We recently caught up with Andrew to discuss his personal journey from child software programmer to founding Perfect Image thirty years ago. From the highs, lows and lessons learned, we also find out about his hopes for the future after the company’s MBO in 2019.
Perfect Image has expanded considerably since it was founded in 1991. It now boasts a team of over 70 dedicated specialists that help to design and deliver its services and solutions. With 30 years of experience in transforming businesses using industry-leading technologies, the company has also partnered with several innovative and market-leading technology vendors, such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Qlik.
Headquartered at Cobalt Business Park in Newcastle, Perfect Image delivers IT solutions, services and strategies to a diverse range of national clients. Taking a cloud-first approach, the business has achieved both service and technical excellence across its chosen markets. This includes providing outsourced IT support, complex cloud and hybrid infrastructure services and the delivery of data visualisation and business analytics solutions.
The early days
A child of the eighties, Andrew’s first foray into technology was writing computer games from his bedroom. Very much in its infancy back then, and despite Andrew’s lack of experience, his first game ‘The Chocolate Factory’ went on to become a national bestseller. No mean feat at the age of 12 and, more significantly, an early sign of his entrepreneurial approach.
Andrew explains: “Coming from a family of business people, I knew from a very young age that I wanted to start something of my own. One of my uncles ran a toy company, another ran a joke and magic shop in London and they really ignited my passion to be my own boss. What I didn’t see, however, was the blood, sweat and tears that go side by side in setting up your own business. That said, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.”
Maintaining his interest in technology, Andrew completed a Computer Science degree at Cambridge after which, the lure of being his own boss and a growing interest in the tech sector saw him resist several job opportunities and instead return to the North East.
The internet boom
Shortly after his return to the region, Andrew founded Perfect Image after identifying that IT services was a growing industry. Always commercially savvy, he chose the name of the business so that it could diversify away from IT services if required in the future.
In the late 1990’s, the IT services sector was booming thanks to the rise of the internet and Perfect Image took advantage of the demand for bespoke IT services, seeing rapid growth far beyond initial expectations. The company went from strength to strength, diversifying and gaining blue chip customers along the way, but one thing that remained consistent was the company culture and values.
Andrew added: “From day one, culture was so important and I’m proud we’ve been able to uphold our company values despite significant growth and diversification. Our priority has always been to offer our customers innovative and high-quality services. Although technology has changed enormously since I started the business in 1991, staying at the forefront of tech and offering products and services that really benefit our customers’ businesses has continued to serve us well.”
Handing over to the next generation
After almost three decades running the business, in 2019 Andrew and his co-owner took the decision to sell Perfect Image to the existing management team.
He added: “Truthfully we were very apprehensive going into the process. We knew it would be hard to hand over the reins, but we wanted to give the senior management the opportunity to grow and develop the business. We recognised that the current team had the ability and drive to take the company through the next stage of its journey, and that they had earned the right to do that.”
Following the MBO, Andrew stayed on as a Non-Executive Director. This decision was not only fuelled by Andrew’s belief in the company, but also his desire to support the team in the next stage of the business’ journey. He now works a few days a month within the business offering strategic advice and guidance.
The right advisor
UNW’s corporate finance team supported Perfect Image on its MBO advising Andrew, the majority owner, and the former Managing Director. On the motivations behind selecting UNW to lead the deal, Andrew said:
“After a pitching process, we knew that UNW were the right advisors for us. Culture is hugely important to me and I was keen to find a business advisor that had the same ethos as us. When I met UNW, I was really impressed with the team, liking their professionalism, friendly and honest approach. They were the only firm who really took the time to understand not only the technical and financial side of our business, but our own ethos and culture too.”
Andrew added: “UNW provided a level of experience and financial knowledge that we, as a business, just didn’t have. Alongside that, it really felt like John Healey and his team were heavily invested in the process. I couldn’t praise them highly enough. They got under the skin of the organisation and genuinely wanted a positive outcome and for this to happen as much as we did.”
Love what you do
For entrepreneurs at the start of their journey, Andrew’s biggest piece of advice is to ‘love what you’re going to do with your business.’ “It’s hard work setting up your own business with plenty of knockbacks along the way. You have to have passion and conviction underpinned by the effort, drive and determination to keep going through the tough times.”
Since taking a step back from Perfect Image, Andrew has been a business angel supporting entrepreneurs and has recently invested in Donr, a ‘tech for good’ company, which supports not for profit organisations to raise funding through text giving.
Gaming is still in Andrew’s blood however, and whenever there is a spare moment, as well as spending time with his family, he’s returned to his roots, taking the opportunity to learn about the technology behind 21st century games development.
“I feel like I’ve gone full circle going back to games development. The technology has changed but the passion, innovation and sense of community in the gaming world is stronger than ever. Whilst it may not result in another hit like ‘The Chocolate Factory’, I’m enjoying developing new skills.”
They were the only firm who really took the time to understand not only the technical and financial side of our business, but our own ethos and culture too.