The hardest thing IT boss Shaun Wilders ever had to do in business? Sack his little sister.
She has long since forgiven him and found a job she loves, but the memory of telling her she had to go still makes him wince.
Hayley had joined her brother’s thriving Barnsley IT support business Cultrix as office manager in January 2009.
But three years later, as the recession bit into profits, Shaun - and Hayley herself - realised her role was a luxury the company could no longer afford.
“Clients were leaving, we were cutting costs and Hayley and I sat down to do some number-crunching. Both of us realised what was necessary. She always says she did herself out of the job but it was very tough for me at the time. I had to put business over family. There was no choice, because if I’d done otherwise other people’s jobs could have been put at risk.”
The one family member he could never make redundant, though, is his mum. Lorraine Wilders is accounts manager - and so efficient the business can’t do without her.
The decision to employ her, back in 2006 after moving the company to its current home at Kendray Business Centre, was based on the family tie rather than experience, though. Lorraine offered her services but had never done a jot of book-keeping before - and her computer experience was also nil. “She worked in a shoe shop and had never even switched a computer on. But you can always trust your mum with your money, can’t you?” says Shaun. “I got her trained up and she is so good I wouldn’t have anyone else but her in the role.”
“Budgeting is instinctive to her. She’s a natural. I guess it comes from looking after the pennies when she and dad, who worked for a chemical company, had three growing children.”
The fact that it’s her son’s interests she’s looking after means it’s perfectly acceptable for Lorraine to challenge his spending - in the same manner she did when he was a child. Shaun may be 34 but he’s not above being asked why he’s splashing out on the latest gadget for the office.
He occasionally has his dad David on his case, too; he’s on the company’s board of directors. “Dad always listened and gave great advice as I was growing up so it made sense to have him involved, even though he hasn’t got experience of the IT sector. He is a great sounding board, that person with the sensible head on who says: there might be another way of doing that; what about this?”
However, Shaun admits he didn’t listen to dad, when it came to choosing a company car. He wanted a Jaguar XS, dad thought it was too expensive but the man who had worked since the age of 19 and regularly puts in 70-hour weeks to build his company reckoned he deserved a reward.
Lorraine’s skills are so indispensable, she continues to work for the company on a regular basis while she and David are at their holiday home in Cyprus for three months at a time.
““Mum works remotely from her laptop and phone. Often I put her on Skype for hours on end so we have virtual mum in the office. It’s just like she’s right there with us. The internet allows people to work in this way; it’s something we have enabled many of our clients to do too. For example, at the time of the Sheffield floods in 2007, South Yorkshire Community Foundation couldn’t get to their offices in Attercliffe but we managed to get the workers up and running from their homes so they could successfully run the Flood Disaster Relief Fund.
“Companies find remote working a really useful system. Though I don’t suppose many get to see their employee sitting in the sunshine in her swimming costume!”
Shaun Wilders set up in business while still at university - out of sheer necessity.
His degree in cybernetics and virtual worlds at the University of Bradford called for a 14-month work placement. But just one month in, Shaun walked into the office one morning to find a letter on his desk saying the IT firm was about to close down.
He was 19 and in a pickle - but had the nous to team up with another uni student on placement there, jointly secure a £10,000 start-up loan from university and carry on providing a service to the host of voluntary organisations around the UK who were the former firm’s clients.
Shaun continued to jointly run the business during the third year of his degree. He ended up with a disappointing Third class, but has no regrets. “What I came out of uni with was a business,” he says. “We had only used up half the loan so the firm wasn’t too heavily in debt either.”
After two years the partners went their separate ways with Shaun retaining the business, renaming it Cultrix and moving it to the attic of his home in Barnsley.
He now employs 15, including a team of freelance associates dotted around the country, and a growing number of young apprentices. Cultrix operates a rolling apprenticeship programme to grow its helpdesk, for which it was recently awarded Employer of the Year at a House of Lords event organised by 3aaa, a leading national apprentice training provider.
The company has over 800 clients, some 50 per cent from the charities and voluntary sector ( including a number of Age UK regional offices), plus Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, YMCA Doncaster, and businesses ranging from accountants, letting agents and solicitors to engineering firms. It also runs the helpdesk service for a number of IT companies.