Destroying confidential data for public and private sector organisations is helping Advanced Digital Dynamics thrive. Suzan Uzel met operations director Julie Pickersgill.
JULIE Pickersgill is a self-confessed workaholic.
While today, as operations director at IT distributor Advanced Digital Dynamics (ADD), she can often be found checking her emails at 11 o’clock at night and 5 o’clock in the morning, her driven nature first showed its face at the tender age of 16.
Pickersgill went to work at retailer Burton Menswear in Leeds, initially as a summer job during the school holidays.
She had intended to go on to college to study business, but the lure of a wage and the thrill of being in a working environment were too much to resist.
The Leeds-born youngster stayed on at the shop and in just two and a half years worked her way up from stockroom charge hand to one of the company’s youngster supervisors at the age of 18, managing a 25-strong team, all of whom were older than her.
After meeting her ex-husband and having three children, Pickersgill took a break from work, later returning to retail via an evening checkout job at Asda, the Leeds-headquartered supermarket chain. “It was just basically to get me out of the house and have adult conversation if you like as opposed to toddler speak,” she recalled.
But this led to a full-time job as beers, wines and spirits manager, and she moved up the ranks to the position of fresh food team leader, clocking up 15 years in total at Asda.
Her first foray into the world of IT came when, almost eight years ago, she met her now partner – in life and in business – Jonathan Belbin, the managing director and founder of ADD.
“He was turning over £200,000 a year,” said Pickersgill. “I used to pop in on my day off and say, ‘you could do so much with this. Have you thought about doing that? Why don’t you change this?’, because I’m a bit bossy like that, so he said, ‘why don’t you just come and work here?’ ”
So, Pickersgill did just that, taking up responsibility for the logistical side of the business while Jonathan concentrated on sales.
When Pickersgill joined ADD, the business was based in small premises in Goole. Today, a couple of moves later, ADD’s home is in Harrogate and it is soon to be moving from Pannal Business Park to larger premises at Hornbeam Park.
Originally founded in 1997, ADD recorded an annual turnover of £3.4m last year, with just under £5m forecast for this year, working on profit margins of about 30 to 35 per cent. It currently has 20 staff, which is expected to rise to 25 by this time next week.
The IT distributor, which also has a sales office in Cheshire, specialises in computer hardware and data destruction. The split is currently 50:50, but Pickersgill said that data destruction, which involves wiping anything from a USB key to a laptop, and from a CD to paper files, is where ADD’s future lies.
“Traditionally, we have done service and storage equipment, so it’s nothing to do with home PCs, it’s all business to business. We would do anything from sell a small part to a full storage rack of servers.
“ We do the maintenance on any of that kit as well.
“Over the last 18 months we’ve started moving into data destruction. We have quite a lot of contracts on the go at the moment for companies that want us to help destroy their data or back up their data on to a different device and then destroy it, that’s becoming more and more a bigger part of our business, ” she said.
Financial services and police forces are key growth sectors for ADD in this area, but the firm also works with NHS trusts, supermarkets. airlines and couriers.
“We are a business that changes and adapts constantly to the marketplace out there. And just selling and maintaining IT kit probably in ten years’ time isn’t going to be making us any money at all.
“We are always looking at different and diverse ways to move and data destruction is the big thing at the moment because people just don’t realise how easy it is for people to lose their data or hack into their data.
“It’s not because someone is not looking after the data but because no-one has been given direct responsibility for it.”
One customer, an unnamed police force, had put its hard drives in a bucket of water in an effort to destroy data, she said, adding: “It doesn’t! There’s a big lack of knowledge out there.”
Explaining the types of data customers might want destroying, she said: “A lot of it is confidential information so if you take an NHS trust they have all the patient data that might have been stored on a hard drive for whatever use.
“They might have to move building or change their IT kit and it all needs to be destroyed. So when they get rid of their old kit it is not just ending up for sale on eBay which is a horror story that happens all too often.”
ADD refurbishes and resells old kit where possible, sometimes striking split profit deals with customers, while it also has a licence to break down anything that is deemed not fit for resale to sell as scrap.
In an effort to grow the data destruction side of the business, ADD has struck a deal with Cheshire-based Athron 42 in a joint venture which will see a new company, Practical Asset Management, launched at the start of next month.
The company, which will act as a sales arm for the data destruction contracts, will be half owned by ADD and half owned by Athron 42.
“They will bring with them a client base they already have and we’ll put it all under one umbrella.
“ADD will still do all the physical work in terms of going out on to site and doing the wiping of the data.
“The other company has the expertise in going out and getting these contracts signed.”
Currently, work won by Athron 42 is carried out by a third party. Two of its staff will be based at ADD’s Harrogate office, with the remaining two based at its Manchester office.
ADD is also planning to open an additional sales office in the North East in the first quarter of next year.
The future is looking bright for ADD, but its journey so far has not been without its challenges.
“In terms of ADD we struggled in the early days when I first joined because being an IT company, as soon as you mention IT to any financial company, you are classed as a risk.
“So it was very difficult, we couldn’t get any help from the banks or anything.
“So we’ve got where we’ve got to by having no loans, we’ve basically done it ourselves, we’ve taken risks and we got where we are,”she explained.
This experience has inspired the launch of a Dragons’ Den-style competition by ADD, which gives budding enterprises the opportunity to pitch for investment and support.
QU2, Leeds Metropolitan University’s hub for high growth businesses, is supporting the venture in which 10 shortlisted companies will present their goals and vision to a judging panel on September 26.
Entries are welcome from businesses founded in the last three years.
Three successful entrants will each be awarded a £5,000 investment boost from ADD along with mentoring from its directors.
In return, ADD will get a minimum five per cent equity in the three businesses.
QU2 will also offer the winners a year’s free access to its business accelerator programme.
The closing date for applications is September 16. Visit www.qu2leeds.co.uk/add.htm
Name: Julie Pickersgill.
Title: Operations director at Harrogate-based Advanced Digital Dynamics.
Education: Cardinal Heenan School, Leeds.
First job: Picker packer at Burton Menswear, Leeds.
Last book read: I’m currently reading through the whole set of the Peter Robinson books.
Favourite band: Coldplay.
Favourite film: I’m not really a film person. I’m not somebody who has the patience to sit down and watch a film.
Car driven: Audi A6.
Most proud of: Building the business to what it is now.