There probably isn’t a business quite like Just Develop It, where youthful drive and hard-nosed business savvy combine to impressive effect, while multi-tasking Joe Jeffers’ diverse skillset really stood out for this year’s judges.
Central South Mid Market Company of the Year
Just Develop It _____________________________________________________________________________
Just Develop It ticked all the boxes for this award: leadership, vision, innovation, its approach to new markets – all creating sustained and impressive growth.
Nevertheless, winning came as a surprise to founder, CEO and entrepreneur Chris Phillips.
He said: “We hadn’t expected to win, which made it even better. We’ve won other awards but this was the biggest for us. And it was nice to win a regional award as we try to support our community and local businesses.”
The company’s activities divide more or less equally between its original technology solutions business, complemented by property, loans to business, and investments in a range of companies.
It’s not just the portfolio that has grown over the past decade. For the year to January 31 2019, Just Develop It recorded a net profit of £29 million and surpassed £100m in net equity.
Investments include £4.5m in the Xclusive private aviation firm based at Southampton Airport, a brewery, and backing the two-day South Central Festival in Portsmouth, headlined this year by Craig David and Boy George.
On the property side, the company has to date invested more than £54m in over 200 properties across Hampshire.
“As the tech side became successful we decided to use the funds for other things by investing in areas we consider less risky than the tech sector,” said Phillips.
“Property is long term and relatively low risk. In our business funding, we generally take at least 150% security by including both assets and personal guarantees from borrowers,” he said.
Phillips’ business philosophy is pretty
straightforward. “We invest in ventures that excite us. We look for flair in the person running the business and feel that if they are successful then the returns will follow. They usually do,” he said.
When the company started in 2008 it wasn’t all plain sailing. “It was tough when we set out offering online technology solutions. There were months when we couldn’t pay salaries,” he recounted. “That’s another reason why we like helping other companies so much.”
Hungry for growth
“I’ve always been hungry for growth, I like setting things up and seeing them develop – that’s my passion,” he said.
His youthfulness brings the frustration of not always being taken seriously as a business leader. But then, by his own admission he does sometimes turn up to meetings in shorts and flip-flops.
Another success factor behind this fast-growing and diverse company is having a consistent corporate vision and strong employee culture across all of its enterprises. The aim is for the Just Develop It brand to represent a commitment to quality and service.
“It doesn’t matter what we sell or do, our fundamental values are the same. We want to create products and run companies to the best of our ability, whether we’re creating anti-virus software or flying jets around the world,” said Phillips.
The company now employs over 300 staff, with about 100 people based at its head office in Fareham.
A people business
Phillips is happy with the current business mix at Just Develop It. “We’ll probably add another niche area at some stage. Our focus for now is to grow what we are doing, with double-digit growth the target in property and business loans,” he said.
At the core of its success is a team of tremendously talented individuals who consistently go above and beyond for the company. Having learned from his own mistakes Phillips encourages his staff to take a chance with their ideas. “It’s not the end of the world if they don’t always work out,” he said. “We invest in our people and make work enjoyable. Doing the fun stuff is what I really love.”
Central South Mid Market FD of the Year
Joe Jeffers __________________________________________________
Joe Jeffers, group chief financial officer at Peach Technologies, is a wearer of many hats.
His credentials as a banker, accountant and corporate finance specialist helped him steer last year’s acquisition of Taylor Made Computer Solutions, where he was CFO, by Peach Technologies, to a successful conclusion. Handling the deal was one of the factors that earned him the FD of the Year accolade.
Whiteley-based Peach Technologies’ strategy is to expand its telecoms and IT offering through acquisition. Taylor Made’s owners were looking to sell the business they had built up and when he joined the company in 2016 Jeffers was looking for his next career challenge. You could say he was tailor-made for the role.
His career began as a graduate trainee with Barclays working in London. After three years he moved to Chichester and made a career change into accountancy.
After qualifying, he joined the corporate finance division at Tenon, now RSM. He focused on pre-acquisition due diligence work for investor clients.
Next came a move to corporate finance experts Meridian before joining one of its clients, the private equity backed marine safety equipment company 3Si. That
business made five acquisitions in 14 months. It wasn’t long before Taylor Made beckoned. He joined with the specific task of helping owners Nigel and Aly Taylor turn around the business in preparation for a sale.
That came earlier than expected when Peach approached the company. Discussions began in February 2018 and the deal was done and dusted by August the same year.
“I work at a fast pace,” said Jeffers. “At 3Si we had a ‘buy and build’ approach that meant when acquisition opportunities presented themselves, if the board agreed to say ‘yes’ then we needed to move quickly. It was a baptism of fire for me as a new CFO and I learned a lot about deal transactions from an investors’ perspective rather than as an adviser, but also about managing cashflow and working capital in a leveraged environment.”
Taylor Made and Peach Technologies are a good fit. “From the get-go I knew it would work commercially and we got a good vibe from staff on both sides,” he said.
FD role evolves
Commenting on his award win, Jeffers said: “I was absolutely delighted to win. Being an FD is more than just sitting behind a desk. FDs today need broader skills than that of the traditional bean counter. You have to be dynamic in your approach and attitude.”
He believes one of the secrets to being a good FD is to keep things simple. “Don’t over complicate, always try to be open and honest with your staff and customers,” he said.
Busy times ahead
As group CFO, Jeffers relishes being even busier. “We are currently doing about £20m in annual turnover with 160 staff. Our goal in the next three to four years is to get to £50m,” he said.
“Some growth will be organic growth but it will be mainly through acquisitions,” said Jeffers.”
Peach’s expansion will focus on its core IT managed services, telecoms and mobile services. “We’ll be launching a cyber security service later this year, as well as announcing a corporate rebrand.”
Busy indeed. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I embrace and enjoy change,” said Jeffers.
Who’s seizing the opportunity?
The announcement of the two winners is the culmination of BDO’s annual campaign to promote the importance of the mid-market to the regional economy. BDO identifies the top performing mid-sized businesses and, in partnership with CMA
Recruitment Group, the individual finance directors who contribute to their success.
“Over the past 12 months, companies in the Central South have continued to achieve success against a backdrop of economic uncertainty. All our finalists typify the businesses that will be the bedrock
of the ‘new economy’ needed in the UK. Led by far-sighted individuals and strong management teams willing to take a risk by investing in new systems, processes and people and in some cases by disrupting the market,” said Malcolm Thixton, lead partner, BDO Southampton.