Matt Grest wants to attract global technology talent to the heart of Leeds. Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright reports.
Just mention the word ‘ZX81’ to computer fans of a certain age and they go misty-eyed.
Matt Grest has been a devotee of all things computer generated since he was at primary school. He developed a fascination with the virtual world when the personal computer was still a space age concept.
Today, as the head of technology at Sky@LeedsDock he is determined to make Yorkshire a global centre for well-paid jobs in the technology sector.
The operation he leads is based in an area that had struggled to get into its stride as an economic hub. All that changed last summer, when entertainment company Sky revealed that it had chosen Leeds as the location for its new, world-class technology facility.
The hub is creating hundreds of skilled jobs at the cutting edge of digital technology, focused on creating and developing Sky’s next generation of websites and apps across its services. Based at Allied London’s Leeds Dock, the company predicted that Sky@Leeds Dock will establish a “dynamic and creative environment” that will transform the way Sky’s technology teams operate.
The teams based there are responsible for best-selling products such as Sky+ and Sky Go. But to get a real insight into the scale of Sky’s ambitions, you really have to visit their Leeds hub. The affable, enthusiastic Mr Grest was delighted to provide a whistle-stop tour.
He told me: “Over the course of the last few months, since we really started to grow our Leeds operation, we’ve added around 350 highly skilled people to the workforce. They are working on a range of Sky’s digital products.
Sky’s website and mobile apps, Sky Sports, Sky News, Sky.com, – it’s all developed out of Leeds with the people you see around you.
“It has had a significant economic impact – we share the vision of Allied London, our landlord here. We want this to be the best place to work in the North of England.
“We had the opportunity to move into many different office spaces around the city. We looked long and hard, and we chose Leeds Dock because of its iconic nature.”
The key factor underpinning Sky’s decision was the easy access to a skilled workforce.
Mr Grest recalled: “We put a pin in the map at Leeds and we drew a one-hour commuting radius around there. Could we bring the skills we needed around the organisation, that matched our plans to grow?
“We thought we could. Our due diligence suggested that we could.
“We’re actually ahead of target now with our growth in Leeds.
“We brought 250 new people into the organisation since the start of 2015, to add to the 80 or so that were already here.
“Now we’re approaching about 450 people who work at Sky’s digital office in Leeds.
The majority of people we have hired have been from that one-hour commute radius – they are highly skilled people.
“Some are educated in Leeds, some have been educated elsewhere, and have come back to Leeds.
“We’re also seeing people relocating to Leeds to be part of this story.”
According to Mr Grest, Sky’s operation in Leeds is making waves beyond Yorkshire.
He added: “So we’re seeing a significant number of candidates getting into contact with us who want to be part of the success in Leeds.”