The Entrepreneur: Mark Robinson, APC Technology Group plc

The founder of the AIM-listed tech firm discusses plans to "create the future" and advises entrepreneurs to trust both their instincts and their employees...

Founder: Mark Robinson
Company: APC Technology Group plc
Website: www.apc-plc.co.uk
Description in one line: Sustainability technologies, products and services and electronic component distribution
Previous companies: NA
Turnover: £20m
12 month target: Much more than £20m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

We have all the elements required for a sustainability project to be delivered to our clients:

  • A consulting company to create a sustainability strategy and drive behavioral change
  • A technology company to deliver technologies to manage the consumption of energy and water
  • A project financing company to provide 100% of the capital required to complete the project

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

There are a few stories of overcoming the odds to keep the business afloat in the early days but realistically what we have created and begun to build in terms of a business with a strategy to exploit the opportunities that exist within the sustainability sector will prove to be the defining achievement. The fact that our business will make a positive impact on the world for future generations is a wonderful by-product.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

None. There are people who have the responsibility for the numbers and I’m responsible for creating the future. I trust them to do their thing and I hope they trust me to do mine, at least on a daily basis.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We have opened operations in Waterloo, Canada and in Miami, USA which are developing business across Canada and North and Latin America. It’s an exciting venture that is beginning to yield positive results. Our aim is to build a business model that can be rolled out overseas so this initial step will hopefully be the first of many.

Describe your growth funding path:

The business was incorporated in 1982 and was self-financing for the first 14 years. In 1996 it was listed on the full list of the London Stock Exchange, which enabled the company to invest more in product and IP development. In 2002 we moved the shares to the AIM market and have raised funds several times to fund growth, both acquisitive and to provide the working capital for organic growth. I believe the market should be used as originally intended, that is to provide funds to encourage expansion.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The answer for us, as well as for many other businesses, has to be IT and the way that it has enabled  fast communication. Having been there when telex was considered state of the art in the way that allowed our secretary Peggy to place orders with our suppliers overseas at the clunk of a typewriter keyboard in the 1980s, I fully recognise the advantages of everyone being on open communications platforms for everything from a quick message to 3D printing.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

To have a presence in each continent (except Antarctica) and £250m+ turnover

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Telling my team of committed people that we just couldn’t survive in the communications sector at the time of the .com crash and we had to give up the fight and sell the business to an American competitor.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Not trusting my instinct on numerous occasions.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Personal taxation – which still unfairly penalises those who strive to innovate and create employment.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Employing people they like rather than people with the disciplines and skills that their businesses need.

How will your market look in three years?

I consider that we are only just moving out of the early adopters stage towards mass deployment, so the customer base for sustainability enabling products and services should expand significantly over the next few years. This will be driven by government legislation in response to the need to stop burning fossil fuels combined with increasing energy and water costs.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Success is part passion/enthusiasm but don’t forget that you must have or at least employ expertise in critical disciplines. Too many times I’ve tried to do things alone and my own shortcomings in key areas condemned the business to failure.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Tough one, nothing springs to mind…not sure if that’s good or bad!?!

Executive education or learn it on the job?

On the job

What would make you a better leader?

An extra hour a day, or two….or maybe three

Business book:

How:Why How We Do Anything Means Everything by Dov Seidman

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