Expert input helped us keep growth on track
When growth is coming thick and fast, it can be difficult for your business structure to keep up. That’s why Newcastle-based Hedgehog Lab brought in its first non-executive director in 2016 when the business had about 20 employees.
“We were growing at break-neck speed and one big challenge we were facing was that we didn’t have the right processes in place,” says Sarat Pediredla, chief executive and founder of the global technology consultancy that designs and builds software. “We’d started setting up a senior management team and we needed somebody with experience of running big companies, who was operationally good and understood the strategic elements.”
By this time the business, founded in 2011, had appointed a chief design officer to join the two co-founders on the board. Keen to grow their design department, the duo felt this part of the businesses needed to have a voice at board level.
It was also expanding abroad and so needed some global experience to assist. That made Bob Paton, the retired managing director of Accenture’s Newcastle Delivery Centre, an obvious choice as a non-executive director (NED).
“We had India and US offices and we were facing real challenges in how to manage the different global perspectives,” says Pediredla, who had approached Paton about the possibility of coming on board a year earlier. “He had the experience we needed and he’d just retired so he had the time to come in and do what was needed.”
The non-executive director role lasted one year and despite being officially two days a month, was more often one or two days a week.
It was one of the best things the business did at that time, he says, particularly as it coincided with a £1m round of private equity investment during 2017. Paton helped set the business plan and strategy for the investment and provided Pediredla and co-founder Mark Forster with the sounding board they needed.
“He had brutal honesty and he challenged us over some of our decisions, because sometimes we were so caught up in our own heads thinking everything was perfect,” he says. “There was also the chance for newly appointed senior managers to receive mentoring so they were able to drive the business forward.”
Ask around your network
The experience was so beneficial to the business that Hedgehog Lab is now looking for another NED to bring a financial perspective as it does not have a finance director. Asking your peers and networking is always useful, but in this case, the business is being assisted in its search by the investors who joined last year.
“We need someone who can pull us back if we’re making mistakes and who is not afraid to get their hands dirty,” Pediredla says. Growth of 60pc is forecasted this year and next and the business wants to be in the scale-up category for the next three to five years. Regardless of your plans, Pediredla says the importance of a well-structured board should not be underestimated.
“It’s important that from day one you’ve got corporate governance and you’ve started thinking about your board,” he adds.