In 2006, following a successful career working for the likes of British Steel and Sunderland glass-making company Corning, Geoff Thompson found himself unemployed, with no savings, a family to support and a mortgage to pay.
He had two options: to find a job at an existing company or to start up on his own. He chose the latter and nine years later he is CEO of an AIM-listed independent utility cost management consultancy that offers energy procurement, and energy and water management products and services to more than 27,000 small, medium and large businesses in the UK and Europe.
Geoff, who was born in South Shields and educated in the North East, reflects: “It often goes like that in life. You’re faced with a period of adversity and you have to respond in the right way. It was a difficult time for me and I had to try and create something.”
Geoff, who had worked with energy clients as a business process outsourcing consultant, established his energy solutions company, Utilitywise, with just three staff and a credit card.
He says: “The first 12 months was about proof of concept; trying to access whether we had a viable business; where we could build relationships with the energy companies and deliver real benefits to clients.”
Initially, Utilitywise worked with companies to secure better energy tariffs for them. But Geoff and his team soon saw an opportunity to develop bespoke technologies and services that would allow clients to save money through better understanding of their energy consumption.
The company developed Edd:e, an energy monitoring solution which could measure power consumption and identify areas of waste, in real time.
Edd:e joined other products such as the Energy Health Check (EHC), which benchmarks a client’s energy consumption to the national standard in their industry, and Volthammer, which allows clients to record and optimise voltage in their business premises.
From 2007 to 2012, as Utilitywise’s proposition grew, so did its client base and its profit margins. So much so, that the company was launched on the stock market (IPO) in 2012.
Becoming AIM-listing enabled Utilitywise to access the capital markets and further grow its service offering – largely though acquisitions.
Utilitywise acquired the energy management consultancy Clouds Environmental Consultancy Ltd in 2012, followed by water consumption consultancy Aqua Veritas and energy procurement business Energy Information Centre (EIC) in 2013.
The company also bought the Prague-based contact centre ICON, helping it to take its first steps into the European market. And, most recently, Utilitywise obtained t-mac Technologies Ltd, which develops energy and environmental monitoring and control systems.
“Through our own in-house development and our acquisitions, I feel we now have a fully developed proposition,” says Geoff.
Utilitywise’s strategy is clearly working, with the company reporting revenue growth of £69 million in 2015 (year end July), up more than 40 per cent from £48 million in 2014. Gross profit also rose 35 per cent from £22 million to £30 million over the same period.
The workforce has also rocketed by 950 personnel in 2015, resulting in the company moving its head office from South Tyneside to larger state-of-the-art offices at Cobalt Business Park.
For Geoff, though, there remains unfulfilled potential for Utilitywise.
“We still have a relatively small market share,” he says. “It is estimated that there are about 2.45 million businesses in the UK and we work with just under 30,000 of them. There’s a lot more we can do in terms of further organic growth and I believe Utilitywise can be a lot bigger than it is now.”
The plan is to continue to grow at similar rates to those achieved over the past few years, and while Geoff doesn’t rule out more acquisitions, he is keen to stress that organic growth with the current proposition in the UK is the priority.
Geoff – who was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the North East Entrepreneurial Awards 2015 in July – is understandably pleased with the success. But Utilitywise’s CEO remains incredibly humble.
“I see Utilitywise as a work in progress and I want to keep my head down and focus on the business and supporting the amazing set of people I have around me.
“Winning awards is great but I think if you start patting yourself on the back too early, you can get into trouble and lose the behaviours that got you there in the first place.
“I believe in the North East-based values that I’ve grown up with: hard work, persistence, integrity and honesty.”
The past 12 months …
Revenue: £69 million (Financial Year 2015), up from £48 million (FY14) and £25 million (FY13)
Gross profit: £30 million (FY15), up from £22 million (FY14) and £12 million (FY13)
Recruitment: 2015 has seen the workforce grow to 1500 across the company’s five sites. Around 60 per cent are based at the North East head office. Plan are to increase this up 500 by May 2016.
Awards: Winner of Green Apple Environment Awards: Water Project. Geoff Thompson was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the North East Entrepreneurial Awards 2015. Utilitywise has also been shortlisted for App of the Year and Building Technology of the Year at the Business Green Technology Awards.
Office move: Utilitywise moved to its new 7,213 sq m head office, Utilitywise House, on Cobalt Park Way, Cobalt Business Park, North Tyneside, NE28 9EJ in December 2014.