In five years and through the midst of two recessions, Alexa Greaves has taken a start-up company in an unfamiliar sector to an award-winning outfit pushing £10m turnover.
“Five years – sometimes it feels long than that,” she laughs. “But sometimes it feels like it’s flown by.”
IT reseller AAG Systems, based in Sheffield, was founded in 2009, following another company’s demise.
Greaves, managing director at AAG Finance at the time, was approached by a team from a business that had become one of the earliest casualties of the economic crisis.
“I invested in a core group of people and that’s where it originally started from,” Greaves says.
“Unfortunately, the business they worked for hit difficult times and they found themselves out of a job very quickly.
“I’d worked with them for a number of years through AAG Finance, so I invested in them to build an IT company.”
People are central to Greaves’ business approach. As someone from outside the IT industry, she views the business through the lens of relationships.
“Managed services is very much about giving ownership back to the business owners around their IT,” she says.
“There are lots of business owners who are not IT literate, and this is about transparency and ownership and working with them in partnership to make sure they get the best out of their kit, they get the best out of their IT department and they really do have the control over their business.”
As an IT reseller, AAG Systems provides a suite of services around hardware and software.
It could be anything from a full IT solution based around existing infrastructure now, to developing IT systems and networks with clients, to budget control.
The company provides tailormade solutions in conjunction with companies.
Coming into the industry, Greaves was surprised by the lack of support businesses received from some providers.
“You’re sold a bit of kit, but once it’s been sold it’s the customer’s problem if something goes wrong with it,” she says.
“We work with our clients to solve problems.
“We have a very diverse team, lots of expertise at different levels. We are very customer orientated.”
Greaves has been managing director at AAG Systems since January 2010. In its first year, the company reached turnover of £600,000, having launched with a team of five.
Greaves decided to become actively involved in order to manage the strategic development of the company.
“Since then, we’ve taken it from a £600,000 turnover to just shy of £5m,” she says.
“We’ll probably test the £10m this year. Everything is set up for us to.” AAG Systems’ most established clients “are really IT partners” rather than simply customers.
“One key project currently in the pipeline is worth £4m for the business. They span the breadth of sectors from retail to manufacturing.
While IT needs do vary between industries, Greaves says, the breadth of the company’s clients doesn’t pose difficulties to its teams.
Again, it all comes down to building relationships.
Greaves says: “We go in and really tailor the product for what the client needs and we help them to understand what they need.”
Greaves is no stranger to building strong relationships in business. Prior to founding her own businesses, she worked for 13 years as a foreign exchange sales trader at JP Morgan.
What are the differences of working for such a behemoth institution and heading up a rapidly-growing small business?
“There are some similarities, in that I was very autonomous in my old job,” Greaves says.
“I think the personal success that you have running your own business and the achievements you make along the way are a much steeper learning curve for you as a person. It certainly makes you a more rounded person.”
While Greaves is clear that there have been “some ups and downs” through AAG Systems’ short life, the leaps and bounds the company has made has brought great reward.
“There’s always difficulties in growing a business from scratch, but in the economic climate we’ve had since 2009 it’s been particularly difficult,” she says.
“For me, the personal success I’ve had in assisting the growth of this business and developing it from a team of five people to a team of almost 35 has been the most enjoyable part of it.”
That personal success hasn’t gone unnoticed. Greaves is shortlisted for a Forward Ladies’ Women in Business award.
It’s not the only recognition the company has received. Engineering manager Matt Shore has also received a nod for a regional young person in business award, while AAG Systems is up for a Yorkshire and Humber small business gong and an industry-wide title.
“It really shows the success and that we’ve really reached where we set out to be,” Greaves says.
She is also immensely proud of the work the company does on an anti-cyberbullying initiative, in conjunction with local ice hockey club, the Sheffield Steelers.
“We’re going into all the local schools to try and educate the children around cyberbullying and how to prevent it,” she says.
“Its an excellent way of integrating with our local community and giving something back.”
The future for AAG Systems is further investment in people, including apprentices, and a continued focus on clients.
“We want to consolidate, make sure we’re getting everything right,” Greaves says.
“We don’t want to grow at such a rate that we don’t look after the clients we have.”