Investors in People – David Swanston

Date

July 20th, 2023

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Vesta Software Group

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Vesta Investors in People David Swanston

In this feature of our Investors in People series, we sat down with David Swanston. From his days as a Managing Director to his new life as Portfolio Manager, he gives us an insight into the last decade and shares what his experience of joining the group from an acquired company has been like.

David Swanston Investors in People

How did your journey with the group begin?

My journey began all the way back in 1990 when I joined CRB Solutions. The business had grown significantly over the years, but it eventually became apparent that we needed to acquire a distributor to be able to push it even further forward.

I’d had a few initial conversations with the team at Jonas around that time but was naturally skeptical at first. That was until I met Mark Leonard (Founder and President at Constellation Software – Vesta’s parent company). He was in the UK at the time and decided to pay us a visit to get an understanding of the business. It was then that I truly started to believe in the ethos and ethics behind the group, which gave me the nudge I needed to be able to make the commitment to the acquisition.

We were subsequently acquired at the end of 2013 and since then it’s been quite the journey!

A year later at the end of 2014, the group acquired Cunninghams Cash Registers, who were the UK’s largest distributor of cashless catering products developed by CRB. Because we essentially had two businesses under our belt that did the same thing, it made sense to merge them and create two new divisions – one for education (CRB Cunninghams Education Solutions) and another covering retail and hospitality (Cunninghams EPOS Group).

I decided to stay in my role as Managing Director until the summer of 2021, when I finally fired myself and brought in Thomasina Ward to take over the reins! At that point I was taking on other responsibilities by working with some of the other education businesses within Vesta’s portfolio in a Group Leader capacity, and consequently found that I didn’t have the time and resources that CRB Cunninghams needed and deserved.

Most recently, I’ve just been promoted to Portfolio Manager at Vesta as part of our efforts to restructure the group appropriately, and look forward to working with our team of Group Leaders to bring the best out of our businesses.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There isn’t such thing as a typical day at Vesta! However, I would say that I probably spend around 2-3 days a week on the M&A side, with the rest focused on helping guide and mentor the Managing Directors of the other businesses in the group.

This means that much of my time is spent in back-to-back meetings, but I do like to set aside a schedule by which:

  • Each week I catch up with all of the MDs that I work with, mainly just for a chat and an update which gives us a good opportunity to bounce ideas off each other.
  • Each month a review with the Senior Management teams at each business is held, where we go through what’s happened that month and talk about any issues or upcoming strategies that are being worked on.
  • Each quarter the financial forecasts are reviewed for all businesses. We also look ahead to the future, focusing on strategy and financial planning moving forward.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

It would have to be the exposure this role has given me to so many different people. There aren’t many jobs out there where you could say you’ve had the opportunity to speak to people across the board and all over the world from hundreds, if not thousands, of companies.

When I was my own boss and essentially not answerable to anyone, it wasn’t easy to get honest help and advice when it was needed, so just having access to that network of ideas, best practices and strategies is invaluable.

Another thing I love about my role now is that I get to talk to a lot of business owners who are in the same position as I was before CRB was acquired. It’s incredibly exciting getting to know them and figuring out how their business will integrate within the group, as well as being able to share my story and an insight into what life is like with Vesta.

Can you tell us about the learning and development opportunities the group offers?

The exposure to the network and access to the group’s best practice playbook alone have had a huge influence on my own development. What I’ve found is that there’s always something new to learn from every company that joins us – we’re all likeminded individuals who have shared similar experiences, but everyone has something new to bring to the table.

I also love attending our wider corporate events. We have one being held in Toronto this August called “Jonas GROWs”, which will bring together senior representatives from our companies around the world to share, learn, network and ultimately grow our businesses and portfolios.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to progress in their career or business?

Speak to as many people as possible and get as many different ideas as you can! It’s so important to look outside the box and observe what other businesses have done so that you can grasp things that maybe you would never think about for your particular market. There will always be something new that’s worth a try.

What would you say to a business owner who is thinking of selling?

Whether you’re looking to remain with your business or exit after selling, it doesn’t matter. If you want a home for your business where it can grow while your people are looked after and your legacy is preserved, Vesta’s ‘buy and hold forever’ ethos means that you won’t find a better place.

There are endless growth opportunities for anyone who is willing to grasp them with both hands. I’ve seen so many of my team over the years who have broadened their horizons and taken on new challenges within the group. Some have even then come back to CRB and helped to inject lots of new ideas from their times elsewhere.

When I look back on what’s happened in my experience, I can honestly say that Vesta have done exactly what they said on the tin.