A VETERAN digital transformation specialist has described the impact the coronavirus has had on clients across sectors as the pandemic has accelerated the need for many to have an online presence.

John McLeish, of Equator, has said many of the agency’s clients in travel and leisure suspended budgets completely while some have been unable to pay their bills, and the crisis has prompted others to accelerate their online offering and digital infrastructure.

The agency, which employs 150 across its Glasgow and London offices, has been helping steer blue chip clients like BP, AXA, Standard Life and Virgin through digital modernisation since 1999 and is currently assisting a major healthcare business better navigate provision under the shadow of Covid-19.

Mr McLeish said most companies were quick to recognise the need to shift from more traditional methods and to set future direction for growth, or survival, during a time of disruption as the pandemic took hold.

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He said: “It’s very challenging times for all at the moment, both from a business and a personal perspective.

“But from a business perspective, we are relatively fortunate in that we’ve got a good spread of clients across different sectors.

“Our clients in the travel and leisure sector have pretty much been decimated, so they’ve basically suspended all budgets, which is a significant revenue impact to Equator.

“However, because we operate in different sectors like finance, utilities, like in a private equity investor sector, we’re seeing more people try to get ahead of the game, try to implement some quicker advancements on some of their plans. So that’s been positive.”

The company’s general preparedness paved the way for swift internal response as the effects of coronavirus ripped through the economy, he said.

“The whole workforce has been working from home. We were able to do that in less than 12 hours.

“Touch wood, it’s all gone well. But given the type of business that we are and it’s kind of a digital world, we should be able to do that and do it relatively efficiently. We had plans in place.”

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The co-founder and managing director said: “We’re hopeful that the sectors that we’re busy in at the moment will continue to be busy and hopefully in the not too distant future, the travel and leisure clients will start to come back and start to look for a recovery, which also we’re keen to support them on.”

“We are looking at what the new normal will look like, what type of businesses require to transform to be more protected for the future because there’s many businesses that could have, with the benefit of hindsight, been in a slightly better place. So we will be looking to help support businesses, make those changes and make them more future proof, as well as the ones that are already in that space take any recent learnings and look to find a way of further optimising.

“Certainly my own business, I think we’ve been pretty good through this process, but there’s most definitely things that we will have learned during the process and we’ll be looking to ensure that we can benefit from that in the future.”

The healthcare company client is described as a being of significant scale.

Mr McLeish said: “What we are working with them on is to get them into a place where the whole chain, from the order to invoice, if you like, is much more accountable.

“It’s data driven so the information that’s being presented to the end customer is the right information and it’s timely, it’s more appropriate and the whole chain from order to invoice is significantly more efficient. So it is better use of the people on the ground, the kind of transport and everything that is required to get products from A to B.

“Looking at ways of driving efficiencies there, not just from a business perspective but from an environmental perspective.”

He said: “Prior to Covid-19, I felt that we were about to move into three to five years of exceptional growth for Equator and for the sector.

“There’s a lot more adoption and understanding of what digital can do for the consumer and for businesses. So I expected it to be a high growth period. I think that view hasn’t changed.

“If anything, I think it’s become more acute because people have felt the pain of maybe not moving as fast as what they could have. Again from my own personal view, there’s an opportunity to really drive Equator forward, look to further invest and grow our offering and the services that we’re doing on the back of that.

“Certainly, it’s quite frightening. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my lifetime. It’s something that the grandchildren will probably be paying for.

“But that said, if we come out the back end learning from a lot of the troublesome times and we’re all better for it then I think that makes it slightly less painful.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I spend a lot of time in Portugal each summer with my family. I find the people, food and of course the weather amazing. It is one of my favourite places to re-charge the batteries.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I suppose like most boys (and men) I wanted to be James Bond. Everything about him just oozed appeal. From an early age I also had a strong drive to do something for myself, take control of my own destiny.

What was your biggest break in business?

Over the years Equator has experienced many great breaks that have helped lead to its success, however one of the most memorable was becoming NTL’s digital agency as it really helped fuel the company’s growth.

What was your worst moment in business?

Equator has been very fortunate over the years, managing to grow through events such as the financial crisis. Any loss of people or clients has always been tough although I fear that the current situation is going to be the toughest test yet for all businesses. It is time for all businesses to keep focus and do whatever they can to power through these difficult times. Equator is in a strong place to be able to do this.

Who do you most admire and why?

My late parents were an inspiration to me and encouraged me to be ambitious. I have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs that have made great success in business and are now turning their focus to social good. Bill Gates being a good example.

What book are you reading, what was the last film you saw and what music are you listening to?

Not reading any books at the moment as audio books are my flavour of choice. Enjoying a mix of genres from The Culture Club by Daniel Doyle to Jo Nesbo’s The Thirst. I am watching more movies and box sets than ever. I enjoyed watching Harry Potter series for the 10th time! I am listening a lot to Absolute 80s, 90s, 00s. Fun. Fun. Fun.