William Ip, Associate in ECI’s Commercial Team, discusses what it’s been like joining ECI during the pandemic, rolling out the Kickstart scheme initiative across the portfolio, and his proudest DIY moment during lockdown.
What was it that interested you about joining ECI’s Commercial Team?
I wanted to take the skills I had learned in consultancy but with the opportunity to drive value and see the results. In consultancy you often will do a project and get roped into another project without actually seeing the impact, or whether there was any material change at all. Whereas in a value creation role you help develop the plan for unlocking value, and also track it and see the uplift down the road. In terms of ECI in particular, I knew from anecdotes and the recruitment experience that they were the kind of people I wanted to work with, in terms of experience, skillset and intellectual drive, and importantly operating in an open and collaborative way.
You joined ECI last March – how was it joining a company during lockdown?
I joined on March 23rd, lockdown day, so I felt quite fortunate that I’d gone into the office and onboarded the week before, as making the change during lockdown would have been more logistically challenging. Initially when I joined it was quite hard to separate how much of the change I was experiencing was due to the move, versus the changing working practices of suddenly full-time remote working. Importantly the people I was working with are clear communicators who are easy to work with; at no point did I feel that my scope was unclear, or that I didn’t have the context of the bigger picture. Also one of the benefits of working for a smaller company was that I could get around and meet everyone within the first few weeks, albeit virtually, and everyone here is so friendly and willing to have a catch up, discuss what they’re doing, and provide a bit of that added context to what we’re doing.
Is there any such thing as a typical week in the Commercial Team?
No, not really! There is, I suppose, the most significant portion of my day spent thinking about how we can support management teams create value across the portfolio, and what levers might be helpful. This may include considering potential market adjacencies, pricing plans or planning processes, supporting HR teams on engagement survey analysis, or helping people to make connections across the portfolio. It’s very varied though, and because we’re involved in that thinking ahead of deals as well so that we can hit the ground running once the partnership starts, it means you have visibility of many different companies. For example, I was also involved in the Mobysoft investment, and the recent acquisition of Sipcom by Content+Cloud, where I was helping to think through potential synergies and how the acquisition fit into the Content+Cloud growth story.
Are there any projects you’ve worked on since you joined that stand out?
Straight away from joining, I was working on the COVID-19 people workstream, supporting HR leaders across our portfolio with the ever-changing news and their response. Making sure they had the right information and tools was important, and also it was a good way to get to know ECI and the portfolio, as it involved so many different people from across the business and portfolio companies. You start to understand the different cultures within portfolio companies, and their different needs.
One of the most exciting initiatives I’ve worked on is I’ve led the Kickstart scheme rollout within the portfolio, helping them to give placements to underprivileged 16-24-year-olds. Those placements, which are for six months, will help give those people a way out of Universal Credit and will be a first rung on the ladder, creating careers not just placements, which is so important. We now have thirty-plus placements being filled, and it’s been great not just to be able to support that, but also just to see how keen our portfolio were to support the scheme, especially given the uncertainty of the last 12 months.
As a founding member of Grass & Co, do you think being a founder of a business helps you in your role?
Yes, definitely. ECI is growth-focused and founding a business gave me a greater appreciation for what growth means not just on a theoretical level, but also on an operational level. It’s given me good practice on market sizing, and thinking about how to focus business efforts, and the strategic thinking that relates to how we help the portfolio.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
I think I’ve learned the importance of always being humble, and always giving full context. Don’t assume that the other person knows what you’re talking about. Once you’re cognizant of that, you see the infinite value in bringing people up to speed not just going straight in at the end point.
Quick Fire with Will:
What’s the last book you’ve read?
I recently read The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo, which is about the British Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Paul Dirac. I studied physics so I was somewhat familiar with his work (although not to a Nobel-prize level!) but it’s a fascinating look at his unique upbringing, and his experience living through what you would call the Golden Age of Quantum Physics.
Do you have any secret talents?
I used to play the piano. Is that a talent? I got up to grade 8 and picked it up recently during lockdown…I’m probably back to grade 3…
How else have you passed the time during lockdown?
I’ve been clearing out a lot of stuff from home. In fact, I just found my physics notes from University, and I was just marveling at all the concepts and mathematical techniques I used to know. I always felt that whenever I was going into an exam: ‘This is it, the peak of how much I will ever know about this.’
What was your proudest DIY moment during lockdown?
I grew potatoes in my garden, we ate some for Christmas. I mean, growing potatoes is literally the least difficult thing you can do, you just cut up potatoes and throw them in the ground, but I’ll take it as a win.
What are you looking forward to when things get back to a semblance of normality?
Just seeing people that I haven’t seen in a long time. I never got to do a leaving do, I’d like to have a belated party with everyone. I’d like to travel abroad and see family. Just seeing people, it’s going to be so good to catch up with everyone finally.