Putting ESG issues centre-stage for business success and reputational advantage

A passionate advocate of technology as the enabler for change and improvement, Advanced’s CEO Gordon Wilson outlines why an ethical agenda is central to success today

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Gordon Wilson, CEO, Advanced

With over 20 years’ management experience in the software and business support sectors, Gordon Wilson has witnessed a period of great change in the industry. The recent exponential growth of digital technology has driven a shift in expectations about what technology can, and should deliver. Wilson believes that his company and the wider technology sector have the power to transform people’s lives by allowing them to do business more effectively and efficiently.

“I am passionate about how technology can improve the business outcomes for our customers and positively impact the lives of the millions of people our customers serve every day. As a business we bring experience of working across multiple sectors to illustrate and best overcome the key challenges facing these sectors.” Advanced is currently the UK’s third largest software and services company with a turnover in excess of £300m. With 2,600 employees globally, it provides solutions for over 25,000 customers in business management; finance; spend management; field service management; human capital; legal; health and social care; charities and not-for-profits; education; professional services; and sports, venues and events.

Recognising the importance of ESG
Advanced was already demonstrating an impressive growth trajectory when Wilson was appointed in September 2015 following its acquisition by private equity firm Vista Equity Partners in March of that year. The change necessitated a new leadership team headed by a strong and inspiring individual to steer the business to the next level of success. Wilson undertook an ambitious task, propelling a fundamental transformation with a determined four-pillar programme of reorganisation, rebranding, relocation and restructuring.

Part of the role in steering Advanced’s business development and growth is understanding that environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are no longer seen as slightly radical ideas and have become part of mainstream business culture and a key factor in winning new business and the overall value of a business. Consumers are demanding more of business and expect high standards in ESG, so for Wilson, it makes good business sense to make sure that Advanced is aligned with these.”

The way a business approaches and handles ESG issues is a barometer for the way it does business generally

“ESG is about how business interacts with society and the world at large. Our impact in these areas is part of our responsibility to our employees, customers, suppliers, investors and the planet as a whole. Being profitable and doing business in an ethical way are two sides of the same coin. Economic success allows us to provide jobs and opportunities for more people, internally and externally with our suppliers and customers. Considering ESG issues and how to incorporate them into our business strategy is the same as looking at any other ways to improve efficiency and productivity– it yields positive results.”

“The way a business approaches and handles ESG issues is a barometer for the way it does business generally. It is seen as evidence of a good reputation, meaning investors will see a good investment opportunity, suppliers will want to work with you because they know they will get paid, and customers want to give you their business because they are confident they will get the levels of service and goods that they expect. They feel better about spending money with businesses that demonstrate an ethical position. It can positively impact access to capital and even the regulatory attention the organisation attracts.”

Wilson points to instances where an apparent failure to prioritise ESG has led to consumers ‘punishing’ the brand, such as in the aftermath of the misleading Volkswagen diesel engine claims, and concerns about the working practices of various low cost retailers.

A changed world
Policymakers and national governments are grappling with the challenges of rebooting economies, post-Covid, in environmentally-friendly ways. The EU is offering a €750bn relief package dedicated to climate projects while in the US, while the Biden administration is considering routes to reversing Trump’s anti-ESG policies, including re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Governments are not in a position to tackle these issues in isolation and people are looking to business to lead the charge on change. They will vote with their feet and are more likely than ever to scrutinise supply chains and the way in which organisations interact with their employees. As such, a commitment to ESG issues makes good business sense as well as being the right thing to do. I want us to be in a position where we are constantly assessing our progress in this area and never standing still, always pushing to be better and to do more.”

Advanced is currently undertaking an ESG maturity survey within the business to establish a baseline starting position, focusing on three areas – protecting the planet; inclusivity; and social and community empowerment. Wilson and his senior management team have used these to set out the following initiatives to drive Advanced’s ESG agenda forward.

The human resources team has taken a new approach to recruitment without CVs, that identifies personal potential and suitability instead of focusing on specific experience and qualifications. This approach is already bearing fruit and is enriching the company’s talent pool and developing leaders for the future.

Advanced is committed to a robust and dynamic diversity and inclusion strategy and has invited all employees to volunteer themselves as a diversity leader. Policy is guided by specific working groups, represented by people in all sectors of the business and include Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ Team Rainbow, Women’s Network and Disability Inclusion Network.

Inspired by its work around the gender pay gap that has helped to identify areas for improvement, Advanced has now initiated a diversity pay gap report – considerably more complex as there is a lot of intersectionality between factors, such as gender and race, or socio-economic background, sexuality and gender. Wilson admits the project goes above and beyond the legal requirement to report on gender alone and hopes that other organisations will follow Advanced’s example.

We share ideas, measure performance, identify and implement opportunities and integrate ESG best policies.

“Progression towards being a more equitable and inclusive organisation reaps benefits for our business in a number of ways. We have access to a far wider talent pool than previously as many people who might have been excluded because of geographical, social or personal reasons can now be valuable members of our teams. We promote a flexible approach to working practises, supporting those who need to work remotely to do so and being committed to rewarding quality over quantity. Managers will recognise and promote talent based upon actual achievement, rather than those who are seen to be the last to leave the office every evening.” Flexibility and commitment to D&I makes the business a far more attractive employer for prospective talent too, giving them the advantage in recruiting and retaining outstanding individuals. “Ultimately if people don’t feel fully welcomed and valued for who they are, and see others like themselves represented in the workplace, they can’t bring their best selves to work. I and my entire management team live and promote this philosophy every day.”

Ensuring ESG success by tracking progress
Advanced is tackling its carbon footprint with its own in-house analysis tool. “We have developed a track-and-trace-type app that helps us compare our carbon impact a year ago with where we are now, and in the future, for example with the number of commutes made by employees, energy use or recycling. It’s still early days but once we’ve completed our analysis the board will use this to set targets for the future.”

Transparency within the entire supply chain is key to building a good reputation. Just as a consumer ordering a product online cannot distinguish between delays in the supply chain and the online retailer, so too in business. Advanced is making sure that it is working with suppliers who not only provide a consistently good service, but do so in a socially responsible manner. “Our customers should be able to expect that the same high ethical standards are upheld at every stage of bringing our products and services to their door.”

Wilson’s experience is in demand and he is frequently called upon to contribute guidance and leadership support through outside organisations. He is a member of the board of directors for techUK and a member of the South East Council for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), where he collaborates with other members about the best ways to address current challenges, specifically those around technology, innovation and skills.

When Advanced was acquired by private equity firm Vista Equity Partners in March 2015, it necessitated the engagement of a new leadership team headed by Wilson. Advanced is therefore also part of the Vista Sustainability Leadership Council, one of the largest global ESG bodies made up of more than 80 business leaders. Under his stewardship, Advanced has made eleven strategically important business acquisitions, including Science Warehouse in 2018 (Procurement); Oyez Professional Services (Legal Forms), Kirona (Field Service), Modern Systems (Application Modernisation) and Careworks (Social Care Case Management) in 2019; and Tikit (Legal Practice Management),Mitrefinch (Time & Attendance, Access Control, Payroll) and Clear Review (Continuous Performance Management) in 2020.

With Wilson at the helm guiding Advanced’s ESG strategy, he is charting a course not just towards a fair and equitable organisation that benefits all, but towards continued success.