Lawrence Jones CEO of UKFast is one of AMAGAZINE’s 10 Most Influential Mancunians. Here he talks about his career journey and the future of our city.
“It’s impossible for traditional education to produce work-ready graduates with the latest skills without help from the business arena itself.”
What makes Manchester a great place to live and work in 2018?
Manchester has long been known for the mills of the industrial revolution, and for the past few years it has cemented its place as the centre of the Industrious Revolution. The city is resilient, collaborative and hard working to say the least. Innovation runs through the city just like the canals. Its culture is unique, you can feel it everywhere you go, perhaps it’s built upon that northern grit of industry. Wherever it came from, it’s clear from the Northern Quarter to Media City and beyond, this is the place to be if you’re looking for somewhere to forge an exciting career without the sky-high rents of the capital.
Why do you think so many businesses have chosen Manchester as their central hub?
Manchester is small enough to be an effective community where business and government, both local and central, work together collaboratively. Don’t forget, Manchester led the industrial revolution and generations later there’s huge expectation from business leaders to continually reinvent the city. Quite rightly, Manchester is right up there with London when you consider leading tech cities in the UK. But it’s not just the city, it’s the region as a whole. We’re a community – from Bolton and the likes of AO.com to MusicMagpie in Stockport. Plus our close physical links with the likes of Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield make for an enviable network of businesses, suppliers, support and collaboration. From Manchester you can reach Leeds in the time it takes to get from Mayfair to the Shard in the capital. London, of course, is the centre of commerce and the economy, but Manchester is taking its innovation crown. Not only are we delivering startup after startup, the community in GM nurtures these startups to scaleups and beyond. Look at the incredible success of LateRooms.com, Missguided and Boohoo.
What do you think Manchester needs to raise its profile on the international scene?
I think Manchester is already an international city – how did it become so? Was it the big MediaCity UK movement playing catalyst to an industry that just needed a push? Is it the incredible ongoing work of University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, Salford University and beyond? Graphene? I’m not sure that we could pinpoint a single element, but it’s clear that Manchester is fast becoming recognisable as the UK’s ‘second city’. Unfortunately the instant question when you’re in the states or further afield and say you’re British, is always how close you are to London or do you support Manchester United! We certainly need to increase awareness of the north and its value from this point of view, however I think that’s something that will happen over the course of time. As we continue to grow the city and embark on a more international stage, that awareness will grow. And if not, we’re still known internationally for being home to Man United!
What does Manchester need in terms of new talent coming through?
The skills gap is a huge challenge, there’s no doubt about it. With the flow of talent still leaving to London, for many years, the focus for Manchester businesses has very much been on talent retention and skills development, as well as attracting new skills. That’s why we’ve seen so many incredible workplaces popping up – UKFast Campus, of course, but also spaces like those of Autotrader, Missguided and Rentalcars.com. We’ve committed millions of pounds to upskilling our current team, as well as helping to transform tech education in schools and universities in the region. It’s impossible for traditional education to produce work-ready graduates with the latest skills without help from the business arena itself. That’s why we work with more than 60,000 students and pupils across 60 schools and universities in the region. We help young people to see the real opportunities that a career in tech brings.
Of course, the skills challenge is only going to grow when we hear of large multinational businesses coming to the city with recruitment drives for hundreds of technically skilled people, so we need to do everything we can to increase that talent pool.
What are the essential qualities that people must have to be a part of your business?
It’s really simple. We hire on attitude rather than skills. Skills can be taught, attitude is very much ingrained. Our culture is based on five core values: innovative, professional, dynamic, passionate and supportive. We hire on these qualities and they run through the very core of the business. If you are excited and ready to learn, grow and develop, that’s what we’re looking for.
How has the working world changed from when you started your career compared to now and how have these changes affected your industry?
The world is massively different. When we set up UKFast, we had to encourage people to get their businesses online. We had to explain the benefits of the internet and being connected. Now everyone is connected and the conversation has changed to optimising efficiencies and securing online business. Social media and smartphones have transformed the way we communicate, shop and consume media and with that, it’s transformed the way the world does business. Industry specific, we’ve seen the change from shared server hosting, to dedicated server hosting and now the rise and rise of cloud hosting, which enables every business to do incredible things with technology.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Any entrepreneur who says they don’t face challenges every single week I would find hard to believe! However, every single challenge is an opportunity to learn more and to grow. You could say that setting up a hosting provider with just £5,000 in the back bedroom of a Manchester flat, with no technical knowledge was a pretty big challenge.
What would you say to people who feel they haven’t ‘made it’ yet?
I don’t think I will ever feel like I have ‘made it’. The challenge with this is that once you feel that you have achieved your goal, there is a tendency to sit back and celebrate. People quickly rest on their laurels and that’s when they start to lose momentum. Instead set goals and track your progress with each. Celebrate small milestones, but use them as a line in the sand to never dip below and build upon. This way you will always continue growing and developing.
In what ways would you like to see Manchester businesses giving back to their city and community?
The Manchester community is incredibly generous but the focus, for me, needs to be on education. We need to help ensure that the generations coming through are given the absolute best shot at a great life. To hear that 75,000 children in Greater Manchester are living in poverty is absolutely heart-breaking. To know that they’re not receiving the same level of education and opportunity as children in other parts of the region is something I cannot ignore. That’s why UKFast’s CSR efforts are all directed at underprivileged children between 0-18 years.
What industries do you think will be booming in Manchester over the next 5 years?
That’s of course a tough one to predict! Cybersecurity in Manchester is growing quickly. Watch this space.
‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’ sees some of Manchester’s most inspiring professionals talk about the future of our city and share their career journeys. If you’d like to get involved with 2019’s ‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’, please email email@example.com.