Interview: Michael Field, IT outsourcing specialist
Michael Field says he doesn’t believe in standing still, regarding it as the enemy of progress. It’s his philosophy on life and a metaphor for how he lives it.
He arrives at his modest office on a Livingston industrial estate in a bright orange gull-winged Mclaren sports car which not only contrasts with the overcast grey sky, but offers a symbol of his own achievements.
As managing director of Workflo Solutions, an outsourced document management and IT support services specialist, he believes he’s on his way to building a true UK champion in the sector, and his passion is palpable.
He’s just completed an acquisition, buying TRM, a business providing complementary services in Paisley that will enhance Workflo’s digital storage credentials. It won’t stop there as he’s already been introduced by a broker to a firm in Nottingham. If that comes off it will bring some new ideas into the business and take it into markets further south.
He’s 39, dressed in a semi-casual light blue jacket and grey slacks, and talks enthusiastically about the journey he’s on. His office floor is covered in documents, perhaps one day to disappear into the digital ether. A striking painting of a skull with a punk-style haircut by an unheralded artist hangs on the wall, though it has no particular significance beyond brightening a grey wall. “There’s no great story, I’m afraid. It’s the one I liked most in Art Glasgow,” he says.
However, the business is a picture of good health. It is still at an early stage of development and he is a young man in a hurry. It partly explains why he bought a £200,000 supercar.
“I like going quickly from zero to 70 in a straight line,” he says, his face beaming. In fact the smile seems almost permanent as he considers how far – and how quickly – he’s risen since being raised by a single parent on a council estate and getting his first job in telesales with Sky TV.
“Everybody here seems to have been through that stage,” he jokes. It was a tough job but his next was even more challenging. He was hired as a digital sales executive with another outsourcing firm. “If Sky had called me and offered my job back I would have taken it,” he says.
He stuck at it and “became reasonably successful pretty quickly”, until a colleague suggested they go it alone.
“I was 26, full of confidence. Three weeks later we had three laptops and paid for a month’s rent on a small office with a credit card.”
The business launched in 2007, initially on the South Gyle estate, moving later to a serviced council unit in Broxburn. It has been based in its present two-storey premises on Shairps Business Park since 2016 and now employs 21, soon to be 28 with the addition of TRM.
Field says he received no external help or advice as the business grew, “just learning on the job” and that “without the naivety I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
He adds: ” I was fortunate how it turned out. We had a fantastic first month, but it dried up quickly. It was hard. Our ex-employer came at us aggressively on price, but I don’t blame them. I just had this vision to be the best.”
Launching just as the recession of 2008-10 was about to kick in might have been a killer blow, but instead he says it created opportunities.
“Most businesses rent equipment and many began reviewing costs, benchmarking their contracts. It meant other companies like us were invited to pitch for business.”
He says he could turn his hand to doing most jobs in the business, but admits he’s had to learn from his mistakes.
“When you’re young you think you know more than you do. I’ve realised in later years that I am not the best at everything and there are people who are better placed than I am to bring skills to the jobs. I am blessed with the team I have around me now.”
He bought out the partner who’d persuaded him to launch the company. It now has a turnover just shy of £3 million with offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Manchester. It is on track to hit £3.6m this year and he’s got his eye on £5m by 2022. It will rely heavily on acquisition in a cut-throat sector, but scaling up will reduce overhead costs and broaden its range of services, both of which will help when it comes to bidding for larger clients.
“It is never just about cost. I am a big believer that value is what matters,” he says. “I see successful people in our industry doing £200m and I look at them with respect. I see it as motivation.”
Occupation: Managing director, Workflo Solutions
Education: James Young High School, Livingston
Career: Sky, Concept Group, Workflo Solutions
What in business upsets you?
Complacency. If I am not the one going to the market with new ideas then somebody else will be.
Any other business interests?
I have part-ownership of a gym. If I was not doing this I would probably spend more time in that business?
Do you keep fit?
I do a lot of running. I don’t much like it, but I find it a release from stress. I run about four to six kilometres a day. I need it . Some say it is an addiction. It clear my head and I lost three stones in five years.
Any other activities?
I support the SMILE Counselling charity which provides support to young people suffering from emotional hurt and pain.
If you could invite three people, living or dead, for a round table discussion who would you choose?
Albert Einstein, scientist… I’m fascinated by science at the minute, in particular astrophysics and have listened lots to Bryan Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson
Theo Paphitis, entrepreneur… I’d love to pick his brains about building a UK business
Conor McGregor, Irish professional mixed martial artist and boxer… he has a mindset like no one I have heard.