From board store room to the board room - Andy Dyson, Saville Group

Andy Dyson runs Saville Group, an audio visual specialist collection of businesses, operating on a worldwide basis from the outskirts of York. Business Editor Mark Casci met with him.

Andy Dyson, Saville Group.
16 May 2019.
Picture Bruce Rollinson
Andy Dyson, Saville Group. 16 May 2019. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The offices of the Saville Group are inauspicious from the outside. However, as soon as you step in the door and get a feel for the international work it is involved with, you quickly realise it is anything but.

The York-based firm, set up as a pharmacy nearly 150 years ago, has evolved into an audiovisual specialist that both produces live events and supplies conferencing technology for corporate clients who need to communicate between international offices.

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It works across the world with firms in the Far East, United States, Europe and Africa and boasts an impressive list of blue chip clients such as Tesco, BAE Systems, PayPal, Jaguar LandRover and eBay.

It also helps stage massive live events. Just last week it launched a new mobile phone at an event which involved a crew of more than 100 people and three miles of cabling.

Its conferencing facilities define the expression state-of-the-art. One of the video meeting rooms I witness includes a range of microphones and speakers so that participants get the sound from the same direction as the person is facing them, making them feel like the person they are talking to across the other side of the globe is right in the room with them.

Its turnover has passed the £41m mark and last year it was listed in the Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 league table, ranking Britain’s mid-market private companies with the fastest-growing international sales.

It is a company enjoying a strong upward trajectory path, but for group managing director Andy Dyson, life began with the firm in slightly less grand settings when he joined the business straight from college in 1986.

“I did a year at college on a City and Guilds course in IT,” he said.

“I was lined up with a role with the company, mainly because they needed someone to work in the stores as they were switching stock control to a computer-based system. I came into this stores role to use my computer knowledge, only to find I was handling just paper for a year.

“As we know IT roll-outs do not always go as quickly as we would like.”

He briefly considered looking elsewhere but his skills began to take him on a journey through the business. He moved into the hire department and eventually into a regional manager role looking after multiple offices.

By 2009 the firm already had a well-established live events business, administering fairly big events and conferences, with the other half comprised with sales, moving into a systems design solutions business involving equipment and services.

He eventually found himself moving into this side of the business and remembers the period with mixed emotions.

“I was working for the same company but a totally different side of it which I had previously had no involvement with,” he said.

“That was probably a good thing, it was more challenging in some ways but in some respects it was easier than the role I had been working in.

“I was able to question everything. When I joined it was on the back end of the recession, we had a couple of difficult years.

“We were still doing sales as well as solutions and the two didn’t sit together very well. We were trying to tell clients to spend £250,000 with us if they were fitting out a major new build but at the same time trying to sell them a £50 DVD player. We concentrated on the solutions side, made some changes and as a result grew the business.”

In 2012 he joined the board as commercial director and, five years later, was part of a five-person team that led a management buyout.

The change from the old guard to the new has coincided with a purple patch for Saville, one that has seen it rebrand and enjoy powerful levels of growth.

He is clearly enjoying the journey but I manage to ruin his mood by bringing up the untimely exit of Leeds United from the battle to return to the top flight.

“We’re not talking football today,” he says.

“Sorry, but no.”

Much of the firm’s success seems to have come from its ability to meet and satisfy the changing demands of business when it comes to AV requirements.

“If you go back a few years ago with the industry, there was a push to have the most complicated system possible.

“They wanted a touch panel with buttons that did everything. That has changed to people being a lot more interested in making meeting rooms simple to use and replicating them. They want a situation so that a CEO or anyone else can walk in any meeting room in the country and know exactly how it is going to work.

“It takes the downtime out of wasting time pressing the wrong buttons.

“There’s now a move to having a national standard and that has moved on a stage to global standards. People want the same technology in New York as they do in Singapore. We have had a couple of benefits from that. We have done a great job in UK head offices and then they have brought us in for global roll-out.

“A lot of times when we do that work ourselves – we have done work in America, in Asia and in Africa – but we can do it on a partnership basis.

“We will ensure it will be done to the right standard, In some cases it has been to 15-20 countries.

“As we have got to know partners, they then have US head offices with subsidiaries elsewhere, that has brought more work in.”

Having travelled from the store room to the MD’s office, I am compelled to ask Mr Dyson if it was something he envisaged when he began his career with Saville 32 years ago.

“I am reminded that after two or three years that, at a Christmas dinner, the finance director asked me where I saw myself going and that I pointed to the MD and said I wanted his job,” he laughs.

“That was about three years into a 32-year career. It was not in a ruthless way,

“I am very lucky, we have some amazing people here. If you can surround yourself with amazing people it makes building a successful company easier.

“Plus I enjoy being here. I like the industry, I like the company, it is always exciting.

“We look after people.”