As an applied chemistry graduate, he considered a different career path before opting for IT. “Like most people, to a certain extent it was planned and to a certain extent it happened by accident. Some of the moves happened because I was in the right place at the right time. There was a time when I wanted to be a geneticist.”
With the exception of a short stint at BP, however, he has been in IT for his whole career. At 42, Stevenson is in his third chief executive’s role. “I enjoy the sector and I enjoy the software side of things but if my career had taken a different direction, I would have grown to enjoy that as well.”
His first role was at the Delphi Group, a division of staffing agency Adecco, initially on the sales side and then in management. Stevenson moved to Comparex Services as director of sales and marketing and then became chief executive at South-African- owned AST Europe.
“They were looking at how they could take their services to Europe and North America and for Adecco I happened to have been looking at those companies and those services.”
He says this was an interesting time to be involved with a South African company as the changes from apartheid were still being felt.
“It must have been the biggest programme of cultural change. The industry and general social background changed fundamentally during the three or four years I was there.”
One highlight of his time at the company was the introduction of training programmes for disadvantaged citizens of the new South Africa. “The sheer enthusiasm of young South Africans to get involved was refreshing, compared to a certain extent with UK graduates who had the attitude that if you don’t employ me, someone else will.”
Stevenson moved to another globetrotting position as chief executive of Business Agility which provides consultancy and software to financial services companies across Europe and North America. He says spending a lot of time in the US had a number of useful lessons.
“It is a common language but there are very different business practices. To pick up on the subtleties is more difficult than to pick up on the obvious differences, so you have to be careful how you do that.”
Stevenson’s role at Focus Solutions offers fewer opportunities for foreign travel but he says it has a number of attractions and lists the strength of the client list, combined with the quality of the software offering and general atmosphere in the office.
“For the shareholders, there obviously was a job to be done in terms of creating greater value, both for them and the clients but most of the building blocks were there. This was not a classic turn-round, it was more coming in and trying to optimise it.”
Stevenson was appointed as chief executive in March 2006 and says the business is moving in the right direction. “We are on the way to achieving it, which is promising.”
He says the business has repositioned itself from a bespoke software provider to sit somewhere between off-the-shelf and a bespoke option. The Focus business is split into three parts – wealth management, intermediary distribution and the provider market. For each of these markets, a business can buy software in modules to construct a system for its needs.
However, the biggest recent development is an all-in-one solution for the distribution market. The big development for Focus in the distribution space is the launch of Focus 360°.
He says: “360° has all the functionality that you would need to run an IFA firm or network.”
Stevenson says the company saw that a number of IFA firms were using several different IT or software systems, which is both very costly and very difficult to change.
“You now have one cost and the solution you have in place is more flexible, particularly with principle-based regulation, if you need to change, you can do so at speed.”
Stevenson is in the fortunate position of being able to report a strong first-half from a business point of view. He says despite the worsening economic climate, the company has seen no slowdown in demand for its services.
“I guess that is because of the RDR and concerns over making sure organisations are fully compliant. We are fortunate that we have most of our demand underpinned or driven by change in regulation.”
The RDR is mixed news for many IFAs but Stevenson says it offers opportunities for his business. “There will be consolidation and then, over time, as new niches and new opportunities open up, there will be fragmentation. Our solutions are typically targeted at bigger IFA firms, so it would suit us if that is the outcome of the RDR.”
Born: Harrogate, 1966
Education: St Aidan’s School, Harrogate; degree in applied chemistry from Coventry Polytechnic
Career: 2006-present – chief executive, Focus Solutions; 2003-06 – chief executive and president, Business Agility; 1998-2003 – chief executive and president, AST Europe; 1996-98 – director of sales and marketing, Comparex Services Europe: 1989-96 – regional sales manager, Delphi Group
Likes: Rugby, wine, good food
Dislikes: Bad drivers, people who don’t get to the point
Drives: Citroen X5
Favourite book: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Favourite film: Once Upon a Time in America
Favourite album: Stone Roses by the Stone Roses
Career ambition: To grow Focus Solutions to a £100m market-cap business
Life ambition: To get more involved in sponsoring children’s charity programmes
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Something on a beach in Ibiza