To list all of Andrew Preston’s business achievements would effectively use all the space available for this article……. let’s just say, ‘the boy’s done good’.
By his own admission he is very driven, smart and articulate with a particular interest in numbers and statistics. He’s also not afraid to take a chance.
However, academia did not excite him at the start of his career. Although he started his A-levels he left full time study after only eight weeks preferring to seek out real life experience and start earning money as soon as he could.
Please explain a little about who you are and your entrepreneurial journey to date.
“My first job was as a temporary administrator for a Government Training and Enterprise Council (TEC), my first foray into pseudo recruitment.
This was soon followed by a move into the NHS, where I moved into auditing clinical data. Spotting a 3-month secondment as an operations manager I found myself supporting the running of the medical clinical service division of a £100m district general hospital. I was keen for more strategic experience and pressed my Director for more – wanting to be at the heart of the decision making. In a Mr. Weatherspoon-esque skit, I was told “you will amount to nothing with an attitude like that!”.
A battle of wills ensued, I felt I was constantly being put back in my box and eventually, I left to work for First Consulting Group – ironically working on the national roll-out of the NHS Direct Service (the pre-curser to 111) helping with the procurement process for software and algorithms.
By 25, I was running a large team and on a six-figure package as AXA came calling and pulled out all the stops to secure my talent. This was then followed by one of the AXA consortium partners head-hunting me to head up and develop its global operations – my interview process included an all-expenses paid three-week family holiday (I had two small children by now) to Disney and California for my ‘interview’. A whirlwind of learning followed – travelling the world setting up multiple territories and supporting partnerships in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
In the background, the provision of after-hours medical care was undergoing a shift change with a change in the new GMS contract which morphed into a more commercially operated model. Spotting that this was effectively what I had been doing for other people, I realised I could do this for myself and seized the opportunity, setting up a business and recruiting a handful of people, all working from home. Using all my experience of service design, delivery and tender writing we landed our first out of hours contract – for Cardiff LHB – by providing a more efficient model than the previous providers whilst maintaining a high level of clinical quality.
We had a low-cost model and operated the provision from the service centre, meaning our profitability remained high.
Once we had this contract under our belt it was straightforward to spot other industries where the same recruitment systems and processes would apply e.g., prisons, police custody and other medical services. By the time Serco bought the business two years later we had 1,000 doctors and 600 nurses on the books and generated upwards of £55 million worth of new contracts in the following two years.
Continually pushing for the next thing, I found Medacs – a large scale supplier of doctors and nurses to the NHS and worked for it as Managing Director running its clinical service and homecare business. Over that period, we established the service business in our chosen markets as the leading provider of such services. I left after five years but was proud of what had been achieved with a great team of people.
In 2013, I was head hunted by de-Poel to run its health business and it was an easy decision to take. I grabbed the challenge with both hands, rapidly growing the business over the next two years culminating in the start of an MBO process which concluded in 2016. This enabled me and the team to take the majority stake from one of the founders of the business and set out on a journey to transform and enhance the business and operating model. Eventually selling to Bain, the US private equity giant in 2018, and a secondary exit in 2022 to PRO unlimited, an EQT private equity backed entity.”
What key challenges you have faced in your career?
“Finding good people in the right areas.
People with the same value and drive for excellence and quality of service. Admittedly, I have high standards and I am extremely meticulous, I am less forgiving of those who don’t have the same level of care, attention to detail and responsiveness.
I have a philosophy at work - Win more, Do more, Be more. Every action you can take towards that goal counts.
Ironically, COVID provided opportunity for us rather than a challenge, and we took it.”
What would you do differently today?
“As they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was far more trusting earlier on in my career – especially when embarking on my earlier transactions/disposals. I have since learnt to start with the end in mind and that building value is different to building a business.
It is important to create something that brings people along a journey with the appropriate structures to support that.
Values are critical especially honesty and loyalty when doing deals with people. It is all you really have.”
How do you choose the people you want to work with for example, advisors?
“I seek out good judgement, straight forwardness, loyalty and honesty. And I reward it.
I also don’t separate myself from my people I physically sit with them in the office or workplace and ‘walk the floors’ constantly.”
“In terms of advisors, it is important to have people you trust and who understand you and the business – I have used a team of advisors for a number of our projects, all with great success”
Describe the highs and the lows…
“Looking back, I still can’t quite believe how things have unfolded and I feel fortunate to have experienced an amazing career. Building a successful business, more than once, has been incredibly fulfilling – personally as well as financially.
I don’t really remember many lows – perhaps I’m a ‘glass is half full’ type of person. If I had to say one thing, leaving the people when I have left or sold a business is never nice for me because we will have so much shared experience. However, often we end up working together again!”
What other advice would you give to entrepreneurs starting out today?
“Know your product, know your market and know your competition.
If you can comprehend these the opportunity becomes clear.
Finally, I would say ‘focus’ and ‘be relentless’ in every aspect.”