Shaper: George Mackintosh

Show aired on 2nd January 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The Staple Singers with I’ll Take You There. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. It is where you get to hear the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul, alongside their equivalents in the world of business, those people who are shaping the things to come that affect the world of business all around you. I am very pleased to say my Business Shaper today is George Mackintosh. He is one of the founders of TestPlant, a fantastic business which makes sure that software works for you whatever kind of business you are in but much more exciting than that, he began life on a farm in Scotland and he has done all sorts of things in between. You will be hearing lots from him very shortly. In addition to hearing from George, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some sage words I hope, of advice for your business and on top of all of that of course I promise you some great music and there will be, Art Blakey, Dr John and this from Chick Corea and Béla Fleck.

Armando’s Rhumba with Chick Corea on piano, I am sure you knew that and Béla Fleck on the banjo. George Mackintosh is my Business Shaper here on Jazz Shapers and he is, as I said, one of the founders of TestPlant, an incredibly clever business which makes sure that all the software you are running is working properly, has integrity, doesn’t muck things up. George, thank you so much for joining me. I want to know in layman’s terms what TestPlant does. I have just tried to describe it but I am sure I did a terrible job. You let me know and tell me how long it has been going for and then I want to go back in to your dim and distant past.

George Mackintosh
Okay it’s a bit of a cliché to say the software makes the world go round but everything we do from our mobile phone to our television and set top boxes are all driven by software. Our aeroplanes, our defence systems and so on and so and so on and if you build software you have to make sure that you test the software. If you don’t test it, that shows up as a glitch as the banks flippantly call major problems and so you don’t want glitches, you don’t want hitches so you have to test it. We have a unique approach to testing which automates the testing of software. Ultimately producing better software at lower cost and quicker – that’s an important thing.

Elliot Moss
It’s been running 7 years. How many people work in the business now?

George Mackintosh
About 70 people internationally. It’s very much international.

Elliot Moss
Well tell me where you are because you are all over the world aren’t you?

George Mackintosh
Sure. Well despite the accent we are based in London, is the main office.

Elliot Moss
Are you Scottish? I could never have noticed.

George Mackintosh
Only slightly, only slightly. Based in London we have development centres in Congleton – for those of you who don’t know – that’s near Manchester and Boulder, Colorado and we now have sales offices in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Berlin, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Elliot Moss
Now people listening will say well that’s fantastic and I kind of partly understand that and I am sure your clients are big, I imagine, but they are probably medium size and they are probably small as well, all sorts as you said, all sorts of industries. You started life, I believe you graduated with a Degree in business and economics from the University, the fine University of Edinburgh. You were brought up on a farm, you ended up, your first job being at Ford. In those early days when you, you know, you came from a farm background, you went into a formal education. Was that an unusual thing to do then? You were one of six children I believe, were most people expected to follow in the footsteps of their father and if they were, how did you end up not doing so?

George Mackintosh
Well fortunately for my father there were other children and in particular, two other sons who did follow in his footsteps into the farm and still remain farming. I decided that I would go elsewhere so I made the long trek from Inverness down to Edinburgh to go to University and then from Edinburgh, having studied business, at that time the obvious thing was to go and join a big business so there was a kind of link between farm, studying business and then going to work for Ford in the sense that farms have tractors, I ended up building diesel engines on the shop floor of the Dagenham Engine Plant.

Elliot Moss
You see and you thought it was a spurious link between Scotland and the farms and then Ford and engines and cars and tractors and the like but it wasn’t. Stay with me for much more from George Mackintosh and hear how he has built some phenomenal business, not just with TestPlant but actually in between as well. Time for some more music, this is the fantastic Mr Art Blakey with Kilbane Chant.

Art Blakey with Kilbane Chant. I am talking to George Mackintosh today, he is my Business Shaper and he is the farmer’s son who made it big. Started at Ford and as you said, it wasn’t such a massive move really, it was a tractor, you felt at home. How long was it before that you realised, you know what, I love this big company thing, I love the sense of scale, the sense of the ability to learn, see how big things happen. How quickly did you say this wasn’t for me? Do you remember when you realised?

George Mackintosh
Well I do very clearly because I didn’t love the big company thing at all but it was, it was the obvious thing to do at that time. I mean, fortunately now we are in a very entrepreneurial nation but then – I make myself sound very old here – but the obvious thing was to go and join a big company on a graduate training programme but even as I did it, it wasn’t for me. You know, my dad was a farmer and that’s a sort of entrepreneur, a sort of entrepreneur so as I studied it was obvious that I was going to do something that would lead to me running my own business so working for Ford was just part of that corporate apprenticeship frankly and you know, I loved the experience but let me tell you, working day and night shift for 2 years in the Dagenham Engine Plant was pretty grim.

Elliot Moss
If it was grim and you were tired, how did you manufacture a move? How did you end up becoming I believe a partner, managing director of a telecommunications business? How did that happen? Was that the next step or were there things in between?

George Mackintosh
There were a couple of things in between. There I was on the shop floor, as I say, it was a bit grim and I was determined to stick it out for a period of time so I stuck it out.

Elliot Moss
Is that you all over? Are you kind of one of those people that is pretty tenacious?

George Mackintosh
I think so. I think it’s sometimes easy to get into things and in my opinion, difficult to get out so I don’t get out until I get a result. So I wanted to do 2 years with Ford and I did. I trooped up to the head office in Brentwood in Essex and said, ‘Give me another job’. Now at that time in the early 80s, Margaret Thatcher was transforming our industrial landscape and by which time the factory that I was working was working on shifts, extraordinarily if I had to come in on night shift which I had to, there might be no men there but because I was salaried I still had to come in and manage a production that wasn’t happening and it was crazy. So I said, you know, find me another job and there were no other jobs in Ford so I then went home and thought well what could I do that would be, would be a little more interesting in the sense that it might tie my earnings to my effort or my performance and it might get into a new technology or something interesting. So in short, I went from Dagenham to selling modems. Now in the early 80s, modems were pretty interesting. They were, you know, rocket science in some respects so I sold modems, sold telecommunications equipment, working for Motorola, working for Cable and Wireless for another 6 or 7 years. Something of that sort but again the purpose was an apprenticeship in my mind before I would then go and find a business that I could have some skin in the game.

Elliot Moss
You will notice that George has been building up his chips quite cleverly here before he does indeed take the plunge and move into the wild world of entrepreneurism and getting skin in the game. Latest travel coming up in a couple of minutes and before that and before we go back indeed to George for some more, you are going to hear some words of wisdom, as I promised you earlier, from our programme partners, for your business and those words are from our friends at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers every Saturday morning I am privileged enough to meet someone who is shaping the world of business and throughout 2016 I will be meeting a whole bunch more I hope and there will be some new innovations coming, more of which in the next few weeks and probably you will find them on line too. George Mackintosh is my Business Shaper and he is one of the founders of TestPlant, they solve your software issues – in other words, they make sure it works because if it doesn’t work and you are flying a plane, that’s a problem and if it doesn’t work and you are selling food or whatever through a vending machine, I imagine that is a problem too. All of those things are taken care of and we were just, George, back at the time where you were cleverly building your credentials and building your credibility by getting all these as you call them, apprenticeships, and it is something I encounter a lot with people I talk to, it doesn’t just happen straight away, you didn’t set your own business up day one with no education and no kind of training on the ground. Just as an aside before we go into what happened next – do you think that some very young entrepreneurs don’t realise just how much graft there is before it works?

George Mackintosh
Well as I said, in my time it was a rush to go and join big business. Now there is very positively a rush to join small business. Now in some ways that corporate apprenticeship and I make it sound very manipulative to use big companies as a means to get some experience but it is good experience so you know, it’s nice that people want to go and set up things but why not go work for another small company or medium sized company or even a big company to get some useful experience. And being an entrepreneur isn’t about one big bang, one big idea and one rush to the bank and then off to the beach. In my case it was very much a series of steps, you know, I am serial entrepreneur, it sounds rather spooky but for me it was always about a number of steps and indeed a number of different adventures or ventures along the way so it doesn’t have to be one big success – indeed, a little bit of failure is never a bad thing but if you want to do it, you will do it. It might take 10 years or 20 years.

Elliot Moss
Now you said, you know, half-jokingly but the other half is serious, that your father also was an entrepreneur of sorts, farmers are entrepreneurs. They run their own business, they have many variables to manage, cost is always moving around, income is always moving around, you are at the mercy of the markets, just the same things. Do you think you always knew you were going to do your own thing at some point because you’ve happened to have taken a more strategic route, many people I meet don’t, they just plunge in, they don’t quite end up on the beach straight away but like you said, they fail but you were very very structured but was it in your DNA to do your own thing and to be your own boss?

George Mackintosh
I think it was but I didn’t properly realise it until I went to University so… my mother had some crazy idea that she wanted me to be a professional and I was never that keen on, on the legal world but it was at University I had this very clear image I would be running my own thing. So at that time it was the sort of DNA kicking in with a bit of world experience to benefit.

Elliot Moss
More insight coming up from George very shortly. Time for some music though and this is the phenomenal Dr John and it is Right Place Wrong Time.

Dr John with the Right Place Wrong Time, not quite what’s been happening with my Business Shaper, George Mackintosh who managed the right place and the right time for all sorts of reasons. So galloping through because I want to come to the business now and how you approach it and how you’ve managed to grow. You founded a business called Geoconference. You said you were a serial entrepreneur and it’s true. Backed by private equity, 3i, a big one, you sold that business I believe. In that process George of doing serious things with other people’s money as well as your own – did you have to grow up? I mean you strike me as very kind of measured guy anyway but was there a kind of ‘okay I need to change the way I am viewing things here’ or do you think that apprenticeship or rather those apprenticeships had prepared you adequately for the serious matter of selling a business at the right price?

George Mackintosh
They hadn’t prepared me. The apprenticeships were good in preparing me how to sell, how to market, how to manage people but they didn’t prepare me for the full heat of running a business. Particularly if you raise money from the not so great but then great 3i, there’s a lot of focus and attention but I absolutely loved it. I mean I thought it released all sorts of energy in me and actually it released the ability in me that I didn’t know I had so…

Elliot Moss
Like what? Just give me an example?

George Mackintosh
Well I, you know, I could market, I could be creative. It’s not easy to be creative bless them in Cable and Wireless or Motorola, you know, a large American multi-national so – and creativity in small business is important because that’s innovation and whether you shape a service or a product, it’s got to be different and the other thing I did, I suppose which useful working for big companies, of course I have constantly competed against big companies. You know, I have competed directly with BT, I’ve competed directly with IBM and directly with HP so I sort of knowing them helps that process and then if you add in lots of energy, lots of creativity and the ability to pool good people around you, you can do something even as a small business that will out perform IBM.

Elliot Moss
I hope you are taking notes. Take them, bottle them up and follow them. Fantastic stuff from George. Final chat will be coming up with him plus we will be playing a track from Albert King, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

Albert King with Kansas City. George we are now at the point where, and you have been giving some fantastic pointers in terms of really mixing things up as you become a serial entrepreneur, being exposed to lots of different influences and you very honestly said and I like that, that well of course you weren’t ready for when you had to sell this company and but you learnt a whole bunch of stuff sort of leading up to it. This business that you are in now, which has done phenomenally well, great growth over the last 7 years or so, it’s international, you are doing what the British Government wants you to do which is export, you are in a technology led business. I mean these are massive tick. What can possibly go wrong?

George Mackintosh
Well software has some fairly or software businesses might have a fairly short shelf life so we are in a very healthy sense, we are very paranoid, you know, we are constantly watching the market and what other people are doing, trying to stay ahead of them. So we worry about things happening and things changing but I think structurally we are in a good market as I said about software, it’s at the heart of every system or process that we are involved in and our technology, some of which is patented so its genuinely unique, is in a good position but it is a constant, constant, constant consideration of what might go wrong. 85% of our sales are International so we would like to see a few more things happen in the UK that might help. Small, medium-sized businesses or medium-sized businesses such as ourselves.

Elliot Moss
Like you are talking about the Government are you in terms of legislation or other things?

George Mackintosh
Well not necessarily. I mean, the Government since 2010 has introduced a sharper focus on where the public sector buys stuff from and I think the results are really quite impressive. They have moved from SME’s getting 5% of that spend in 2010 to 25% and they’ve set even further targets going forward so that is good and we’ve had some public sector spend come our way but the UK corporate scene is a bit stubborn and is not so empathetic with the small and medium-size businesses and I would like to see more.

Elliot Moss
Now it sounds like you have been running this business very sensibly and yet you’ve grown and as you said, you’ve exported and now you are talking about obviously the attitude corporately in the UK needs to change. It would be remiss of me not to mention that you have in the past been a semi-professional racing driver and I don’t say that just because… and apparently with a gardening habit it says here according to your own website – but very good the two I am sure work very well… the reason I mention the racing is that you obviously like to go fast and you like to kind of take risks. It doesn’t strike me you’ve done that in your own business. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean that in a positive way unless you can contradict me and say ‘no Elliot, we’ve taken loads of risks and that is why we are where we are’. If you haven’t, if you have been very measured, do you think that’s been right for the business and if you had have driven the car round the bend faster, do you think you would be in an even stronger position?

George Mackintosh
Well the racing analogy is interesting because racing at certain levels at British and European levels, it’s not really a sort of fly-by-night operation so you will test and you will practice and you will qualify and then you race. So some of those principals even though they are quite, the environment is very competitive and actually there is a lot of adrenaline flying around, there is a kind of measured process there and I suppose that’s the same in business, it’s a measured process. Incidentally, to raise money as many people will know, is very difficult and that you know, forces you to review and review again what you are going to do and ultimately it is a risk. If you think about the statistics of failure then you probably wouldn’t start so you have to be really convinced. You know, you have to be really passionate about what you are doing even to be lucky or successful enough to raise the money to do it. So I think it is measured. I don’t think I am a risk taker and if I am, it’s probably back to the DNA I suppose, the entrepreneurial DNA but there’s, you know, I have always got investors and colleagues and members of staff so it has to be a sensible route forward but we are still disrupting the market that we are in and we are still competing with IBMs and HPs and having a lot of fun doing that and being successful at doing it.

Elliot Moss
And of course being recognised for that. I mean you are one of the fastest growing companies according to the Sunday Times, you are two times winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, I mean these are fantastic accolades and they are in themselves not as important as the fact that they reflect as you said, the success that you’ve built. So whatever you are doing, you are obviously doing it extremely well. That measured approach plus the ability as you said, to be comfortable with risk I think, is working brilliantly. Thank you so much for being my guest today, you have been fantastic. Just before I let you go, you have one last thing to say George which is tell me what you have chosen as a piece of music and why you have chosen it?

George Mackintosh
Well as a kid of course I liked Led Zeppelin and stuff like that but Dom vetoed all of it so I have to revert to an old favourite, all too favourite for many people, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.

Elliot Moss
And here it is just for you, thank you so much.

Take Five from Dave Brubeck, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, George Mackintosh. A very structured approach to the world of entrepreneurialism, someone who really thought about what he was going to do after he left home to go to University, to work at Ford, from the big company to the smaller companies and now doing incredibly well. Very measured, an ex-racing driver but with that sense of how fast is fast, how much data do you need and really thinking very hard about the next move and he has done that really well. And actually underpinning it all, a natural entrepreneur, someone who is the son of a farmer, really had it in his blood from day one to understand how it would be to make a buck and do it very successfully. All fantastic stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime, stay with us here on Jazz FM because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams with his take on the highlights of 2015 here on Jazz FM.

George is a serial entrepreneur in technology markets. He is the founder and CEO of TestPlant, a maker of software test automation tools. It is one of the UK’s fastest growing tech businesses, included in the 2015 Sunday Times Tech Track 100. His company is a Red Herring Global 100 Winner, a Deloitte EMEA Technology Fast 100, a CityA.M. Leap 100 company and a two times winner of a Queen’s Award for Enterprise. TestPlant has offices in London, Berlin, Shanghai, Tokyo and in the US, San Francisco, Boulder and Philadelphia.

A Bachelor of Commerce graduate from the University of Edinburgh, George served a corporate apprenticeship with Ford [on the Dagenham shop floor] before switching to the tech industry spending time with Motorola and Cable & Wireless. He has previously run businesses in the UK, Hong Kong, India, Western and Eastern Europe and in the USA.

Born in Inverness, George was brought up on a farm, the eldest of six children. He has been a motor racing competitor of two and four wheels, competing in British and European sports car championships as a semi-pro driver in Lotus, Porsche and Maserati cars. He has five children and lives in North London. A trustee of the national charity Kids in Museums, he is interested in agricultural heritage projects and is also a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow TestPlant on Twitter @testplant

“Everything we do from our mobile phone to our television and set top boxes are all driven by software”

“Ultimately producing better software at lower cost and quicker – that’s an important thing.”

“The obvious thing was to go and join a big company on a graduate training programme but even as I did it, it wasn’t for me.”

“Now there is very positively a rush to join small business.”

“Being an entrepreneur isn’t about one big bang, one big idea and one rush to the bank and then off to the beach.”

“A little bit of failure is never a bad thing but if you want to do it, you will do it.”

“Creativity in small business is important because that’s innovation and whether you shape a service or a product, it’s got to be different.”

“The UK corporate scene is a bit stubborn and is not so empathetic with the small and medium-size businesses.”

“The environment is very competitive and actually there is a lot of adrenaline flying around.”

“You have to be really passionate about what you are doing even to be lucky or successful enough to raise the money to do it.”

“We are still disrupting the market that we are in and we are still competing with IBMs and HPs and having a lot of fun doing that.”