BQ meets UKFast CEO Lawrence Jones

BQ meets UKFast CEO Lawrence Jones

Managed hosting and cloud specialists UKFast see themselves as a conduit to success for a host of other small businesses. CEO Lawrence Jones tells us how he's kept his feet on the ground amidst huge success, and what happened to his dreams of a bohemian lifestyle.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

Having set the business up with my now-wife Gail 17 years ago, my current role is much more strategic and focussed on leading the team. I am still very involved with every part of the business, particularly the commercial side of things, but I also spend a lot of time and effort on the development of our people. The best part about my job is that it is never done; there are always ways we can improve.

What is it the company does?

UKFast is a tech company that’s grown from two to over 300 people and a £40m turnover in 17 years. We are one of the UK’s leading cloud hosting providers, which simply means we provide the infrastructure and support to help other businesses thrive online.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I set up my first business account when I was 18 years old. It was the recurring revenue model of an earlier business that inspired me to look at something related to the internet.

When we started UKFast in 1999, it was just the two of us. We didn’t have space for a CEO at the beginning of our journey. I invested 12 years into UKFast and had more than a total of 25 years business experience before I felt I earned the position of CEO.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

In my opinion, great leaders encourage others to learn and develop by taking on new challenges. Humility and caring for others are two of the most valuable leadership traits.

Great leaders build great teams and they empower people to take responsibility. As a leader, you will undoubtedly make lots of mistakes – I have made far too many to count – but if you are close to your team and treat them well, they will back you through the tough times.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Putting together the best team is one of our main challenges. People are everything in business, so it is essential to get the right ones on the bus. Our recruitment process is quite lengthy, because we want to make sure that everyone who joins us gets along with the existing team and culture. We use online tests, assessment days and psychometric profiling to help us find the right people.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Stress is one of the biggest killers of productivity and something I try to avoid at all costs. Yes, it’s great to get as much out of every day as possible, but we all experience the negative effects of stress at some point and, in my opinion, exercise is one of the best ways to deal with it. This is why I like to break up the day with a game of squash. Out there on the court, I leave any issues or worries at the door, and focus solely on winning the game.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Without a doubt, I wanted to be a musician. I’ve always been passionate about music and worked as a pianist when I first arrived in Manchester. Even after setting up UKFast, the plan was always to return to music. I wanted to earn enough money to build a recording studio and live a bohemian lifestyle. Things have worked out a little differently!

Any pet hates in the workplace?

I don’t like offices that feel cramped. At our Campus, we use open-plan office space. I don’t think it should be encouraged for everybody to hide in their own office, or for a clear hierarchy to be shown on the work floor. It’s important to me that there is space to breathe in our offices, and that the team think of it as a home away from home.

In designing our offices, we’ve used the rule of 2/3 work space and 1/3 leisure space, with chill-out zones, games areas, ping pong tables, a fully equipped gym and a crèche. I believe this really works for us in creating the best possible work-life balance for everyone.

Where do you see the company in five years time?

We’ve had a great year, which included our first acquisition in the field of cyber security, but we’ve got some very exciting plans for the next few years, including expanding into the building we recently purchased next to our current HQ.

There is so much more we could be doing to strengthen not just our own brand, but the tech industry as a whole. I really enjoy hosting events for the tech sector, for example, and hope there will be a lot more of that.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Keep learning! Look for a mentor at the start of your journey and take their advice. It will save you from making unnecessary mistakes and – most importantly – it will save you time. Time is the key to success; it’s not how much money you make, it’s how you spend your time.