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MAY 2013 |

INTERVIEW Developer profi le


A nice place to work | All of the UK offi ces are trademark, bright yellow sheds - they contain the essentials plus extra chill-out areas and, importantly, a happy workforce

your word, even if it costs you. Of course, occasionally you will be let down – though often you will know, in your heart and your head, that this is because you chose to deal with the wrong people. Of course, you still need contracts but let trust be at the centre of your business strategy.”

Closely tied in to the concept of trust is the concept of confi dentiality. “Collaboration means letting people know what is going on. Tell them everything – or as close to everything as you can achieve. Of course, some things – very few – have to stay confi dential but they are usually pretty obvious. Most do not. You can share 95% or more of the information in your business and get huge gains in productivity and commitment by doing so.

“People, particularly bright, young people, no longer want to work ‘for’ a company. They want to be valued as part of a team and they will give generously of their time and labour if you do this.”

How does Simon deliver this openness? “We have software – which, like all our main software, we wrote ourselves – that displays all of our key performance indicators in real time. Every time a sale is made. Each person’s targets and how they (and all their colleagues) are performing. Our profi t. Our bonus pool.” Surely there is more to it than software? “Yes. It is mainly about attitude: respect and trust.”

Fairness, the third key word, sits very well with this concept of collaboration. “We run a simple business. We have two tests for everything we do. Would my mum be proud of what we are doing and would I be proud if what we were doing was in the public domain? Hitting these targets is much harder than any regulations imposed upon us. Complying with the law is simple.” Simon is a Marxist. Not a left wing fanatic but someone who believes in the redistribution of wealth within our society; and he is doing something about it. Surely, this model also sounds a lot like something that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would have recognised and praised? Trust. Openness. Moral principles? “I

don’t know about that. It’s just common sense.”

Simon is also proof that a business does not need to be large to be successful. “We have a total of 46 staff running

GBP 70 million (USD 110 million) per year of business. Very soon it will be 50 people doing GBP 100 million. There are huge advantages to staying small. Administration is simple. You

“Would my mum be proud of what we are doing? Would I be proud if it were in the public domain?”

don’t need a HR department. Everyone knows each other and the customers and suppliers.” Simon hates HR. “If you follow our two golden principles and you treat people fairly you shouldn’t have any employment issues. If you do, you have employed the wrong people.”

How does he choose the right people? “We look for two things. Attitude – moral outlook and core values – and the ability to grow.” So he’s not impressed by qualifi cations? “No. Obviously, there are some jobs (such as an accountant) where the person needs some qualifi cations but, generally, we want to employ people – whatever their age – with ‘young minds’: people keen and able to learn and to grow with the job and the company.”

Despite Simon’s “small is beautiful” and “simple works best” philosophy, he has chosen to open four UK offi ces. Why not just work from one? “Three main reasons. First, customers in (for example) Scotland like to speak to someone in Scotland. Second, we want to be able to attract the best talent, wherever they live. Third, we like to meet our customers and suppliers. This creates long term relationships. It is easier to do this if we have local offi ces.”

How is the company rising to the challenge of the age of digital print? “This is a huge transformation. We are excited. We see the print company

as the gatekeeper to this new world. After all, digital media is just a way of printing without paper: printing onscreen. For most companies there will still be a mix between electronic media and traditional print. The reason the print company will be the gatekeeper is that we can deal with both. Electronic media companies generally can’t because print is too complex, too technical and they are not really interested in it.”

“There are great opportunities. Print is expensive. Digital gives us the chance to cross-sell cheaper digital products.”

Sticking with the concept of fairness brings us to one of Simon’s strongest, and strangest, ideas: an idea rooted in his Marxist beliefs. “We believe in sharing our wealth: sharing the profi ts in the company. We live very well but, once we get to a certain point, we believe that our extra income should be shared amongst our staff. We all need to recognise that enough is enough.”

So how does that work? “Basically, we have decided how much of our profi t we need to reinvest each year to grow the business. In our case, that is GBP 400,000. Any profi t over that up to GBP 1 million is split equally between

“All profi t over GBP 1 million goes 100% to the team. I have recognised what is enough”

me and the team. All profi t over GBP 1 million goes 100% to the team. I don’t get a penny of it. For me, I have recognised what is enough.” Of course, this goes down very well with the people who work with (note, not for) the company. Is anyone going to say no to a bonus of 88% of their (already decent) base salary? “People feel valued – and they want to stay with us.”

So, what about the fun part? “We build it into the business. We want to live up to the statement on our website. We want to be a bunch of

genuinely nice people who really want to be your best friend in the wonderful world of print and digital media”. They like to have a nice place to

work. Their trademark bright yellow sheds – their four offi ces – may look basic, but they contain all the essentials plus extras such as chill out areas and, of course, the type of people employed make the offi ces buzz with ideas and enthusiasm. However, being a fun place to work goes way beyond this. There is a social life. Best of all, live up to your targets and the company will pay somebody to do your ironing! Bliss. A further example of Webmart’s commitment to fairness is their commitment to charity. All the money that comes in that is not “earned” by the business is donated to their favourite charity – a charity to which many of their staff also contribute by good, old fashioned, physical work.

Should we be suggesting that our readers make contact? “Not unless they live in the UK” says Simon, “Our business is about being experts in our local market. We guide people to the right printing and digital media solutions and then hook them up with suppliers who will provide what’s needed at less cost than anywhere else. We can’t do this in markets that we don’t know inside out.” Does this mean they have no international ambitions? Not a bit of it. “We intend to take our systems and software worldwide. We have already started in Australia. It’s just that we are not trying to create a global brand. The overseas companies have their own knowledge and their own identity. It’s just that they will use our software and systems to give themselves a ten-year head start.”

The parallels with our own industry are obvious. “Success through Marxism” is not a slogan you might think of immediately if you are running or setting up an international estate agency, but few would challenge Webmart’s achievements over the last 15 years and the obvious passion and commitment behind them. You will be able to hear more from Simon, meet him and exchange ideas at OPPLive, which will be held in London on 27-28 November.

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