Interview with Garry Ireland (Director)
What does White Star Security Services do?
We are one of the UK’s leading specialist independent security firms. With headquarters in Yorkshire and offices across the North of England, we support organisations of all sizes, providing a comprehensive range of high-quality security services including manned guarding, electronic security, key holding, alarm response, grounds maintenance etc.
What growth have you experienced since launching the company?
The company was launched in March 2014. We now employ nearly 70 staff and, this financial year, we have turned over about £2.5 million. The Security Industry Association (SIA) has awarded us Approved Contractor Status. It grants this to organisations that have distinguished themselves as being among the best providers of private security services in the UK. We volunteered to be accredited by the SIA, and it came in and took a full audit of our business. We scored +118 which means we are just outside the top 15% of scoring companies in the UK. For a company of our size with no compliance department and minimum resources, we are very proud of this achievement.
What are some of the biggest trials and tribulations White Star Security has experienced?
There have been plenty of ups and downs. I started the business after I was made redundant and had gone to a few job interviews which didn’t work out. I decided then I wanted to work for myself. I approached one big client whose account I had looked after previously and asked for an opportunity to work with them to prove myself. Not long afterwards, the client called to ask me to go out to a school ahead of demolition and remove the people who were illegally stripping metals and cables from the school. No other business would touch the job because they’d received abuse and had bricks thrown at them by those people, my uncle and I got dressed up in tracksuits, unlocked the padlock to the gate and went in. We identified at least six people on the site who were stealing the metal and cables. They thought we were just there to get our share of metal and cables too so ignored us.
We called ‘999′ [the Emergency Services phone number in the UK]. The police turned up, a helicopter flew overhead, and even a local film crew turned up. The police made six arrests that day! I took great pleasure in calling the client on a Monday morning and letting him know the good news. He asked, “How did you do that?” I said it was down to thinking outside the box and because we were our own business we had nothing to lose. We took a risk, and it paid off, and that company is still our biggest client.
In terms of tribulations, we had a couple of companies go bust on us. One took us for £2,500 and another for £11,000, and that provided us with great difficulty. It also taught us to be careful about what business we take on and that not every piece of business is good business. We had a situation where we thought we might go bust, but because we had done our homework on due diligence we didn’t. We were asked to do a full security analysis of a building site in Leeds, and we wrote down several areas we had concerns about where security was lacking. One day we had a phone call saying, “Our £16,000 figure has been stolen from the site. We are going to sue you, and you will have to pay us back.” I thought, “This is going to put us out of business!”
However, when we went down there and investigated, the workers on site told me it [the figure] had been left on the far side of the site instead of in the compound as we had recommended. More importantly, we had our recommendations in writing. So, we went back to the client and said that they hadn’t followed our advice and if they wanted to raise a claim against us we would have everything available to defend ourselves. We didn’t hear anything after that.
That was another lesson we learned: you always need to put everything in writing to protect the customer and yourself.
At what point during your growth did you decide a part-time FD Centre FD was right for you?
We found over the first eight months of 2017, that we were being taken away from what we do best, and that is going out there and giving our customers a great service. We were dealing more and more with invoice and timesheet queries. It wasn’t a part of the business we particularly enjoyed, and it wasn’t a good use of our talents. That was when we decided we needed some help, so we spoke to a client of ours, and they recommended The CFO Centre. That was when we were introduced to our part-time FD Nicola.
How does having a part-time FD on your team benefit you and White Star Security?
Just having that extra brain in the business, who can come in and say “You are doing this” or “You can do it like this…” She comes in and gives us a different perspective on the company. Just being able to tap into that expertise is essential. We couldn’t afford a Finance Director full-time, so part-time has been really great for us!
How has it affected your confidence in the future of the business knowing you have a part-time FD on the team?
It gives you that confidence when Nicola agrees with your plans. It is so easy to make a bad decision, and in a company of our size that can cause us real issues, so we really need to be careful. Nicola is now a member of the senior management team, and it has been really useful having her.
What message do you have for other fast-growth businesses who are considering taking on a part-time FD?
Do it! Tapping into someone else’s expertise is essential to help drive your business; listen and learn. The CFO Centre also recommended The Lead Lab to us, so you are not just taking on a part-time FD you have access to all their partners and different groups of resources.
Finally, what are your top three tips for handling fast business growth?
- Keep an eye on your debt. It can soon build up and cause you cash flow issues. So, it is very important you do due diligence on people when you take them on as clients; make sure you stick to their terms.
- Tap into other people’s expertise to help you move forward. You need expertise in everything in a small business: finances, managing staff, compliance issues, health & safety etc. You can’t do it on your own, so having someone like Nicola we could afford part-time was great for us.
- Surround yourself with the right people—some people will come with you on the journey and some won’t. You don’t want negative people in the company that will hold you back. Things will go wrong in a business, and you need positive and strong people to stick by you.
Anything you’d like to add?
If you’re thinking of starting a business, be aware that it’s like being on a roller coaster. You will have sleepless nights and be awake at 3 am thinking about the business. However, it is well worth doing if you stick to that journey and you really believe in what you are doing.
To find out more about White Star Security Limited visit www.whitestarsecurity.co.uk or call 01482 22 38 39.
To discover how the FD Centre will help your company to scale up, please call us on 0800 169 1499 or contact us here now.