Formed in Newcastle in 1981, software company Sage was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1989 and entered the FTSE 100 in 1999. It now has millions of global customers and more than 13,000 employees in 23 countries covering the UK and Ireland, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, Asia and Brazil.
Its base, however, remains in Newcastle and the company is the pride of the North East business scene.
Lee Perkins joined Sage in 2011 to take on the role as managing director of Sage UK and Ireland, based at the company’s headquarters at Gosforth’s Great Park. He relocated with his family from the south, attracted by the challenge of the new and the decentralised structure of the company.
He explains: “I had been used to working in very centralised technology companies and this job enabled me to take ownership of everything from R&D to customer service. It has allowed me to be more entrepreneurial, build a different kind of team and, hopefully, a different type of business.”
As head of Sage’s operations in the UK and Ireland, Lee has continued to deliver the vision set out by CEO Stephen Kelly, to become more customer-centric and servient to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses.
“Our aim is to empower and make lives easier for smaller businesses, which are often being force-fed legislation and greater compliance challenges,” says Lee.
“We want to create communities, recognition and support for businesses and entrepreneurship and ask them what they want from Sage.”
Creating a compelling workplace for Sage’s North East-based employees – as well as potential new recruits from the local area and further afield – has also been a priority for Lee.
“The reasons for working for a company 20 years ago are perhaps not the same as they are now,” he reflects.
“People are now looking for a purpose in the place that they work and to know that they are making a real difference.
“We like to take bold decisions at Sage but take our people with us. We are very open with them about our rationale and urge debate.”
Sage also encourages an entrepreneurial spirit among its employees.
“We support our employees and colleagues who want to set their own businesses and hold fairs at our headquarters where they can showcase their ideas, alongside other local businesses,” explains Lee.
Seeing for himself the passion and pride that Sage creates within its headquarters’ workforce, and the wider North East community, has encouraged Lee in driving forward a strategy for the FTSE 100 company to play a more meaningful role in the development of the region.
“Sage obviously grew from the roots set down by David Goldman, and over the past 30 years has had varying levels of prevalence in the local community,” he reflects. “In recent years, the company has been quite quiet in the North East but in the last year and a half, we’ve really tried to step forward.”
He continues: “Sage has an obligation to play its part in the community.”
Using the skills and knowledge within Sage to mentor and encourage new and developing technology entrepreneurship in the North East, and beyond, has been a priority for the company.
“We have worked with Start Up Britain over the past 12 months, taking a road show around the UK to encourage and support people who are looking to start their own businesses.
“Locally, we have also worked with Ignite and Campus North to mentor early-stage entrepreneurs and support them as they look to scale up their operations.”
Opening up Sage’s impressive North East headquarters has also been an important step in the company becoming more open and accessible to the local community.
Sage recently hosted events for employees and the wider business community which addressed the UK’s EU membership, and celebrated women in business (on International Women’s Day) – the purpose of which, Lee explains, is ‘to inform, educate and support, rather than impose a view’.
The status that Sage enjoys in the North East also comes with a degree of scrutiny, and it was widely reported when the company admitted it had consulted with staff about redundancies towards the end of last year.
Lee, however, is keen to play down concern for the future of the region’s most successful corporation.
“We are bringing the company into the 21st century in terms of shifting it towards the cloud and subscriptions, from the old world of desktop and licensed software,” he says. “As a result, we are changing they way we are structured and organised to fit with the businesses that use our services, focusing on customer service and putting our customers first.”
Longer term, Sage UK and Ireland will continue to innovate for its customers, focusing on three key areas: accounting, payroll and human capital management.
“We want products that will be more intuitive and simpler to use so that they can offer more value,” says Lee.
The company will also continue to play its role in the North East community.
“People trust Sage and have done for many years. I’m keen to build on that and make sure that we use our leverage as a large corporation, to support the North East – its real estate with our headquarters or its intellectual power through mentoring.”