8 minute read 25 Jun 2021
EY people helping each other climb a mountain

How a culture that puts people first can drive incredible growth

By Debbie O'Hanlon

UK&I Private Leader, Ernst & Young LLP

Business leader helping private & entrepreneurial businesses accelerate growth in this transformative age. Married. Training Springer Spaniel puppy. Keen cyclist, occasional triathlete.

8 minute read 25 Jun 2021

Simon Ward, founder and CEO of TeamITG, shares how a culture that focuses on people and technology has created success for their business.

In brief:

  • Putting people first is a key component of start-up growth. It is the people behind innovative technology that build relationships and win clients.
  • From start-ups to a large organisation, staff wellbeing isn’t just a nice-to-have, it can bring businesses closer to their clients during challenging times

As part of EY Private’s Real Insights series for business and entrepreneurs, we travelled to Birmingham to meet inspirational entrepreneur Simon Ward, CEO and Founder of TeamITG. He talked us through how their ‘people-first’ culture has transformed his private business from a regional start-up to a global technology-led marketing company.

What was your ambition for the business when you first started the company back in 2009?

My ambition was to set up a global marketing company that introduced automation into marketing. I realised nobody was joining anything together within their marketing departments, and I couldn't find any software to help me join it all together. So I thought, "Okay, let's go and build some software - how difficult can it be?" The answer is very difficult and not as easy as you'd think! But that’s how the concept started.

Canopy Cloud is the product that people will now start associating us with. It’s an ultra-flexible, configurable piece of technology that allows you to work from concept, right the way through to deployment, all within one single system. It effectively breaks down all the barriers and works in any language. 

You’ve been on an incredible growth journey. Can you talk me through it?

We started off with 3 or 4 people, which became 10 very quickly and 10 became 20, and so by the end of the first year, we were turning over £5 million, maybe £6 million, and we'd probably got 80 or 90 employees. So massive growth very quickly.

We now have over 1,300 people across the globe and even during the pandemic, I’m really pleased that we were able to employ 250 more people. One of my personal goals is employing more people, so that’s been amazing.

We have offices in America, Europe and five offices in the UK. So, we're now an established business with some major UK and worldwide brands doing all sorts of different marketing services.

What has been the biggest driver of growth for the business?

Unquestionably the attitude of our people - there's nothing else that comes even close to it. Even though we have an amazing piece of technology which is also absolutely world class, the people who work here are why clients come to us. It’s the can-do attitude, the drive, the desire to be different, the culture of exceptional customer service. It's sort of a vocation. 

My job is to get lots of good people around me that are better than me, and point them all in the right direction.
Simon Ward
Founder and CEO of TeamITG
You have a very futuristic innovation room in the heart of your offices – how do you use it?

We have a dedicated technology innovation area in the building, which is an odd thing for a company in our sector to have, but it is really important to us in the development of our work – we want to take the technology that exists in the world and try and bring it to a wider audience; we're the funnel for a lot of our customers to get to see that innovative technology.

Some of it takes off, some of it doesn't and some of it is just good fun to see and play with. We have a fantastic product, where people can step into a virtual world and walk across a plank that's on the 50th floor of a skyscraper, which is absolutely amazing.

We are always bringing out these new ideas that people can see and interact with and we get lots of major brands launching their products here. We get to play with all the latest gadgets first and that's always good fun.

Has there been a defining breakthrough moment for you as a business?

I think around a year ago, when we realised that we’re this little company in Birmingham and we’ve developed a product that is world class. It’s taken a decade, but it took that long to build something that was exceptional. That was the biggest moment and everybody's proud of that.

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

There's always tough challenges whenever you start any business. When you get to the £30 million barrier and then the £50 million barrier and then £75 million barrier, they all have different levels to deal with. You have to move up the chain, become a little bit more of a corporate, you have to be a deeper business and you need lots more infrastructure around you and it’s always difficult to build that. You absolutely need to evolve communication with staff.

What does it mean to you being a Midlands based company?

Most people would associate global brands and global marketing with London, but through word of mouth we have some absolutely fantastic clients. They're coming out of London and into the Midlands. It makes no difference where we are in the world because we're always with our customers, so we are wherever they are. We're very proud of being a Midlands business.

You took part in the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year – what kind of impact did that have?

Yes, we won EY Entrepreneur Of the Year in the Midlands in 2015 and a host of other awards which is phenomenal. I'm collecting on behalf of the business - it's everybody else around me that's winning them, I just go and collect them.

It really put the business on the map. We were already a decent-sized business, but all of a sudden everybody knew where we were, and we saw an increase in hits on our website. It's always been a prestigious programme and from our perspective it provided useful networking and generated some new leads and opportunities.

How have EY teams worked with you to achieve growth for TeamITG? 

The EY relationship has been around right from the word go – we brought the team in early to work on our first deal, our first Private Equity company, which was maybe nine and a half years ago.

We've been working with them ever since. We've bought several businesses, most recently a US based technology consultancy.

EY have been great supporters of our business, helping us try and grow it and understand it. They helped question what we are, what our customers think of us and we’ve become a better business because of it. They are far more than just advisors - they've been genuine partners throughout the whole process.

What impact has the pandemic had on TeamITG?

Our immediate instinct when the first lockdown hit was to wrap our arms around our staff and customers and really focus on wellbeing.

We’ve always been wellbeing champions, but we quickly introduced a new programme called Stronger Together to encourage and inspire our staff. We had everybody from astronauts to comedians giving us little bits of advice. We ended up offering something every day from yoga to the Mind CEO joining our wellbeing sessions to help people with mental health. We started rolling it out to our clients and for their staff too.

I think it’s brought us closer to our customers and to each other. The employees have been absolutely amazing. Everybody has rallied together, it's been a complete team effort. It’s the people that genuinely make this business so special.

I think the long-term impact on the business will be that the world is significantly more digitally focused – technology has moved forward five years in the last year and the automation of marketing services is at the front of business's agenda now. Whereas before, marketing technology was starting to become relevant, it's now essential in today’s environment.

Summary

Our Real Insights series invites inspirational leaders of privately-owned businesses to share their experiences. In this interview, TeamITG’s founder and CEO Simon Ward discusses how they have evolved from a regional start-up to a global technology-led marketing business, and achieved growth despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About this article

By Debbie O'Hanlon

UK&I Private Leader, Ernst & Young LLP

Business leader helping private & entrepreneurial businesses accelerate growth in this transformative age. Married. Training Springer Spaniel puppy. Keen cyclist, occasional triathlete.