To celebrate the official 20th anniversary of Endava, we sat down with our CEO, John Cotterell to ask him 20 questions about the past, the future and his favourite moments over the past two decades.
1. The 8th of Feb 2000 is a significant date for you, tell us about it.
That was the date we signed all the documentation that brought Endava UK Ltd. into existence, and it still remains the largest entity in the Endava Group today. From there, the Endava Group was founded in 2006, when we joined forces with Compudava in Moldova and AGS in Cluj.
2. Why then?
The family joke with my kids was that Dad went into the new millennium without a job. I had just sold a tech start-up that I founded 18 months before and had started to think about where to go next. I wanted to create an organisation that would radically reimagine the relationship between people and technology. From that ambition, Endava came to life.
3. Who was by your side when you were starting Endava?
There were two of us at the moment of starting the company - myself and Pauline Gerran. Pauline retired some years ago, but she was around for 3-4 years in the early days. Within two months of opening our doors, Alex Day joined us, and he was a huge sales engine for what we were doing.
In 2001 we merged with a business called Concise and a lot of the key team members joined then and are still in the company, like our current COO - Rob Machin and our Chief Commercial Officer - Julian Bull. Also, Graham Lee, our Head of Legal, who retired in the summer. A strong team gave us the boost to thrive in the tough economic environment that existed during the early 2000’s and I believe it is a real testament to the culture of our business that so many of them are still working with us today.
4. Who was the first big game-changing client?
The first big, game changing client was a UK-based payments company. In what is a very typical trend in the financial services industry, that client merged with another sizeable company, and a little while later they were acquired by a Global US headquartered business. All through that journey, thanks to the quality of the technology solutions we produced and the relationships we built, we were taken along, and they remain one of our biggest clients today.
This has been a theme of Endava ever since. We help clients build exciting new businesses utilising technology, and as their businesses succeed and expand, we grow what we are doing for them also.
5. We have been looking back over the past two decades at what has changed – what was your favourite thing about the way things were in 2000?
The millennium bug - and that it didn’t happen.
6. What is your favourite law of physics?
I find entropy very interesting; it states that without external influence things tend to chaos and disorder and I think this is just an incredible management principle as well - if you leave things alone - they follow the law of entropy.
7. What is the current focus of Endava as a business?
Our focus is on those industries which are being affected by the new technologies that are coming through most. Obviously, financial services and payments has been a huge one where new tech transformed the way in which people can make payments, and that's created lots of opportunities for our clients to build new payments products and services, which we help them to do.
8. Tell us about industries Endava is looking to expand into
Another industry that is seeing the same transformations is Insurance, which is going to be reshaped by better use of data and its understanding - so better insurance products and solutions are built. As industries change - for instance we are talking about autonomous cars - the tech challenge around the insurance industry to cater products for this area - is as big a challenge as creating the autonomous cars themselves. So, if an autonomous car crashes - which insurance company pays - is it the one that insured the manufacturer, who wrote the software and made a mistake - or is it the owner of the car, or indeed the passenger in the car? So, insurance is going to face massive transformations through these tech shifts. This is where we as business can come up and help drive that change.
9. Would you say that this experience has changed you over the years?
I have definitely learnt a lot.
One of the challenges I noticed was that as the company grew, the level of energy I needed to invest started to change. Through the years, I have managed to evolve from that entrepreneurial mindset into learning to do things differently. When you are running a smaller business, you are involved in all the decisions and you have to be mindful of every penny you spend. Once you get bigger, you have to learn to delegate, to make sure that your people delegate further, and so you have ownership spread widely across the organisation. To make this successful you need good decision-making and good management and monitoring of performance, so you help to develop your people and give them the space to learn how to make good decisions on behalf of the business.
10. Did you ever consider starting to do something else instead?
No. I tend to be a very committed and goal-oriented person. I wanted Endava to be a success and it is, I have never wavered in that commitment.
11. What is the secret of CEO longevity?
In smaller companies, CEOs seem to last longer, especially when they are the founder, but once you get bigger the average tenure of a CEO gets shorter, spanning to 3 to 5 years on average. I am hoping that I shall last a bit longer than 5 years now that we are a public company!
Obviously, for a CEO to last you have to continue to be successful, with stakeholder benefit being the measure of that success. If you are not delivering for your stakeholders – your people, your customers, your shareholders, and the wider society and environment your business is operating in, then it is time to move on. As a CEO, you have the responsibility to deliver to all these groups in a positive and consistent way.
12. What are some emerging/future trends in IT that will impact Endava and the industry in general?
There is an awful lot happening in all the technology strands that come together in different ways to create new business models.
Automation, machine learning, and AI is a huge one and there is a lot uncertainty about how it is going to transform society over the next 20 to 30 years. For example, only one in twenty cars are being used at any one time, the rest are sitting in car parks and garages, so once autonomous cars become widely available, people won’t need 95% of the cars that they need today, which will completely transform automotive manufacturing.
Another interesting area is AR and VR, and the way in which that can change business to consumer interaction. Overall, there are a lot of new technologies coming through, things like data-driven tech that is transforming the ways in which business can understand and target solutions for individual customers.
This provides an exciting landscape for us at Endava, as we grow our capabilities in emerging technologies and start to work on cutting-edge new solutions on behalf of our clients. This also enables us to attract great people to our organisation, we have interesting tech solutions and that goes right back to our core purpose – because we can attract great people, we can do a good job for our clients. All feeds to our core purpose of caring for our customers as individuals and enabling our people to be the best that they can be.
13. What are the “deadly sins” of being a CEO that you have seen with your peers?
I will give you two answers to that.
One is the temptation and the tendency for every CEO to recruit according to their own image, and that can be very restrictive to an organisation because it doesn’t give you the breadth of different characters and positively conflicting points of view. I have a story around this. I spent years in building a team that, to my understanding and view, amassed people completely different from me. Several years later though, after our team took the Myers Briggs personality test, the team average ended up with the same personality indicators as mine. It is amusing to look back on it now, but it brought a new level of awareness around unconscious bias for me, and awareness is the first step toward making a change.
And the second trap for a CEO is to make it all about themselves and self-promotion rather than having the focus on their company. That can actually look to the outside world quite interesting and fun, to put the CEO’s profile on display, but there is a lot of evidence that shows that the actual effect is short term and that over time those companies don’t do as well as business where the CEO is more interested in the welfare and health of the company than their own profile.
14. Endava has grown quite a bit over the last few years. How do you manage to spend time in each of our delivery centres?
We hold annual events called Base Camps - where the executive team travel across all our delivery locations in Europe, Latin America and the States to share a 360 degree overview of our strategy and the direction we are heading in as an organisation.
For me, the best part is having the ability to visit each of the delivery centres each year, which gives me new perspectives and the opportunity to meet with people in both a formal setting during our roundtable discussions and then on a more personal level during the companywide events.
15. Which other CEOs do you look up to?
Some of the CEO’s highlighted in books like Good to Great, by Jim Collins, demonstrated behaviour and style that I aspire to. However, I have never had the privilege of meeting any of them in person, so this is a slightly distant respect.
16. What is your fondest memory of your time at Endava?
This sounds a little obvious, but the IPO was pretty special. The USA is really good at celebrating success.
When we did the IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, they created an entire celebratory event around it for the wider team - it was a very special occasion - acknowledging what we had achieved together.
17. Who would you like to play you in a movie about your life?
18. What was the scariest moment since starting Endava?
I remember it very well - it was about 10 or 11 months after we started, we had a very difficult project with a banking client. There was a project where everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong: the technology didn’t work (the client had prescribed it), the team were massively stressed, which resulted in high turnover, the client was launching the product to their most senior employees and management directors and it was uncertain whether Endava would survive the whole process. I remember waking on New Year’s Day in 2001 and the project had its own millennium bug. That same bug that was supposed to have happened one year before, but we managed to suffer from it a year later. But we did survive, and we learnt from it and this inspired the merger with Concise and set the benchmark for the strong engineering and delivery capabilities that we still maintain today.
19. How would you describe Endava in one word?
Strong. The name of the company has a Dacian root to it (en, dava) and it literally means ‘in strength’ or fortress. We gave it that name because we wanted to build a strong business, and I feel that we have been successful in doing so.
20. If we could send you back in time, is there anything you would change about Endava and your journey with the company?
I love the idea of being sent back in time. What immediately comes to mind is that I could invest in Google before they became famous and successful.
But to be truly honest, I don’t think I would want to change anything for exactly that reason - if you go back in time and start changing things, you probably end up with results totally different what you expected and I am very happy with where Endava is at the moment, so I wouldn’t change a thing.