By Kristy Dorsey

The new chief executive of iomart, the cloud computing specialist headquartered in Glasgow, has outlined his plans for a shift in tack by the company but has assured staff that he won’t be ripping up the playbook of his predecessor, founder Angus MacSween.

Speaking in his first full-length interview since taking up the post at the start of this month, Reece Donovan said iomart will continue on the acquisition trail that has led to the takeover of 21 businesses during the past decade. However, he wants to “tweak” the kinds of opportunities the company looks at: “I would like to see us take on capability, rather than just market share.”

He’s also aiming to raise iomart’s profile. This will be supported by the recruitment of a new marketing director as the company seeks to integrate the various names under which it trades – a legacy of its acquisitions – under the single brand.

And in an industry where technical jargon is rife, Mr Donovan is keen to hone iomart’s message to make it more understandable to a wider audience.

READ MORE: Iomart stalwart Angus MacSween set to retire

“We push a lot of technical content out, and I would like to couple that with more business content so that people have a better understanding of our proposition,” he said.

Born and raised in South Africa, Mr Donovan earned a degree in electronic engineering and a Masters in biomedical engineering from the University of Cape Town before his British ancestry paved the way to move to the UK at the age of 26. His first job here was with Hertford Medical, where he wrote software to analyse ECG readings.

He shifted into the field of SAP software in 1997 when he joined Reading-based IT consultancy Druid, which later became part of London-listed Xansa, which in turn was acquired by France’s Steria in 2007. During that time, he worked his way up from development team leader to chief operating officer of enterprise application solutions.

In 2009 he joined Intec Telecom Systems, a provider of billing software for telecoms providers, as its president of global services. When that business was sold to US firm CSG International in 2010, Mr Donovan transferred into the role of senior vice president of global services, a move that took him and his family to live in Denver, Colorado, for more than three years.

READ MORE: Glasgow cloud computing specialist defends dividend policy after increasing profits

They came back to the UK in 2014 to get a bit closer to their roots in Cape Town, with Mr Donovan joining Nomad Digital of Newcastle, where he would first encounter iomart.

With 200 employees and annual revenues in the region of £82m, Nomad provides wi-fi services and digital solutions to train operators. Mr Donovan, as chief operating officer and latterly chief executive, was part of the team that chose iomart as its partner in this offering.

“You don’t connect directly to the internet when you’re on a train,” he explained. “You have to connect to a data centre on the shore, and that connects you to the internet.

“Historically we had our own data centres, but that was not our core business. We started looking at this about five years ago, and in the end we chose to migrate over to iomart data centres.”

It was and continues to be a good fit, he said, as Nomad remains a customer of iomart. But despite the depth of the business relationship, the chief executives of the two companies never met until the day in August 2019 when Mr MacSween interviewed Mr Donovan in the search for his successor at iomart.

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He initially joined the company in April 2020 as chief operating officer, so his transition to the top post began during the early throes of lockdown as the majority of iomart’s 400 employees were shifting to remote working.

“It was a pretty stressful time, joining a business when we were going into lockdown,” he said. “Everybody was pretty nervous about what was going on.”

Rather than jumping straight into day-to-day operations, Mr Donovan started with a series of special projects, the first being a “stress test” to determine iomart’s resilience amid the pandemic. This determined that the company had no major exposure to transportation or hospitality, two of the industries hit worst by the crisis.

READ MORE: Cloud computing firm boosted by 'large and complex contracts'

“We have been quite robust, as you will have seen from our results, because we have little to no exposure to those sectors,” he said.

Posting its annual results in June, iomart declared a relatively generous dividend at a time when most other firms were axing such payments to conserve cash. The decision to do so was based on a 4 per cent increase in pre-tax profits, which reached £16.8m in the year to March 31.

Looking ahead, Mr Donovan sees “a strong future” for the private cloud services offered by iomart. Although many long-term digital transformation projects – things like website improvements or the introduction of payment engines – have been put on hold during the crisis, customers have increased activity around core functionality amid the accelerated push towards doing business online.

“I know these are difficult times for many, but I actually don’t think we have any significant challenges,” he added. “I think we are in a great position.”



What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
I have travelled to over 40 countries on my leisure and business pursuits, and have enjoyed most of them. I love the different cultures, food and drink, and the varied architecture and landscapes. However, my favourite city is probably Rome – I love art and architecture, and the varied displays of this across the city is breathtaking, especially as much of this was undertaken centuries ago.
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal? 
I wanted to be involved in medicine. Initially I considered being a doctor, but then opted to be a biomedical engineer so that I could apply technology to help cure people, or to improve their quality of life. I had some medical challenges as a child and this is what drove me into this area of work.
What was your biggest break in business? 
Being appointed CEO of Nomad Digital. Becoming a CEO is a really difficult thing to achieve. Sometimes it is down to timing, sometimes down to a business mentor or contact, sometimes luck. There are many people in business who have the ambition, ability or experience, who have worked hard for many years, but never get the opportunity to be offered the role.
What was your worst moment in business? 
Years ago, I worked on a complicated project for a customer that ran into trouble. I learnt the hard way about the repercussions for your customers of the work that you do for them, but I’m happy to say we turned it round.   

Who do you most admire and why? 
Nelson Mandela.  He took a long-term strategic view for South Africa and campaigned hard to change the status quo. He spent many years in jail for his beliefs, and then led the country to a wonderful new peaceful democracy.  He was a leader who truly brought people together following many years of forced separation.
What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? 
Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree – a book about Knepp, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex.  In terms of music, all of the hits from the 70s and 80s!