One of Ricky’s favourite quotes:
“Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan.”
We were delighted to welcome Ricky Nicol, CEO and co-founder of Commsworld, winner of our 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award as the speaker at our February Supper Club in Edinburgh at The Green Room. Ricky is one of the best examples of an entrepreneur who displays all of the qualities of those who are quite simply outstanding. In every business, someone has to be the leader and take the risks; Ricky has demonstrated this at every stage of his entrepreneurial journey.
Martin Mutch, Ambassador in the WeDO Scotland Executive Team and longstanding WeDO Awards judge, commenting on the event said:
“Ricky’s is a sensational story. It’s an amazing entrepreneurial tale of seeing and seizing the opportunity, gathering great advisors to challenge your thinking, bravely facing adversity, and always being a real gentleman. It’s good to see the graft and persistence of his team lead to such a deserved outcome.”
Fellow Ambassador and Awards judge, Pete Higgins added:
“It was fantastic listening to Ricky’s amazing story from the very beginning right up to date. I loved his down-to-earth and practical attitude in getting things done.”
Ricky left school with 5 O’Grades …
“At Castle Brae school that was a big achievement, they thought I’d become a brain surgeon!”
Foregoing the brain surgeon option, he started his career in 1978 as a telecoms engineer with GEC Reliance where he spent 8 years before moving on to Lander Alarms and Dial Telecom. In 1994 he co-founded Commsworld with David MacKenzie. Since then, he has grown the business, organically and via acquisition, into one of the UK’s most successful and profitable Information & Communication Technologies services organisations. It provides connectivity, cloud, security, unified comms, and IT infrastructure services to the public and private sectors. Key client relationships include Taylor Wimpey, Skyscanner and Edinburgh Airport. Over the past 26 years since founding Commsworld, Ricky has grown the value of the business from £2m to c£50m over a 5 year period, an incredible achievement.
Commsworld have built and are expanding the largest independently owned Next Generation Network in the UK and have done this with no external funding or debts. It has 110 staff based across its offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Aberdeen. For the financial year ending December 2018, it recorded revenues of £21.5M – a 41% increase on the previous 12 months. EBITDA grew from £2.3m in 2018 to over £4m in 2019.
In December 2019, mid-market private equity house Lloyds Development Capital (LDC) completed a record-making double digit investment in Commsworld in a deal giving them a 50% equity stake in the business. The investment from LDC will help the existing management team to build on the success of the business in recent years and bring its super-fast and resilient connectivity to more organisations across Scotland and the UK.
When asked what Commsworld does, Ricky’s answer is:
“It’s an innovator and a disruptor in a sector that’s been crying out for disruption for years.”
Ricky has continually strived to build a team of high achieving, highly motivated colleagues across all sections of the business and he never fails to credit them with much of the success of Commsworld. He actively promotes an open door policy, encouraging his staff to challenge him. He invites conversation, debates and motivation with all his colleagues and strongly believes it’s the people within the company that make the difference. He understands that business success is a team game and whilst an entrepreneur leader is required, it’s the team which builds the business.
Ricky also credits the success of Commsworld to having a trusted network of advisers, which, amongst many others, includes two previous WeDO Lifetime Achievement Award winners, Malcolm McPherson of Addleshaw Goddard who won in 2015 and serial entrepreneur Brian Williamson in 2016.
In January 2006, Ricky was diagnosed with cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival. This was just at the time that he was starting the evolution of the business which included buying out his co-founder and realigning the business to be a network focused organisation.
He was out of the business for one year undergoing intense chemotherapy and radiotherapy, all the while planning the future from home. Facing death increased Ricky’s ambition and drive and he realised that he had something special in Commsworld. He did what many may think of doing but subsequently don’t. He took a leap into the future, with forward-thinking along with a knack of knowing where the company was heading and being able to stay one step ahead of the curve.
The telecoms industry is very tumultuous and has seen many changes over the past couple of decades. In 2014 Ricky voted against his entire Commsworld board to enforce a strategy of staying strong in the face of incredible challenges by attempting to break into the public sector and corporate enterprise markets. In August 2015, he was proven correct with the announcement of a milestone contract with CGI to be a key provider in Edinburgh Council’s ICT contract worth £12M.
Under Ricky’s guidance, Commsworld has become a driving force behind the rollout of high-speed fibre broadband services and was tasked with tackling Edinburgh’s ageing, mainly copper network which was creaking under the strain of increased usage as the city gained traction as a major tech hub.
Commsworld teamed up with digital infrastructure provider CityFibre to bring about a 150km fibre optic network that put Edinburgh on the map as a Gigabit City. To those of us not in the know, that means enjoying unlimited bandwidth and gigabit speed. 17,000 businesses have the opportunity to use the network. They have also been instrumental in helping Glasgow and Aberdeen gain Gigabit City status.
Ricky makes a great analogy about tech giants:
“While Scotland is creating Ferraris of tech giants such as Skyscanner, such businesses can’t drive on the roads if the connectivity isn’t up to par. It’s like taking a Ferrari through mud.”
Commsworld has continued to win major public sector contracts and has acquired a cloud services business. They have also expanded their Fluency network to create what is highlighted as the UK’s largest, independently owned, ultra-fast optical core network.
When asked what are the most important success factors for a business, Ricky’s answer is simple:
“Cash control, sales and a product that people actually want to buy.”
One of our guests asked Ricky what he would have done differently looking back:
“I’d have liked to have been more ambitious earlier.”
In May 2019 at our Awards Ceremony & Dinner, Ricky was presented with our Lifetime Achievement Award which is voted for by our Executive teams and isn’t an Award which can be applied for. The criteria for selecting the person to win this Award is that they have made a substantial and ongoing contribution to the Scottish entrepreneurial business community, for a period of more than 15 years.
Ricky was presented with the Award by Paul Atkinson, Chairman of WeDO Scotland and celebrated with his wife, children and Commsworld colleagues.
Commenting on his Award win, Ricky said:
“I’ve been in this business for 25 years. For a lot of those 25 years, I’ve thought other people can do it and I can’t. I thought they’re all clever, they’re bigger, they’re smart but the biggest are just normal people. When you start to work and talk to other entrepreneurs, you realise you can do it if you’ve got the ambition and the drive.”
Ricky is incredibly humble despite all his success and it was fascinating and inspiring to hear how he has overcome countless business challenges over the years. To us at WeDO Scotland, he is the epitome of a true entrepreneur … driven, passionate, not afraid to take risks, nor to take on the big boys. We are very grateful to him for taking the time to share his story with us and we look forward to watching the next steps on his entrepreneurial journey which we have no doubt will be as successful as the first 25 years.