experience inspired me to set up Cloudview, the world’s first secure, corporate-grade cloud-based video surveillance system. After my house was broken into, although many of my neighbours had CCTV it was incredibly difficult to access the footage and piece together the sequence of events to help the police identify those responsible.
It turned out the things we take for granted with tech in other areas of our lives, such as being able to access, download and share data or update and secure our systems, were at best cumbersome with traditional CCTV and at worst nigh on impossible. My frustrations made me realise that it was about time CCTV caught up with the rest of world and joined the internet of things.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think we all have stereotypes of great leaders imprinted on us from the media. But to me a great leader is someone that has become so transfixed by an idea that they are able to enthusiastically communicate and commandeer the efforts of other far more capable people to achieve a common goal. They are ordinary people with extraordinary missions.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Honestly? Every day is a challenge - ask James Dyson. Stuff just doesn't happen like it does on TV. Keeping myself and everyone else fully motivated for the fight is the most important challenge. It's like ensuring that everyone on a polar expedition does not get hypothermia.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
As a self-proclaimed 'urban shepherd', I am the proud owner of a flock of sheep which I tend close to my home in the wilds of Esher, Surrey. This began when some land next to my home came up for sale. I bought it as I didn’t want to see it developed, but when it came to caring and maintaining the land it dawned on me if I had a few sheep they could do a lot of the hard work for me. I now have some 50 sheep, which I admit have become a great interest.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I am still quite little! As a man I veer erratically between childishness and maturity. I have always had an interest in business and technology and I'm doing what I always wanted to do.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?
I hate tittle tattle – there’s nothing you can do about it, I just find it annoying.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Cloudview has grown exponentially since we launched four years ago but from past experience it does not work well to fantasise about the future – particularly in a public forum! However, I hope that our technology becomes the de-facto standard for anyone that needs easy, secure access to any or all of their visual data (CCTV footage) from any location on any device – in other words, we become extremely big.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
It’s the old cliché, but just go for it. In the tech industry you meet lots of young talent bursting with new ideas, but many lack the confidence to take the plunge. Sometimes it’s not knowing where to turn to get funding that holds them back, but more often than not it’s lacking the confidence to believe in themselves.
There are plenty of people who will tell you why you should not do things or why something is not possible. Often, we use their comments as excuses, or as evidence to shore up our own intellectual misgivings about risks and ventures. My advice is to step in the puddle, and do it hard and fast, as it may not be there tomorrow.
Surround yourself with a strong team, whether it comprises creative people, legal advisers and accountants through to having good mentors who can keep you going when times get tough. Being a leader means bringing the team with you and getting them to believe in the same vision you have and delivering it together.