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Case Study: Stepping Down to Step Up

MSM Software is a UK-based software company providing bespoke software development and support of business-critical systems. Founded 16 years ago, the company has offices in Exeter, Bristol and London.

Whilst MSM weathered the first half of the recession well, the completion of a number of long-term contracts in 2012 came at a time when the market was still in the doldrums. As a result, there was a significant drop in turnover.

Drastic action was required and an innovative plan was hatched by Managing Director, Thomas Coles, and his Academy Group Chairman, William Waddington.

By applying lateral thinking William suggested that Thomas focus 100% of his time on sales rather than managing the business as well. Thomas had a sales background and this was his original passion. However, his duties as MD had left insufficient time for the sales and client account management side of the business.

Thomas Coles

Thomas Coles

“It was a real ‘aha’ moment” says Thomas. “It just made so much sense and I intuitively knew that this would work. I felt far happier knowing that I could now focus my efforts more effectively on delivery to the bottom-line.”

“It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the MD role, as much as the fact that I had to juggle the leadership role of heading up the business, alongside a degree of sales and account management – there simply weren’t enough hours in the day and they are two quite different roles.”

“The brainwave was contingent on Sinead O’Brien, our Operations Director, accepting the role of Managing Director. It was a providential match as we didn’t have a formal succession plan in place. Sinead is a natural leader and manager of people and was delighted to accept the role.”

Once the decision was made events moved quickly. Within a couple of days the team changes were announced.

“We highlighted how the new structure would play to both of our strengths and the feedback we received was all very positive. I moved out of my office and slotted into the sales team right away.” From worst to best, turnover has doubled under Sinead’s leadership, proving that it was the right decision.

This decision has been such a success that it helped to double monthly turnover in under a year. Thomas also experienced a range of positive effects on his performance and productivity.

“An immediate result of the changeover was that my creative juices started to really flow again, I felt re-energised and my stress and worry about the future of the business simply evaporated.”

“My advice to Academy members is to act immediately on the advice that you are given and to trust your instinct. Most founder owners will have to hand over the helm at some point and recognising the optimum time to do this is the difference between a successful transition and leaving it too late.”

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