Phil Race: “my CEO Today Award is a reflection of AdEPT as a whole“

Earlier this year, our CEO, Phil Race, won a prestigious ‘CEO Today UK Awards 2021’ award from CEO Today Magazine. It follows a seminal period in AdEPT’s history – one where we’ve helped businesses and organisations get the best out of their connectivity and ICT to rise to the colossal challenges of the pandemic.

I spoke to Phil Race about the award and what it means for him, AdEPT and our customers…

Why do you think you received this award – and how does it relate to AdEPT as a whole – and our customers?

Phil Race (PR): “Although the award has my name on it, it’s truly a reflection of the whole AdEPT team, not me. It’s a recognition of the performance of our people, our great culture, and of how we’re integrating our acquisitions.

“Obviously it’s fantastic to be recognised in this way – but just as important to me is the immense rewards I get from the positive feedback from our clients and our team day-to-day. I see my role as getting the best out of everyone in AdEPT – from my direct reports, but in some ways more importantly those across all of our offices in the UK. I’d like to think I do this in a highly driven, but supportive way – and that might be a factor in why I’m receiving this award.

“I think the award also reflects how we’ve been helping our customers through the past 12 months – the work we’ve done to give our customers different ways to communicate, reliable connectivity, high-performing ICT wrapped with help and support, has been incredible. For example, we’ve helped doctors move to remote diagnosis; we’ve supplied tablets to care homes; and we’ve helped more than 500 schools move to digital education platforms for remote teaching and learning – these are particular highlights of the past year for me and all of us.”

“We’ve helped doctors move to remote diagnosis; we’ve supplied tablets to care homes; and we’ve helped more than 500 schools move to digital education platforms for remote teaching and learning – these are particular highlights of the past year for me and all of us.”

You mentioned AdEPT’s acquisitions and your role in bringing together those companies. How are you doing that?

PR: “We are a consolidator, and we’ve been acquiring and integrating companies continuously for many years. During my tenure we’ve bought a number of companies that are now part of the AdEPT family. Our success in doing this is because we appreciate the human side of acquisitions – it’s not just about the finances or the customers. We need to appreciate the personal aspirations of the team who are part of the acquired business and ensure we alleviate fears, appreciate ambitions and nurture people through what can, for some, be a stressful transition.

“I’ve been in businesses that have both been acquired, and that have been the acquirer, so I have a lot of personal experience that I can bring to bear in these situations. I think this really helps when making acquisitions, and the subsequent integration work for everyone involved.

“We set clear goals, we ensure everyone is kept informed, we create a coherent integration plan and we make sure everyone sees the logic for what we are doing; it means that our decisions are given both context and meaning.”

The pandemic has kept us all apart from each other – so how has this affected your work in bringing together the companies and people?

PR: “One thing that’s really important to me is open and honest communication, frequently. For example, once a month I write and share a newsletter, covering our news stories, our work and where we as a business are going. And it’s not about sugar coating everything – it’s about being transparent and approachable. We call it Carpe Diem! (inspired by the Dead Poets Society film), it means ‘seize the day’ and is one of my core philosophies: you only get one life.

“I make a point of sharing the whole picture – the good and the bad. It’s about treating staff as grown-ups so we can come together and solve our challenges and those of our customers.

“This has been even more important during the pandemic. Over the past 15 months we’ve had staff working from home, on kitchen tables and in bedrooms – so regular communication has been especially important. Being open can help employees alleviate the stress of feeling like they’re in the dark.

“Obviously we’re an AIM-listed company so there’s some things we can’t share for legal reasons, but as much as possible it’s about sharing the strategy with everyone. I do this formally once a year in an all staff briefing, but for me it’s a continual dialogue – I never want any employee to feel intimidated by my job title and communication is always two-way thing.

“I think this ties in with something I’m often described as: a solver of puzzles. Obviously problem solving is a big part of work in technology, but it’s true in my position too – solving the puzzles of conflicts in resources, of changes in the markets, of new technology. Doing this is my passion – not to turn up and get paid – but to get up in the morning and solve those puzzles – Covid-19 has been a huge puzzle to solve, and I think we’ve done it pretty well.”

Do you think this ‘problem-solving’ nature is mirrored across AdEPT?

PR: “Yes, definitely. First and foremost, our employees are always looking to solve our customers’ problems. We always keep in mind that the world of ICT is complicated and confusing, with lots of discrete areas of technology – and that’s a big part of how we approach our day to day work – solving our customers’ problems.”

“Our employees are always looking to solve our customers’ problems. We always keep in mind that the world of ICT is complicated and confusing, with lots of discrete areas of technology – and that’s a big part of how we approach our day to day work – solving our customers’ problems.”

Where else has this problem-solving culture come to the fore?

PR: “It feels like a long and different time ago, but back in 2019 we took on the Three Peaks Challenge and it stands out as an example of our culture. For me, being there in the rain and the dark with my colleagues was a fantastic personal achievement but also especially valuable because I believe in leading by example. So, whether we’re facing the challenge of climbing a mountain, or the challenge of helping our customers through the pandemic, my role is to be part of the team, helping navigate us through it all.

“I’m also a great believer that we should be a force for good and supporting charities is part of that. But this belief is also shared by our team, so it’s a great way to engage with every part of the wider team, helping in two-way conversation as well as the integration of new companies and offices. I can’t wait for the next charity challenge when we are allowed out again.

“Many of the charities we support have a very personal meaning to our staff, so it’s important for me to get involved. And being a judge on the bake-off fundraiser we ran in our Orpington office had a few tasty perks, too!”

What keeps you motivated and how do you apply this to your role?

PR: “There are a few I can name. First, without a doubt, solving problems is the biggest motivator for me, and I’m fortunate to be part of a board that challenges and helps me solve them. Next, continual learning – it’s important to never stop learning, especially in the fast-paced world of ICT – I’d like to think that I’m always curious. Third, I’d add that it’s important to be flexible and willing to change – the world changes overnight, as we’ve all seen over the past 12 months. Finally, don’t be afraid to dream big – just as our customers have dreams of where they want to be, we should have dreams, too. Learning constantly and being open to change helps you achieve those dreams.”

Are there any other highlights that stand out for you as CEO in your time at AdEPT?

PR: “Every day there are lots of victories, such as when we help a customer find a solution where an answer wasn’t immediately obvious – that’s a huge reward, and seeing the positive comments from our customers this leads to is priceless!

“The creation of a clear strategy, with the support of the AdEPT leadership team, and our progress against this strategy is massively rewarding. Keeping our business moving forward despite the pandemic has been a huge highlight. We are a very different company than when I first took the reins thanks to a lot of hard work by many people, building on the superb work of our Chairman, Ian Fishwick. I’m very proud of what we are becoming.

“One other highlight is the ‘Tech United’ event we held in December 2019. I can remember it like it happened yesterday. We brought together more than 200 of our customers to share knowledge, experiences and ideas and we were joined by many of our partners as well as Sir Andrew Strauss OBE, who gave a great talk on leadership. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we’ve not been able to repeat this which is a real shame. “One of the proudest moments for me was seeing, throughout the day, members of the AdEPT team talking passionately about their specialisms and their professional experiences. It was absolutely brilliant – and fingers crossed, we’ll do that again one day.”

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT