Taking a leap of faith to create perfect Arena for success

Adrian Fitzpatrick, managing director and co- founder of Arena Group, takes part in a charity skydive.
Adrian Fitzpatrick, managing director and co- founder of Arena Group, takes part in a charity skydive.
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Adrian Fitzpatrick’s company could play a significant role in improving child protection. Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright reports.

SOME methods of supporting good causes are more hair-raising than others.

To mark its 25th anniversary, staff at the Arena Group set themselves the goal of raising £25,000 for local hospices. They tore into the challenge with enthusiasm; with some participating in cake sales and raffles while others tackled muddy assault courses. They smashed the initial target and the hospices benefited to the tune of £32,209.

An intrepid few – led by Adrian Fitzpatrick, the managing director and co-founder – decided to throw themselves out of a plane. Skydiving is a little like setting up your own business; it’s an exhilarating leap which requires concentration and discipline to secure a safe landing.

Mr Fitzpatrick recalled: “I experienced the whole gamut of emotion through the skydiving fundraiser. The fear reached its peak as I hung out of the plane, feeling very vulnerable and totally beholden to my tandem diver and a rucksack full of nylon.

“I cannot remember too much of the first few seconds of the drop, but the photographic and video evidence shows me hurtling head first towards the clouds.

“A tap on my shoulders by the instructor was the sign to stretch out my arms and the feeling from this point on was one of pure exhilaration. Would I do it again? I’d jump at the chance!”

Arena started out as a business selling and servicing photocopiers, at a time when the industry was blighted by poor sales practices and service.

Along with six partners, Mr Fitzpatrick founded Arena Group in the early 1990s after spotting a gap in the market for a company that “wanted long- term relationships and not quick buck sales wins”. From a workshop in Hunslet, Leeds with 10 employees, Arena Group has grown to more than 200 employees, an annual turnover of £25m and offices across the North of England, the Midlands and North Wales.

Its focus has shifted to document management. In the virtual age, it’s more important than ever that documents are stored in a safe place. The business prides itself on being a great place to work. It’s a former winner of the Best Company to Work for Category at The Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards.

In seven years, the Arena Group bought seven companies – including Sterling Business Systems, based in Thorp Arch, the Sheffield firm WRG and the document management business, Mitral Systems. There are no signs that the pace of growth will slow.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: “We’re committed to organic growth, but we recognise that an awful lot of the growth will come from acquisition. We want to deliver 10 per cent or more year on year growth and also to make ourselves viable in the long term by diversifying, recognising that the print business, which has been our core source of revenues for 25 years, is slowly in decline.”

The company can also play a significant role in keeping children safe. The days when documents about children were stored in large school filing cabinets, where they could be accessed by unauthorised adults, should be a thing of the past.

“We recognise that uncontrolled documents pose a serious threat, especially around child protection. It’s really important that these establishments take control of things,’’ said Mr Fitzpatrick.

“We’ve devised an ‘mstore’ for education package from our document management system which is specifically for schools.

“It’s pricing is pitched appropriately and the successful implementation of mstore will help the schools tackle issues, especially those that involve dealing with multiple agencies, and help those responsible to sleep more easily at night.”

So far clients, seem to have taken Brexit in their stride, although Arena has felt price pressures.

He added: “The obvious place we have been affected (by Brexit) is by price hikes from our suppliers. That hurt us.

“We’ve had price rises ranging from three per cent to 15 per cent, and given that we have contracts which are fixed in price for a length of time, that makes it quite difficult to maintain our margins.

“We’ve not come across any clients who are putting projects off for Brexit. It will be interesting to see if that changes over the next few months, but currently it’s business as usual.”

In common with many fast growing firms, Arena can face recruitment challenges.

“It’s not easy to find the right people,’’ he said. “Certain areas like software developers are very difficult to come by. We are choosy about who we bring on board. Our long-term solution is to polish our own diamonds, bringing in graduates and apprentices.

“We’ve been investing in apprentices since 1993. That’s been a long established method of recruitment and retention and we’re just ramping that up.

“There are lots of graduates in our organisation in whom we are investing heavily. We’ve got 20 people who are school leavers or straight out of university; that’s 18 per cent of our workforce.”

He takes a measured, pragmatic view of the firm’s potential to keep growing.

“A lot depends on how heavily we acquire,’’ he said. “We will grow but we’ve also got to invest in technology to keep us lean. We’ve built a business that we’re very proud of and we did it the right way.

“We’re very proud of the culture we have created. It’s easy when you’re just 10 people, but when you’re 200 people strong it’s much harder. It’s still really important to have that family feel.

“Our culture drives the way we look after clients and explains why the retention is so high.”