The GBA interview: Tim Smeaton, CEO, Kubrick Group

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Tim Smeaton Kubrick Group quote

Following the 2020 Growing Business Awards, we catch up with Tim Smeaton, CEO of Kubrick Group, the winner of the ECI sponsored B2B Business of the Year category. Kubrick Group enables businesses to evolve and embrace next-generation technology, solving short-term capacity issues or building long-term capabilities, by finding and training smart, diverse talent and effectively deploying them to clients. 

Hi Tim, can you believe when you won this award we were just coming out of our last lockdown – little did we know! 

I know! Although I must confess that I’m actually stuck in Barbados at the moment. It sounds like the dream situation, but we’ve had three flights cancelled and my kids are homeschooling so we’re getting up at 03:45 to keep to UK time. We’re pretty desperate to be back to lockdown in the UK! 

There is definitely such a thing as too much holiday. Well, congratulations on your win for B2B Business of the Year. What do you think has been the main driver of growth over the last few years?

We exist to solve the UK’s digital skills emergency. There has always been a demand and supply imbalance in the field of data and technology, and the shortage of skilled people who can meet the demands of digital transformation has become more acute. Frankly, COVID has accelerated a lot of organisations’ requirements to digitise, so that demand and supply gap has widened. 

It’s a perfect storm; increasingly, businesses aren’t training people in these skillsets, but put the onus on the employee to come fully trained. Yet, the number of people who leave university trained in these specialist areas is very small. Our growth is because we fill that space of ‘last mile training’ that gets graduates and young professionals into productive, technically-demanding jobs in data and next-generation technology.

Is the problem especially acute in the UK, or is this universal? 

The universal problem is that the pace of change within organisations is faster than the pace of change within people’s skillsets – and it’s accelerating. 

What has been the biggest impact of COVID to the business? 

We are lucky to have had very little impact overall, apart from an organisational element at the start. It’s pushed our own digital agenda further on, as one of the big changes was in our training. We moved from training consultants in our office’s technology labs to online courses, then experimented with hybrid models, and now we are back to remote training. These changes have actually given us some very insightful data because the pass rates of our tests haven’t altered dramatically – that surprised us.

The emotional connections you create by working in an office are really important. So, we wouldn’t change to entirely remote working, but it is interesting that we can facilitate it. It becomes a choice as to whether companies want to shoulder the overheads or not. 

You’re currently looking to expand into the US – did COVID impact those plans at all?

It knocked our plans back by six months, but we are operating with the view that we should have a degree of free movement within the US in a year’s time. There will be things outside of our control, and thus it’s more likely to move backwards than forwards, but we’re working towards that timeline. 

How has your role changed as the business has grown?

This is my second business with [Simon Walker, Managing Partner] and in our last business, I would have said I needed to focus on forward planning and organisational design in order to grow. But we’ve set up Kubrick in the way we needed early on, making sure we built a leadership team where people had accountability for their roles from the start. 

As we grow, I’m working more with our employees to create a vision that they can paint themselves into, and then figure out how to get there. Simultaneously, the quality of our people is improving, as they gain skills and we bring in new talent – something we’re doing a lot at the moment. It affords you the luxury to give away bigger tasks and trust people a little more. 

I’ve worked as a non-exec previously, whose big challenge is trying to move the focal length to the right distance. It needs to get them out of the nitty-gritty, but not place them so far away that they’re just dreaming of their future wealth. I’ve also been involved with private equity before. That process is helpful in giving the big picture of where you want to go in order to work out the levers you’re going to pull to achieve it. 

What advice would you give to business leaders who are looking to grow?

Don’t spread yourself too thinly. Work out what your proposition is. Don’t change your business model too often – there are always unintended consequences. Surround yourself with smart people and don’t ever hire anyone unless everyone else says, “Hell yes, we need to hire them!”

You’ve mentioned bringing in new talent and expanding into New York, what else is on the roadmap for the next 12 months? 

We are looking to diversify from our four pathways of data and technology specialisms to eight, as well as moving into the New York market. The final piece of the jigsaw will be redeveloping our training platform to make us more scalable. 

Ultimately, our business proved to be resilient during the COVID-19 crisis and we’re helping our clients on some really exciting projects across the data, AI, and cloud space that have been accelerated as a result. 

To find out more about how Kubrick Group is helping organisations transform to reach their full potential through their data and AI workforce visit

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