IN this week’s SME Focus we hear from a man who decided over the course of a coffee in a roadside café that he would take a radical change in the direction of his career.


Graham Wilson.



What is your business called?

VWS Ltd. Formerly, it was called Video Watchman Systems, but the new name reflects that we do much more now than CCTV and video.

Where is it based?

The head office is in Cumbernauld, but we have an office in Dundee and will be opening an Aberdeen office next year on the back of the volume of work we are winning there.

What services does it offer?

CCTV is the core discipline. We provide internet protocol-based, high definition, megapixel networked systems. Our other main products are security entry, door automation, fire safety systems, intruder alarm systems and network infrastructure including wireless and fibre optic.

To whom does it sell?

The company has been supplying CCTV systems since 1986. It really took off when Glasgow City Council established a concierge system for its properties.

We are strongly represented in the public sector today, dealing extensively with local authorities and housing associations.

Our focus is increasingly on the commercial sector - we supply Braehead Shopping Complex in Glasgow and we are making a concerted push into design and supply for industrial premises, retail units, office blocks, hotels, and licensed outlets.

What is its turnover?

£1.8 million in the year to September, up from £1.4m last time. I am projecting £2.2m for the coming year on a strong pipeline of new business.

How many employees?

35. We have nine people in training at the moment and a healthy apprenticeship programme.

When was it formed?

VWS in its current form was founded in 2006 when, along with two fellow directors, I staged a management buy-out of Video Watchman Systems, which had been operating since 1986.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was a lift engineer to trade, working with Dundee City Council. It was great money, but it felt too easy. I needed a new challenge. In fact, I had even started an Open University degree to give me mental stimulus.

Then, one day in 1998, we were doing work for Video Watchman and a director asked if I knew anyone who was looking for work. It was a whole new field, but I have never been afraid to tackle something new. I agreed to join them - over a coffee in the Little Chef on the Dundee Kingsway - even though the pay was about half what I had been earning. By 2005, I was manager of the company.

Why did you take the plunge?

I was fed up with the red tape in the council, and always following the prescribed route. The Open University also opened my eyes. Though the course was about software, it focused on working with systems - and it made me realise that systems are more about people. Everything is a system, really, and the OU showed me how to break everything down, and to structure thought processes.

I would go back and do the OU again - something different this time; perhaps English literature - and I try to encourage our employees to seize the same kinds of opportunities.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I had developed a couple of properties and I used the equity from them. The other two directors also contributed to the initial funding.

What was your biggest break?

A contract with Aberdeen City Council we won in September for a revolutionary system we proposed to them, creating a wireless network across the city using aerials on top of high flats. The running costs are negligible. The system brings information from about 400 cameras all over the city back to one control room and co-ordinates them with door entry systems.

What was your worst moment?

Once we had completed the MBO we really got under the skin of the business and I realised quite quickly that my five year plan was not realistic and that it was probably going to be more than 10 years before we would have constructed the business we really wanted. Like any bad moment, however, you just get on with it, do your best to turn things around and make the most of the opportunity you have.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Seeing the people here realise their potential, and get involved in and excited about the work they do.

What are your ambitions for the business?

Keeping on the same path and covering a wider geographical area. I’d like the company to go south.

What are your top priorities?

Capturing a bigger market share in the private sector.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Public procurement is still an issue, although the Scottish Government has pushed through some measures that have helped.

For instance, tender documentation is being standardised, and if you are properly accredited you don’t have to go through the process anew every time.

However, as procurement in the public sector gains a higher profile, it feels that it is being turned by local authorities into an academic exercise, rather than a means of ensuring good value.

How do you relax?

I like to do things that are the complete opposite of my working life. I like my football and I enjoy watching films. Most of all, I like spending time with my family.