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Paisley-born Alf Gordon, CEO of The https://sbnn.co.uk/tx2zQdos Group, was Ernst & Young’s 2017 ‘Scale-Up’ Entrepreneur of the Year for the Midlands, and was also a winner of Aberdeen’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 award.
With over 35 year’s experience in innovation, Alf has a track-record of growing businesses from start-up phase, to delivering a combined turnover in excess £3bn.
In less than three years, he helped to transform the Group from a £15million UK business into one now valued in excess of £200million, and one which trades across Europe and has global growth within its sights.
Alf previously founded Aberdeen-based QEDi Group, which was sold to AMEC for £33m. He also owns Aberdeen accounting firm, FW Accounting along with several other UK businesses
What does Qdos Group do?
The Qdos Group is an award-winning integrated business services provider, delivering a range of insurance, accountancy, HR/HS and legal solutions.
What is your background?
In short, I have over 35 years of experience when it comes to scaling businesses, leading them from start-up phase to the point where these companies have now delivered a combined turnover in excess of £3bn in the UK and internationally.
Since leaving University after serving an indentured chartered engineering undergraduate degree, I set up a surveying business which targeted the Oil & Gas industry. Once established, I sold this company, which paved the way to the scaling up of many more businesses.
In addition to selling QEDi Group to AMEC Ltd in 2011 for £33m, I have built and sold a number of other companies, and created my Private Equity Firm, Britannia Capital Partners (BCP) LLP with key partners, as I continue my entrepreneurial journey.
Give us a brief history of the growth of the Qdos Group
The Qdos Group was founded in 1988 and is currently made up of nine businesses, ranging from insurance to accountancy, to HR consultancy and legal services.
I led and financed the 2013 management buyout of The Qdos Group. Since then, we have experienced significant growth – averaging 70% in each of the past three years. In this period of time, we’ve also won a number of awards, including The Queen’s Award for Innovation.
Earlier this year, The Qdos Group was recognised by The Sunday Times as the private company with the highest profit margin in the UK, and we were ranked as the firm with the 55th fastest growing profit margin.
Just recently, we agreed to sell Qdos Contractor to global insurance firm, Tokio Marine HCC. This was a strategic sale, and going forward, we’ll look to the success of Qdos Contractor as an example of what can be achieved with regards to The Group’s future growth.
Have you taken any external funding? If so from who and when?
As I mentioned, I led and financed the 2013 management buyout of The Qdos Group. Following the restructuring, we invested significantly in technology, which has been core to operating at the forefront of innovation.
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
In 2017, Qdos Group turned over turnover £27.5m with a profit of £7.1m. We currently have a staff of 165 across all businesses.
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
Our target markets have changed dramatically with the emergence of new technologies, as has been the case with business in general over the years. In the freelancer and contractor market – which is where much of our business is targeted towards – technology has enabled the phenomenal growth of independent working, as millions of people now choose to work for themselves. This in itself has led self-employment to be described as the new way of working, which has created huge opportunities for us as a company.
The same can be said in other businesses within The Group though, where technology has led to the customer expectation of instant online fulfillment. But like I said, we view this as a massive opportunity, and will continue to develop innovative solutions to keep up with the rapid pace of change.
What is your target market – Who is buying your product / service?
We operate across a number of markets, and have a wide range of customers – from freelancers and contractors, to recruitment agencies and SMEs.
What are your goals for your business?
In the coming months, The Qdos Group will rebrand under our Vantage brand which is already recognised by its retained customers and markets in which they operate.
Each business in The Group has developed significant growth plans, which we are confident can be realised through further investment in technology and our team’s commitment to innovation.
What are your biggest current challenges?
Keeping ahead of forever evolving technology.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Learning to focus on one business opportunity at a time.
What do you do outside work?
Family comes first, and my four year old son, Reuben, and partner, Joanna, matter most to me and inspire me daily. I also enjoy music and have a keen interest in renovating historic properties, and live at Aiket Castle, Dunlop.
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
Internet vertical and horizontal marketing.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
In my opinion, breeding a culture of entrepreneurialism within your companies and empowering young, ambitious and talented individuals is vital. A leader should identify potential entrepreneurs to develop internally and reward them for success. When carefully nurtured and allowed to grow, these ‘intrapreneurs’ become a catalyst for business success.
Where do you see the company in five years?
We aim to continue to build on our recent success. Currently, Qdos Vantage sits in the top three UK insurance providers selling tax fee protection insurance, while Qdos Accounting is in the top three accounting providers. We intend to enhance or at least maintain our position in these markets.
We consider ourselves one of the UK’s leading technology driven business solutions providers, and this is something we hope to translate internationally in years to come. Our businesses might not be the biggest in GWP or turnover, but we are recognised as one of the fastest growing and most profitable companies in the UK. As we scale, we intend to remain lean and agile.
How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
Speaking from experience, I’ve enjoyed success by diversifying, and over the years I’ve scaled businesses across a number of industries – this ranges from insurance, to accounting, Oil & Gas, property and even engineering. Therefore, I’d advise budding Scottish entrepreneurs to do the same. Don’t pigeonhole yourself – seek out new challenges and create opportunities in a number of fields.
I’d be keen to see incentives for greater collaboration between entrepreneurs – a scheme to allow them to share the risks and costs of starting up, while also giving them greater growth opportunities through working together.
This ‘entrepreneurial sharing’ – where two or more entrepreneurs join forces – could produce inspiring results, and in many respects is similar to my ‘enterprise synergy’ model – a formula for scaling businesses.
Alf Gordon is CEO of The Qdos Group
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