“Know yourself, your industry, and your people” – Leader Q&A with Peter Russell of CANCOM UK & Ireland

CEO Q&A, Interviews | Wed 28 Apr | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Peter Russell is Managing Director of CANCOM in Ireland

Peter Russell is Managing Director of CANCOM in Ireland. He is also a former Irish Rugby international who played against the New Zealand national rugby union team, the All Blacks.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priority right now is to work closely with the CANCOM UK&I leadership team to integrate the old Novosco business into the new world of CANCOM and doing this as seamlessly as possible. At the same time, we will be focusing on building a new long term growth plan for our Ireland business that excites everyone and will hopefully create opportunity for all our key stakeholders – customers, staff, partners and local communities.

What are your biggest challenges as MD? 

By far the biggest immediate challenge is filling the leadership gap – the previous MD, COO, and CFO, John Lennon, Gary Parkinson and Karen Shearer, will all have left by end of March. Combining this with the integration plans, all done during a global pandemic, has been an interesting challenge. I’m fortunate to have 20 years of leadership experience in the industry, and also having Patrick McAliskey staying as a strategic advisor has been a huge help.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

This is something that CANCOM UK&I spend a lot of time on. Like the previous leaders – Patrick and John – I believe we need to share a clear vision of where we are going, which is to become the premier Cloud Transformation and Managed Services Provider in Ireland, and what this means for all our people in terms of training, development, and opportunity to work on exciting and challenging customer projects. At the same time, we have to make sure we stay agile and maintain our unique people culture ‘Fearless Champions of Better’ as we scale and grow.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

The tech industry is in a great position and has probably been one of the few industries to survive and even thrive throughout the COVID period. Moving forward, the pace of change and disruption – if anything – is going to accelerate, so the successful companies will be those that can adapt to change, stay agile and continually innovate.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Many organisations have had to rapidly adopt numerous urgent IT initiatives brought on by the Covid crisis. I believe businesses are now going to face an entirely new set of challenges moving forward. So, the industry must now start to focus on value propositions to meet these new challenges – the likes of optimising customer IT investments, cloud transformation, providing security from cyber-threats, and developing the new modern workplace. This is all while ensuring that IT performs competitively within tight, post-pandemic budgets.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

We would all like to see a stronger pipeline of skills coming out of the education system. There has been some great work done across industry and academia to promote IT careers, influence curriculum, establish Tech academies, but such is the growth of our sector that the supply is not nearly keeping up to demand. Skills shortage and wage inflation in both NI and ROI are starting to become real issues.

We would all like to see a stronger pipeline of skills coming out of the education system.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

Tech is becoming a real area of growth for indigenous and international investment in NI and ROI, and with many emerging and fast-growing companies, but there simply isn’t the supply of skills to fill all of the roles. We work closely with education providers and the industry to try to develop the skills. For example, last year with support from Department of Economy in NI, we delivered a successful security services skills academy and employed 12 new staff through this scheme. The plan will be to do this again in 2021, but we still have many open vacancies.

How did your strategy develop in the context of post-COVID?

We were already on the trajectory of providing secure remote working and hybrid cloud solutions for our many customers, so no real change in terms of strategic direction. However, there was a definite change in terms of customer and market engagement, with us having to use more digital marketing approaches to reach out to our target customers and markets. In addition, moving to an internal remote working model has changed our internal working practices, and it will be interesting to see how this changes once we are allowed to go back to the office. Personally, I believe working practices will have changed for ever and a new hybrid engagement model will emerge, bringing together a positive balance of productivity, engagement, and employee well-being.

How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

There has been no real change in terms of our professional and managed services, although we do source some of our hardware from GB. We also have an international division who work with US customers trading in Europe, so this could start to prove problematic with the issues around the NI protocol and potential additional VAT shipping costs. As a European company with HQ in Munich, and a CANCOM Ireland company registered in ROI, we hope that this will play to our advantage in terms of ongoing business between UK & the EU.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

We have clear financial goals in terms of growth, revenue, and profitability – all which were successfully delivered in FY20. The same will apply in FY21 but we are a very well-balanced business so it’s not all about “profit” – people engagement and customer satisfaction are both extremely important KPIs. Our recent Customer NPS (net promotor scores) was greater than 86, which puts CANCOM UK&I firmly in the top 5% of Tech companies – something we are all extremely proud of.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Know yourself, your industry, and your people – if you can combine all three then you are in with a chance of success.

Know yourself, your industry, and your people

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

CANCOM UK&I has had some fantastic new business success in the past 12 months, winning several new customers. In addition, we have also increased our office space in Belfast, set up our own Security Operations Centre, and recruited another 40+ employees. However, the standout success for me is the customer satisfaction/NPS score which says so much about our service delivery people, capabilities & culture.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Our vision is to be the best Cloud transformation and managed cloud provider in the UK and Ireland. This will include growing our headcount, expanding our office spaces, adding new customers, and continuing to build the skills of our people. We see real opportunities to grow in 2021. The industry informs us that there is a big demand for our four key value propositions of modern workplace, cloud & infrastructure, networking & collaboration, and security services. Either delivered individually, or through managed services, these fall right in the sweet spot of the digital transformation roadmap for many enterprise organisations. Consequently, we expect the CANCOM brand to be much more familiar across the island of Ireland and in verticals such as health, where we have a wealth of experience working successfully across many NHS trusts, including Cambridge University hospital, which is our largest group customer.