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Two Nimble directors with Mike Bates

Chris Roberts, Mike Bates and Dan Roberts – Celebrating the investment in September 2020

The background

Mike Bates has helped build two multi-million pound technology consultancies. Which tells you a lot about his skills, experience and dedication. He’s worked in the service industry for over 35 years and a consultant for over 20 of those.
In 2020 Mike Bates invested in Nimble to help what he saw as an exciting and promising consultancy grow in the right way.

His valuable knowledge and experience is helping Nimble accelerate its growth, while being sustainable and people first. Since Mike joined in 2020 we’ve gone from a 40 to 150 person workforce, while keeping true to our people first values.

We caught up with Mike 2 years after his investment.

Why did you want to get involved in Nimble?

I enjoyed my 20+ years in consulting and then was lucky enough to become a senior manager in a business where I had a great mentor. I learned an enormous amount from him about the fundamentals of business and also my own strengths and weaknesses.

I was made MD and over 8 years this gave me the chance to help transform a business from what was really a lifestyle business, it’d been 50 people for 10+ years, into a really scalable, super resilient first class consulting business. That created lots of growth in terms of people, opportunity, stability and more than anything, was really good fun for me and others involved.

Post that, I joined a tiny start-up as non-exec. We once again created something great, created jobs, careers and another high quality UK services business. Once again it was great fun, I learned lots of things within both organisations and it was a challenge.

I realised not only did I have lots of experience and principles to share that were considered helpful, but I also realised that I had loads to learn too! So being around talented young ambitious and hardworking professionals was really good for me. The world moves fast and I am sure I learned as much there as I imparted.

When I met Chris and Dan Roberts I saw the same ability and drive in them that I had as a younger man and I knew I could help Nimble on its journey and I knew I’d find that fun, engaging, challenging and I’d learn again.

Fundamentally, I wanted to work with, and build a team of super talented, able people, who had a shared value system and who wanted to work hard and build a first class business. At Nimble I have that, it’s a great business, with great people. I’d hoped it’d be fun and challenging and engaging again, and it has been.

What do you hope to achieve and how is that going?

That’s easy to answer. The digital market is huge and still growing. I want to create another first class business, here for the long term, that is founded on great principles and that is scalable and sustainable as a business.

Services is a great world in that if we stick to our principles; ‘best for customer, best for colleague’, we can keep things simple. The good stuff, opportunity, growth, respect etc., falls out in the wash.

All it takes really is that we show respect for our customer and respect for our team. We clearly reward on merit and aim to be in a position where customers “buy from us”, because they know we are trustworthy, reliable and good value. Then that will result in Nimble being able to offer great stable career opportunities and growth within a team where mutual respect and team working are valued.

It’s a self sustaining and virtuous circle really. Doing the above will allow us to continue to hire the best people, retain the best people, grow the best people and delight customers.

Now execution is slightly more tricky. But with a good culture and empowering great people then really momentum will build and if anything, as long as we stick to our principles and objectives, then it gets easier rather than harder.

CEO Chris Roberts said

“It’s been amazing working with Mike. Not only has he been a great sounding board; enabling me to learn from his experience, but he’s also allowed me to reframe things in different ways and learn more about myself too, which is something I’ve personally really valued.”

What do you mean by first class?

By first class I mean a respected business. One that keeps customers for decades not years. One that can hire the best people and can retain them. One that customers will trust with their most key projects. One where the culture and people within it are egoless and focused completely on customer outcomes – that’s real sustainability and extensibility. It’s a journey – but we’re on it and if we stick to the “best for customer best for colleague”, we reward on merit and show respect to customers and staff, it’ll be a great journey.

You say the market is good, but isn’t it saturated?

There are some good small to medium sized consultancies around. I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in 2 already.

I don’t have the figures to hand but most deliveries are still carried out by the very large consultancies and ex-manufacturers or telco firms etc. The government has done a great job of increasing value to the public sector and by side effect, the private sector by encouraging a move from these large expensive low value providers to SME providers, who can be, high value providers.

So that shift away from these large providers to high quality SMEs has further to go. Plus the digital market will continue to grow too. Digital is no longer a discretionary spend and Covid has put the digital clock forward 5 to 10 years. There is a great future for generations in our market.

You mentioned what you like there – are there things you dislike?

There are certainly things that I enjoy less than others!

For example, we want to be honest and straightforward at all times and we want to make decisions for the medium and long term and not the short term. That does mean that there are discussions with people, staff and customers, that are sometimes difficult. But actually, while painful at the time, those discussions result in better outcomes for everybody long term.

Most aspects I enjoy. I’m a non-exec, I don’t need to work long hours and most of my time is spent advising and helping to steer, it’s largely positive and mainly good fun.

What have you achieved in the last 2 years with Nimble?

We’ve come a long way really. We aimed to build a scalable and sustainable business. So key to that was financial strength, a properly operating board, a working management team and a working infrastructure in terms of finance and people functions. But also the fundamentals of building a first class diverse customer base and a great reputation and most important of all was building a first class delivery capability. We’ve done all that.

These things are the things that will allow us to navigate any stormy waters ahead. We now have circa 150 people in the business with 3 geographic operating centres each of which are capable of delivering projects in their own right.

That makes it seem like it’s been plain sailing. That’s not true. Building a business is really hard and building a sustainable one is even harder. But we’ve been lucky to build a great team and now there is real momentum. I’m really happy with how we’ve progressed.

What knowledge and expertise have you brought to Nimble to help with our growth?

I’ve been super lucky in my career. I’ve been in services for 35+ years and I worked as a consultant for 20 of those. I’ve built management teams, boards, strategies and done sales and of course delivered projects.

So I try to share as many of those learnings as I can. I think though overall I brought a simple philosophy that I think is our mantra and needs to stay as such. Putting people first, both respecting customers and respecting our staff and designing what we do and how we operate, so that customers buy from us, rather than we sell to them. So while there are some “mechanical” things I bring as a non-exec and manager, I think the most important thing is that simple philosophy.

What have you learnt since starting with Nimble?

I learn on every interaction with the business, from customers to staff. I think the thing that is most reinforced is how quickly the market continues to change. Not just in terms of technology but in terms of services, for example, service design / UX etc. is new to me, new cloud and data technologies etc. So there are learnings, for me, in the service and technical arena as well as the business arena.

I’ve worked at 3 great companies in senior roles and I think Nimble is by far the most people focused of these.

Part of that is just how the world has changed. But part of it is just a new culture of respect. There is less top-down control going on and I think that’s great. I’ve always believed in empowering people and reward on merit, I’m always amazed at the talent that is out there. I think at Nimble that’s been really validated and my view of “getting out of the way” of talented people is stronger now than ever. I’m certainly more people focused than ever before.

What do you think the future looks like for Nimble?

I think it’s very positive. We’ve got the basics right. We’ve built a great team, we’ve an excellent culture and we’ve come through COVID super strongly. We’ll continue to evolve and grow, we’ll continue to evolve services that we provide and we’ll provide real opportunities for talented people to exploit. The market is good, we are strong, I can see us doubling in size in a few short years and with that change, opportunities will continue to be generated. It should be a fun journey.

We need to evolve into the business the market wants us to be. By empowering consulting staff, who are by definition, nearer customers, we’ll do that.

I’d really like to see a London/southern office, broader and deeper customer base and more strategic projects. I think we’ll get all that.

How do you spend your non-Nimble time?

I’ve two grown up children and a great partner. I cycle a bit, run a bit, enjoy some great friendships with school, Uni and local friends from my current and old village. I’m lucky to have a great social life. I’ve a house that I’m renovating. I’m super busy and I’m never really sure why!

What do you love about the tech industry?

As an engineer, I used to like technology itself and perhaps for me that period has passed, I’m just too far from the nuts and bolts now.

What I continue to enjoy is just how pivotal tech is in business. It used to be “an aspect” of a business, now it’s part of every aspect of a business. From digital marketing, digital sales, logistics, fulfilment, customer interaction etc. It’s the transformative power that I find exciting. “Tech” isn’t a discretionary spend any longer. It is a vital expenditure that really allows businesses to differentiate.

More than that, philosophies that were majored, or at least became more mainstream in technology delivery, such as lean and agile practices, are now key business concepts themselves. For example, integrated delivery teams, small iterative/repeated deliveries of work, analysis/review and re-planning. This is key to most business operation now, these are no longer mainly IT concepts.

The agile/lean philosophy has helped bring back entrepreneurialism back into major businesses, allowing them to change and adapt and allowing for more rapid evolution, closer contact to the customer etc.

It’s like IT has become the lifeblood of all good businesses. It’s that I find exciting. We’re not just a transport for data. Lean and agile practices and philosophies have helped in modernising businesses. That’s pretty powerful.