I'm usually travelling every couple of weeks - we have 24 offices around the world, so I try and get round most of them in a year. But there’s no set rota. I spend more time at some because they’re fledgling operations; others have been running for years, so I visit these less often. Last week we were in Norway; this week we’ve got a team of customers from Nigeria visiting us on their way back from the Offshore Europe exhibition in Aberdeen.
Our business is all about managing suppliers, so I’m a member of the European Community advisory body on opening up public procurement. Usually we’re advising on legislation that’s already been written, but I still find it very useful – partly to find out what’s going on, but also because it’s a tremendous pan-European network of people in the same area. Besides, if you go along there with the idea that you’re going to be making huge decisions and changing the face of Europe, quite frankly you’re barking anyway...
I also spent some time preparing for next week’s board meeting. Now we’re private equity-owned (by HgCapital), there’s a greater quantity and quality of reporting expected of us, so that’s been a learning process. But generally it’s actually been a much more pleasant experience than I expected – they’ve been interested but not intrusive, and advised us without being directive. We’re in constant contact, but in a very positive way.
We put a lot of effort into partnerships; I tend to be talking to a number of potential partners at any one time, not least because Hg is quite interested in us making acquisitions. Recently I’ve been spending a chunk of time working with the New Zealand equivalent of the Environment Agency on a new carbon measurement product. New Zealand are worried about the whole carbon issue, partly because they’re an environmentally aware society, but also because they’re very vulnerable to people sticking air miles labels on their exports. So quite reasonably, they’re trying to mitigate their emissions. We did the first pilot, measuring carbon footprinting in the residential centres of Outward Bound, the charity that Achilles supports.
We’re in the middle of a major IT upgrade to our system at the moment, so that’s taking up a lot of my time – not only the broader strategy, but also the exact details of how it will work. My philosophy is that if you’re running a business and get too far from your core product – if all you do is make acquisitions and chat to the board – eventually you deserve to go out of business. You need to stay close to your product, and understand what it is you’re selling. We qualify 45,000 suppliers annually and have 650 buying companies; we’re moving from 30 disparate systems around the world to one. So it’s a big job. We’ll start migrating data in the next few months, and hopefully complete the transition over the next two years.
I usually spend two or three nights a week entertaining customers, or attending some sort of dinner. This week I’ll be in London for the national final of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. I’d never have done anything like this in our pre-private equity days, and to be honest we are having to get used to being more visible – I can’t quite see myself as the new Alan Sugar. But my marketing director’s very keen on me winning because the final round’s in Monte Carlo, and she’s keen to come along for moral support...
Colin Maund is CEO of Achilles, one of the largest supplier management service providers in the world, helping companies to manage commercial, health, safety, environmental and corporate social responsibility-related risks across the supply chain. He was recently named as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 Winner for the London & South Region.