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East Midlands Chamber News

Air IT CEO John Whitty looks back on a year in the hot seat - and what 2021 brings for fast-growing firm

Air IT CEO John Whitty and COO James Healey

Becoming the UK’s number one managed service provider (MSP) for the SME market is the goal of Air IT – as it aims to follow a year of rapid growth with yet more expansion.

The Sandiacre-based company was recognised as the top firm in the East Midlands and ninth in Britain by the industry league table, 2020 Channel Futures MSP 501, in August.

Since then, it has bought four companies – London-based Netstar UK, Birmingham-based Mictotrading, Oxford-based Riverbank IT Management and Coventry-based Nexus GS.

The strategy for both organic and inorganic geographical growth was kickstarted by major backing from August Equity Partners LLP in February 2020, and since then the headcount has grown from 68 to 175.

Each of the companies have enjoyed 20% revenue growth over the past year and Air IT is also on course for a £20m turnover in the current financial year.

CEO John Whitty, who joined a year ago as part of the investment, says there are plans to expand into more regions in 2021 – with a projected workforce of more than 300 people by the end of the year.

“There will be some functions consolidated in Sandiacre, such as HR, marketing and product development, but our strategy is to grow a regional-local presence,” he says.

“So what we do in the East Midlands, where we’re very present locally in terms of our account management, sales and field service engineers, we plan to replicate into other regions.

“In 2021, we’ll be continuing to grow both organically and inorganically as we want to expand our reach. We’re now present in the East Midlands, West Midlands, London and Thames Valley, so we’re now looking towards the North East, Yorkshire, North West and maybe the South West.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure there’s a one-stop-shop for SMEs by bringing together the managed IT services, cyber security and business intelligence, because it’s a very under-served market.

“They don’t have many internal IT skills so hopefully we can provide them with their outsourced advisory and implementation services to make sure they operate innovatively and securely.”

How Air IT adapted to Covid-19 lockdown

Air IT's office in Sandiacre remains the headquarters for the expanding group

Air IT, which was named Nottinghamshire Business of the Year at the Chamber’s Business Awards in November, was busier than most companies during the initial Covid-19 lockdown, which resulted in service tickets trebling as customers moved to remote working en masse.

It meant some long hours for the team over a couple of months as it pulled together so clients could remain cyber-safe yet agile.

“By working from home, you’re increasing the attack vector as there’s more opportunities for people to hack into your systems or intercept traffic,” says John.

“So we helped businesses with their cyber security to protect their IT systems as much as we could.”

Embedding newly-acquired companies into Air IT culture

While the transition to working from home was mostly seamless for Air IT’s own staff – as might be expected for an IT company – more recently it’s faced another challenge in integrating new teams into the business after a spate of acquisitions.

Oxford-based John, who has managed more than 40 acquisitions during his career, adds: “The hardest thing is to maintain the culture that we want within the business.

“The culture we have in Sandiacre is brilliant so we want to replicate that everywhere. The easiest way to do that is to buy companies where the culture is very similar, and the four we’ve acquired have the same culture and attitude towards customer experience.

“But it’s also a task we need to keep working on because even differences in dialect and the words we use can vary so much across regions.

“It’s all about communication so we talk to everyone at the same time and move them towards common processes and language."

 

This article appears in the February 2021 issue of the Chamber's Business Network magazine. To read the online edition, click here.

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