Meet the boss whose firm could play big role in im­prov­ing child pro­tec­tion

Yorkshire Post - Business - - FRONT PAGE -

SOME METH­ODS of sup­port­ing good causes are more hair­rais­ing than oth­ers.

To mark its 25th an­niver­sary, staff at the Arena Group set them­selves the goal of rais­ing £25,000 for lo­cal hos­pices. They tore into the chal­lenge with en­thu­si­asm; with some par­tic­i­pat­ing in cake sales and raf­fles while oth­ers tack­led muddy as­sault cour­ses. They smashed the ini­tial tar­get and the hos­pices ben­e­fited to the tune of £32,209.

An in­trepid few – led by Adrian Fitz­patrick, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and co-founder – de­cided to throw them­selves out of a plane. Sky­div­ing is a lit­tle like set­ting up your own busi­ness; it’s an ex­hil­a­rat­ing leap which re­quires con­cen­tra­tion and dis­ci­pline to se­cure a safe land­ing.

Mr Fitz­patrick re­called: “I ex­pe­ri­enced the whole ga­mut of emo­tion through the sky­div­ing fundraiser. The fear reached its peak as I hung out of the plane, feel­ing very vul­ner­a­ble and to­tally be­holden to my tan­dem diver and a ruck­sack full of ny­lon.

“I can­not re­mem­ber too much of the first few sec­onds of the drop, but the pho­to­graphic and video ev­i­dence shows me hurtling head first to­wards the clouds.

“A tap on my shoul­ders by the in­struc­tor was the sign to stretch out my arms and the feel­ing from this point on was one of pure ex­hil­a­ra­tion. Would I do it again? I’d jump at the chance!”

Arena started out as a busi­ness sell­ing and ser­vic­ing pho­to­copiers, at a time when the in­dus­try was blighted by poor sales prac­tices and ser­vice.

Along with six part­ners, Mr Fitz­patrick founded Arena Group in the early 1990s af­ter spot­ting a gap in the mar­ket for a com­pany that “wanted longterm re­la­tion­ships and not quick buck sales wins”. From a work­shop in Hun­slet, Leeds with 10 em­ploy­ees, Arena Group has grown to more than 200 em­ploy­ees, an an­nual turnover of £25m and of­fices across the North of Eng­land, the Midlands and North Wales.

Its fo­cus has shifted to doc­u­ment man­age­ment. In the vir­tual age, it’s more im­por­tant than ever that doc­u­ments are stored in a safe place. The busi­ness prides it­self on be­ing a great place to work. It’s a for­mer win­ner of the Best Com­pany to Work for Cat­e­gory at The York­shire Post Ex­cel­lence in Busi­ness Awards.

In seven years, the Arena Group bought seven com­pa­nies – in­clud­ing Ster­ling Busi­ness Sys­tems, based in Thorp Arch, the Sh­effield firm WRG and the doc­u­ment man­age­ment busi­ness, Mi­tral Sys­tems. There are no signs that the pace of growth will slow.

Mr Fitzger­ald said: “We’re com­mit­ted to or­ganic growth, but we recog­nise that an aw­ful lot of the growth will come from ac­qui­si­tion. We want to de­liver 10 per cent or more year on year growth and also to make our­selves vi­able in the long term by di­ver­si­fy­ing, recog­nis­ing that the print busi­ness, which has been our core source of rev­enues for 25 years, is slowly in de­cline.”

The com­pany can also play a sig­nif­i­cant role in keep­ing chil­dren safe. The days when doc­u­ments about chil­dren were stored in large school fil­ing cab­i­nets, where they could be ac­cessed by unau­tho­rised adults, should be a thing of the past.

“We recog­nise that un­con­trolled doc­u­ments pose a se­ri­ous threat, es­pe­cially around child pro­tec­tion. It’s re­ally im­por­tant that these es­tab­lish­ments take con­trol of things,’’ said Mr Fitz­patrick.

“We’ve de­vised an ‘mstore’ for ed­u­ca­tion pack­age from our doc­u­ment man­age­ment sys­tem which is specif­i­cally for schools.

“It’s pric­ing is pitched ap­pro­pri­ately and the suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of mstore will help the schools tackle is­sues, es­pe­cially those that in­volve deal­ing with mul­ti­ple agen­cies, and help those re­spon­si­ble to sleep more eas­ily at night.”

So far clients, seem to have taken Brexit in their stride, al­though Arena has felt price pres­sures.

He added: “The ob­vi­ous place we have been af­fected (by Brexit) is by price hikes from our sup­pli­ers. That hurt us.

“We’ve had price rises rang­ing from three per cent to 15 per cent, and given that we have con­tracts which are fixed in price for a length of time, that makes it quite dif­fi­cult to main­tain our mar­gins.

“We’ve not come across any clients who are putting projects off for Brexit. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if that changes over the next few months, but cur­rently it’s busi­ness as usual.”

In com­mon with many fast grow­ing firms, Arena can face re­cruit­ment chal­lenges.

“It’s not easy to find the right peo­ple,’’ he said. “Cer­tain ar­eas like soft­ware de­vel­op­ers are very dif­fi­cult to come by. We are choosy about who we bring on board. Our long-term so­lu­tion is to pol­ish our own di­a­monds, bring­ing in grad­u­ates and ap­pren­tices.

“We’ve been in­vest­ing in ap­pren­tices since 1993. That’s been a long es­tab­lished method of re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion and we’re just ramp­ing that up.

“There are lots of grad­u­ates in our or­gan­i­sa­tion in whom we are in­vest­ing heav­ily. We’ve got 20 peo­ple who are school leavers or straight out of univer­sity; that’s 18 per cent of our work­force.”

He takes a mea­sured, prag­matic view of the firm’s po­ten­tial to keep grow­ing.

“A lot de­pends on how heav­ily we ac­quire,’’ he said. “We will grow but we’ve also got to in­vest in tech­nol­ogy to keep us lean. We’ve built a busi­ness that we’re very proud of and we did it the right way.

“We’re very proud of the cul­ture we have cre­ated. It’s easy when you’re just 10 peo­ple, but when you’re 200 peo­ple strong it’s much harder. It’s still re­ally im­por­tant to have that fam­ily feel.

“Our cul­ture drives the way we look af­ter clients and ex­plains why the re­ten­tion is so high.”

The fear reached its peak as I hung out of the plane, feel­ing very vul­ner­a­ble and to­tally be­holden to my tan­dem diver and a ruck­sack full of ny­lon. Adrian Fitz­patrick, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, The Arena Group

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