THE FOUNDER of Homeserve has urged business leaders to use “the magic of digital” and launch international operations from Yorkshire and the North East.
Chief executive Richard Harpin, who created one of Britain’s biggest home emergency businesses, said London and the South East are “overcrowded, expensive and competitive”.
The Huddersfield-born entrepreneur wants to encourage more British companies, particularly those in the retail and service sector, to expand overseas and called on business leaders to make the most of digital technology to run global operations.
Homeserve, which was founded 21 years ago, started its international expansion nearly 15 years ago. Mr Harpin said that back then, he did not recognise the word “export”.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “I think we need to talk about international development rather than old manufacturing words.”
His business entered a joint venture with Veolia in France in 2001 that is now worth 350m euros.
He said Homeserve has “massive” potential for further overseas expansion and is digitising the business.
Asked what makes a good entrepreneur, Mr Harpin said: “They have to be born and bred in Yorkshire so they are cost conscious.
“They have to be able to prove out a model and then think big, overcome obstacles - Homeserve has had its fair share - and have the staying power to stick at a business.
“I have been doing this 21 years and have every intention of doing it for the whole of the next decade.
“I truly believe when you have a good management team that has built a business in the first 10 years and made a few mistakes in the next decade you can deliver a step change in the third decade and create a global business.
“My role model is the retailer Next. It is 32 years old. It has grown internationally. It has a very stable management team. It has really created value.” Mr Harpin lives near York.
The Walsall-based company is looking to expand in selected international markets after posting a 12 per cent rise in customer numbers in the first half of its financial year.
Mr Harpin said he was looking to whittle down a shortlist of 11 countries to enter and would approach large utilities to sign joint ventures.
Two thirds of Homeserve’s customers are now outside of the UK.
Mr Harpin did not name the countries under consideration but said he would look at regions such as eastern Europe and Asia. “All of those are of interest,” he said.
Homeserve is currently in five countries. Mr Harpin said: “If we are in 15 countries then I will let you do the maths as to what Homeserve would be worth. It is exciting.”
Homeserve said customer numbers rose 12 per cent to 6.6 million in the first half, with growth in the United States, France and Spain. The UK remained stable with 2.1 million customers.
However it reported a hit of £1.8m to pre-tax profit of £26.2m, due to foreign exchange headwinds.
Joe Brent, an analyst at Liberum Capital, said the interim results were “a little ahead of expectations despite FX headwinds” and the company has significant overseas growth potential.
Andrew Nussey, an analyst at Peel Hunt, said: “Management outlook is largely unchanged but we sense increased confidence.”