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Paul Black became the CEO of the company his father founded in 2008. Alpha Scotland recently opened a branch in Scotland so we chatted about this and the other aspects of leading a £26m turnover company.
What does Alpha Scotland do?
Alpha Scotland, established three years ago in Glasgow, is a furniture and design specialist working across a range of sectors with clients such as the University of the West of Scotland, Scottish Power and Total Oil.
What do you do there / what is your role?
The company is part of the Belfast-based The Alpha Group of which I am Chief Executive. My role involves setting overall strategic priorities, supporting staff, meeting clients and suppliers and listening to and managing people.
What is your background?
My Dad started the company and I became an employee 36 years ago working in the warehouse loading trucks and building furniture. I went on to become a sales rep for the firm in Northern Ireland and later Scotland, working my way up to managing a branch and eventually becoming Sales Director for the Group. I took over as Chief Executive after my father stepped down in 2008.
Give us a brief history of the growth of the company
My Dad founded Alpha as a result of being made redundant during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. His employer folded owing to the conflict and this was the impetus behind him starting his own business.
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
We employ 108 people and have a turnover of £26m.
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
Choice has made a huge difference to the marketplace as well the knowledgeability of clients. With the internet clients have a great deal of information at their fingertips and often have a firm idea of how they want spaces to look. The digital world has also brought an expectation of immediacy in terms of availability and delivery.
What is your target market – Who is buying your product / service?
Since I am salesman at heart I would say anyone who wants to buy! Alpha Scotland has a particular emphasis though on creating working environments with products that encourage effective working.
What are your goals for your business?
With a family business comes a certain ethos. I am very aware of my responsibility to staff, who I do consider wider family, and I want to continue to create financial stability for them and to grow the company and our client base. Opening in Scotland has already made a difference to sales. I also feel a sense of responsibility towards my Dad in terms of continuing to steer, what was, his ship in the right direction.
What are your biggest current challenges?
I think time management is one of the biggest challenges for everyone today and it’s always an aim to use it well and wisely.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
I have a great team but managing people is undoubtedly the greatest challenge faced by any business. I try to make time to listen to people and understand their point of view.
What do you do outside work?
One word: rugby. I am a huge supporter of Ulster Rugby and love watching any rugby.
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
I wished I hadn’t fretted as much about some decisions. I have found that my decisions are right 70/80% of the time. The important thing is to be decisive as there is always some risk involved.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
Speaking and listening in equal proportion to the mouth and the ears.
Paul Black is Chief Executive of Alpha Scotland
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