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How I founded FDM Group and my life as CEO

Rod left school at 15 and went on to found an international FTSE 250 company. What’s he proudest of? His company’s record on diversity.
What I look for most in graduate candidates is if they’ve done something other than their degree course.

The simple answer to how I came to found FDM is that I wanted to work for myself. I’d worked in the tech industry for ten years. I wanted control over my income-earning stream. When I was a kid in the West Midlands, it was the same: I’m not from a privileged background and if I wanted anything I had to earn it.

When I started FDi, it was a small technology recruitment company. It wasn’t until I met Mountfield Software that our business model of training entry-level hires came about – and it was about ten years after that we realised that the model was scalable internationally.

How FDM works

We train graduates, returners to work and ex-forces personnel and deploy them on client sites; our people agree to work for us for two years before having the option to convert to working for the client. Everyone (FDM, the employee and the client) wins. I don’t know of any other technology company that has a model like ours. I think that’s why it is so popular in the markets we operate in.

We’ve developed a shop window for lots of people who may be disadvantaged in some way and may not have had access to the blue-chip brands that we work with. I want our business to be egalitarian and diverse. I’ve always thought the same: I went to school in a multicultural environment and learned early in my career that the best workplaces are diverse. I worked in publishing where three of my bosses were women.

We have a zero per cent median gender pay gap at FDM: for people doing the same job to have different rates of pay is frankly immoral. My proudest moment was when the company won ‘Employer of the Year’ at the Information Age Women in IT Awards 2018 and ‘Company of the Year’ at the TechWomen50 Awards 2017.

Back at the beginning

I left school at 15 and my first job was working in a tube factory. I did that for eight weeks and learned exactly what I didn’t want to do and so I took myself to technical college. Then I worked in a chemical factory, doing a whole raft of mad and interesting jobs and driving almost every form of vehicle known to man. I grew up quickly. It made me realise how important it was to gain an education and when I was 20 I went to university.

After graduating, a friend had a job on a computer magazine at VNU publishers and said that I’d be quite good at it. The training scheme was amazing. In just eight weeks of training, you understood how to sell, how to develop business relationships and how the tech industry worked. FDM’s sales and business development training is based on those underlying original principles. After this, I worked on the launch of a technology newspaper. I was then headhunted to work for an IT consultancy, where I learned more about the people side of the industry and how to win and manage large client engagements.

Spotting business opportunities

Getting the second licence in the UK for Java in 1999 was probably one of the most pivotal moments for FDM’s growth, when we were on the edge of graphical user interfaces. Being constantly in the client environment helps you to spot an opportunity. You’ve got to get out of your office, travel the world and have interesting conversations with lots of people.

My day... my year

My role as the CEO of a FTSE 250 company includes business development and the standard regulatory and management activities, such as budgeting, financial planning and coaching. On any day, customers and shareholders will visit us to meet our graduate intake and talk about the tech challenges in their own organisations. Stakeholders are often impressed by our attitudes towards diversity.

These days I tend to wake up before 5.30 am and I’ll always read the news and catch up with technology blogs. It’s important that I stay on point because I will always be asked questions by our customers and shareholders, such as ‘What is FDM’s attitude towards big data?’. These days our shareholders are also increasingly interested in our diversity and inclusion initiatives, which is great to see. I tend to start my calls from 7.00 am, normally from Australia and Asia, and will continue with calls from North America until 7.00 pm, when I begin unwinding for the day. I spend six to eight weeks a year in the US, six weeks in Asia-Pacific, two weeks in Europe and the rest in the UK. I always travel on a Saturday, so that I’m fresh for visits to the office on Monday.

What I seek in our FDM consultants

I like people who can hold a conversation and have opinions, as long as they’re backed by evidence. What I look for most in graduate candidates is if they’ve done something other than their degree course such as volunteering or being involved with their university sports club.

I might be coming over a bit old school, but I also like graduates who take on personal responsibility. When I was younger I played football at a decent standard. If I didn’t train or turn up, I wouldn’t get paid and I’d be put on the subs or, even worse, the reserves. If you feel that you are weak at something, find a mentor or a training course. When I meet a graduate who has a bit of get up and go, I love that person.

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