With almost thirty years' experience in his field, Craig tells BQ about his management buyout, the importance of working with the right people, and the future of software as a service.
What is it the company does?
Azzure IT is a leading Microsoft Dynamics provider - the UK’s leading Microsoft 'Gold Partner‘, a Deloitte Fast50 UK and Microsoft ‘President’s Club’ member, 2016.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
As MD, I oversee the corporate vision and its translation into operational delivery. I lead our strategic development and the business development function but I always take an active interest in new clients, existing clients and staffing matters.
Our company sells and deploys Microsoft business software solutions. The software can run a business end-to-end – from initial inquiry, sales, resource planning, distribution, customer service, project management, financial management and more.
We help businesses improve productivity, across a range of sectors by customising and supporting their enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
After leaving school, I sought a part-time IT qualification with a Youth Training Scheme - I was lucky to get an apprentice with an ERP provider in 1990.
In 1992, I worked for another ERP Provider, as a Software Developer. I then quickly progressed to Customer Services Manager.
By 1996, at just 23 years-old, I was part of a management buyout.
In 2000, we restructured the business and I became MD.
We formed a strategic partnership with Accounting Access and, in 2004, they bought the business. I worked in sales development until 2011. They sold the business to a venture capital company and I moved on.
In 2011, Azzure IT was born, formed during the recession. But, using very traditional sales and marketing techniques, we steadily grew the business - keeping it real, listening and focusing on our customers’ business needs.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
It’s all about people. You can identify a market opportunity but you have to look after your customers and do the right thing by your staff … listen to them.
I believe in coaching, focusing, mentoring and communicating – adapting my approach to different roles. I don’t get involved in the detail of delivery but do get involved in coaching and developing the practices of others.
I believe that a great leader is a figurehead, consistently representing the values and aspirations of the business, the people and customers, as it evolves and grows.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
My biggest challenge has been finding people to working with, of the right calibre and with the right attitude. I’m attracted by people that are the top of their game, who want to go beyond, are passionate about inherent quality and have that human touch.
The other constant challenge is the ever-increasing velocity at which today’s marketplace is evolving. I think about it a lot; how we’ll stay true to our service and quality standards, whilst seeking to take on market challenges, grow and expand.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Genuinely, I don’t get stressed. I figure, there is no point making yourself a martyr to what you can’t control; performance comes from focussing on the things that you can change. Looking back, although we have grown and evolved faster than most other businesses, I have always found the challenges exciting and vibrant - that’s down to having a great team.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I never wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman. I always wanted to be a computer programmer! I still have a great interest in computer programming, but, I am now more interested in how people can get the best out of technology.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
My pet hate in the workplace is negativity and people that don’t strive to reach their potential. I avoid negativity and focus on being pragmatic and positive.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I foresee we will still be maintaining our strong, organic growth and customer focus.
However, we will go with what the market demands and, more importantly, where our customers need support. It’s hard to anticipate… but that’s what makes it exciting!
I believe that we will continue to see a trend toward SAAS (Software as a Service) and subscription subscription-based by the large branded vendors – creating quicker, more adaptable, further scalable and agile ways of working of small businesses.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
My advice to any aspiring business leader is that you’ve got to look at your personal objectives and personal style. Learn to achieve growth through other people. Take an interest where growth really comes from and how to mentor, grow and retain the people that make it happen, every day!
As a business leader, what sets my business apart is the people – we’re not an IT business, we are a people business. Our people understand the technology, the software, what our clients are looking for. We understand a company’s problems and use technology to fix them in a variety of different ways. Find a need, serve a need.