It's been a busy six months for Matthew Riley, CEO of Lancashire-based telecoms company Daisy Communications. Since winning a £5m interest-free bank loan in the 2007 north region final of the Bank of Scotland Corporate Entrepreneur Challenge, he has wasted no time in using the money to buy two other companies. That takes his total number of acquisitions to 16 in two years, during which time turnover has increased from £33m in 2007 to a projected £54m in 2009. "The loan has helped us get the company into a fantastic position," says Riley, who went on to win the national final and pick up a "money can't buy" prize of four days mentoring with billionaire retail tycoon Sir Philip Green.
The acquisitions are all part of Riley's strategy to consolidate the fragmented telecoms reseller market and position Daisy as the natural alternative to BT in small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) communications. He saw an opportunity to provide a multi-product service-fixed telephone lines, mobile, data, broadband—that was more customer-focused. "When you're trying to run a business, the last thing you want to worry about is your telecoms," he says.
The business, which started life in a friend's office with two PCs and a fax, now operates from a 20,000 sq ft office complex and employs more than 120 people. The first six months were spent gathering feedback from potential customers, writing a business plan and putting in the foundations that have helped facilitate Daisy's phenomenal growth. According to Riley, it was tough financially, but worth it. "I ate into my savings as I wasn't earning a wage—every penny we made was ploughed back into the business."
A former YTS trainee, Riley offers training opportunities to others on the same scheme. "I have built the business with young, local people—I couldn't afford experienced staff, so I took on YTS trainees and moulded them into the business," he explains. Based in Riley's home town of Nelson—which suffered both economically and socially following the decline of manufacturing—the company has a policy of offering much-needed employment to local people. "What you get with that is loyalty. If your back is ever against the wall, people stay behind and help," he says.
Riley understands the importance of having the right people around him—particularly at a time of fast growth—something he greatly admired in Sir Philip's management team when he shadowed the retailer at his Arcadia headquarters. Riley felt gratified to see Daisy was already mimicking some of Sir Philip's strategies, including a fairly flat management structure and a hands-on approach.
But he has also taken some new things on board—such as the detail in which Sir Philip's team refers to daily sales and forecasts. "It was amazing to see the speed at which they can pull up this information," says Riley.
With his plans to increase current turnover to £500m over the next three years, maybe one day Daisy will mimic Arcadia's profit reports, too. Riley's certainly not counting pennies anymore.