The vision, the history and the stand-out moments!
This is a story of chance meetings, boundless ambition, and a shared dream that ignited two separate paths towards the same destination. Let’s step back in time…
Picture the scene back in 2002: Chris, the B2B mobile phone aficionado meets Ralph, the fixed line fanatic with the gift of the gab. A dynamic duo with a passion for telecoms. Their worlds converged in the most unexpected place - a pub just outside Lewes. It wasn't a rendezvous for the ages; it started out as a humble discussion over pints about how they could exchange leads. But sometimes, it's the unassuming moments that lead to the most significant changes. It was love at first sight—or perhaps it was just a mutual understanding of the vast potential that lay ahead.
The early days
A simple idea started it all: passing leads to each other to support their drive to smash sales targets. However, the partnership grew stronger and Chris made a move that changed everything - he joined Ralph at Cavendish.
Chris & Ralph were soaring high, selling left, right and centre, but shared a deep ambition to grow and evolve within the ever-changing tech landscape; debating big opportunities to broaden their product offering, increase sales and profitability, and create stronger customer relationships. A mutual desire for a future without boundaries soon led to a huge leap of faith to venture out on their own.
A leap of faith
The decision was driven by several factors, but they knew they couldn't do it alone. They had the sales patter and a limitless supply of entrepreneurial energy but lacked expertise in many areas. So, when Ralph’s old business contact offered a helping hand together with financial support, access to his operations team and buying power, they jumped at the chance.
Their initial vision as a newly established business was simple: get out there to start selling, growing, and outperforming the competition! With a firm focus on delivering the highest level of customer experience, Chris and Ralph were soon accomplishing their goals. Yet, the journey was far from smooth.
They faced challenges at every turn, from cash flow woes to the need to drive sales cost-effectively and the need to expand the team to enable growth. But they tackled them head-on and in late-2004 at a mutual friends BBQ, Vicki Rishbeth got chatting to Chris about how he had recently started a new business. And being a woman who knows what she wants- she promptly told him that he should employ her… so he did!
As Focus’ first official employee, Vicki threw herself into telesales – contacting local businesses and setting up appointments for Ralph and Chris. Cash flow concerns were quickly overcome by keeping overheads low and they mitigated the risks of building the business cost-effectively by growing both direct and indirect sales through resellers.
A key turning point in the quest for success was the launch of Wholesale Line Rental later that same year. This enabled the team to capitalise on a huge spike in demand from customers for cheaper calls and lines. In turn, this key development lay the foundation for the Focus Group reseller community.
As business continued to boom, Vicki began working with a newly established operations team, selling interesting solutions and innovative technologies. The team were ahead of the curve in recognising that attracting and retaining the best people on the team was crucial, so set about creating a culture that rewarded hard work, success, and loyalty - fostering respect among team members at every level is a trait that continues to this day.
Chris and Ralph take immense pride in the journey they’ve embarked upon over the years. Starting with a firm grounding in the Telco sector, advancing to Mobiles in 2007 to venturing into the realms of Data and Energy in 2011, and expanding their horizons into IT through the acquisition of Aztech Systems, they have consistently evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of our valued customers.
Our most recent product milestone in 2020 with the introduction of Infosec Cloud in the Cyber domain, underscores our commitment to innovation and excellence. Always looking ahead, we are excited to continue our growth and add even more cutting-edge solutions.
Here's to the next decade
In 2021, Chris and Ralph were joined at the helm by Barney Taylor who, as our Chief Executive Officer, leads the day-to-day operation of the business, builds our development strategy, and has responsibility for the continued expansion of the business through M&A activity.
Thanks for being part of our remarkable journey, we look forward to a future full of exciting possibilities. But before we return to focusing on our vision for the next decade, let’s finish with quick-fire Q&A with Chris, Ralph & Barney…
So, what is the key to Focus Group’s long-term success?
Chris Goodman "It's about staying humble enough to accept that you can do better and determined enough to overcome challenges. Reputation played a significant role too. Our ethical business practices established Focus Group as a fair and reliable company in the eyes of our partners and clients.
Maintaining a strong company culture was essential. We believed in treating people as we would want to be treated, creating an environment where fairness, respect, recognition, rewards, lasting friendships, and successful careers were the norm."
Ralph Gilbert "Everyone that knows Chris and I recognises we are very different people. We have different skills and personalities, and this has definitely contributed to our success. We have never wanted to let the other person down, and while we have not always agreed on everything, our goals, vision and ethics have always been aligned- not many people would have been able to put up with me for what is now 23 years!"
Chris Goodman "In 2020 we achieved an investment valuation that set a new benchmark in our industry. This was an endorsement of not only the growth we had achieved but also the quality of Focus Group as a business in terms of our people, culture, sustainability, and ethos."
As for regrets?
Ralph Gilbert "None, mistakes are lessons learned and make us better. Although we did enjoy a brief and unsuccessful career as restaurant owners!"
Tell us a secret…
Ralph Gilbert "When we had our office in Hove, Celebrity Big Brother was at its peak and in the office next door to us worked one of the ‘celeb girlfriends’. The paparazzi were camped outside for weeks, Seb Birch and Chris took Vicki out of the office bundled under a coat, stuck her in the back of a car and sped off with the paps in hot pursuit. It was hilarious and was made even more funny when the ‘celeb shot’ made it into The Sun Newspaper the following week!"
Vision for the future?
Barney Taylor "My vision for this business is for it to continue to be a market leader in telecoms and technology to UK SME. But most important, remain a great place to work at the same time. We are not going to change the core of Focus Group. We are growing fast, achieving great things – but I want people to still enjoy working here and feel it is not a corporate environment. That was my commitment to Ralph and Chris. That is how this business is different."
Published 29th September 2023