27 November 2018
AS RAY Hope retires from Advanced and hands the baton to Pete Browitt, FSM managing editor Mark Sennett speaks to them about their careers and the past and future of the company.
How long have you been with Advanced Ray?
RH: As a founder member of Advanced I’ve been with the business since 1999, so coming up to 20 years now.
How many founding members were there?
RH: There were four core members; two engineers, a sales guy and myself – the jack of all trades. In 1998 we’d begun talking about starting the company and by the April of 1999 Advanced was formed.
Can you tell us the back story of Advanced?
RH: Prior to Advanced, I owned a similar business called Morley Fire Systems working alongside two of the other Advanced founders. Morley was eventually taken over by Honeywell and after a year of transition into the Honeywell business model, my business partners and a few key members of staff parted company and started Advanced.
Why do you feel now is the right time to retire?
RH: For the last few years we have experienced extraordinary growth, and although this has been great fun and fantastic for the company, it has placed a big strain on my family life. We’re a truly global business now which requires a lot of international travel and being away from home for extended periods. In addition, I had made a promise to my wife and family some time ago that I would start to take it a bit easier and spend more time with them, and this is my chance to do so.
What do you plan to do in your retirement?
RH: I've got four old motorbikes which are in various states of repair and need to be put back together and there’s a lot of work in the house I’ve been promising myself I would get round to since around 2002.
I'll still be involved with Advanced’s parent company, Halma PLC, in an advisory role. I’ll be picking up specific projects on an advisory part-time basis which I’m excited about. Halma has been a great benefit to our business and I’m very happy my experience and knowledge can continue to help move things forward.
Work aside, I have plans to travel with the family and see more of the world but probably less of its fire systems.
How has the business changed since you founded Advanced back in 1999?
RH: It's changed massively. There has been a big consolidation in the number of small fire businesses in the UK, many of which have been amalgamated into the big four. The fire industry is still highly regulated and therefore pretty slow moving – the innovation that used to happen 10 or 20 years ago has been stifled slightly as fire companies that do remain become bigger and as we now work to globally applicable standards.
We are also now seeing a trend towards more digitally-driven products. As commercial fire detection systems evolve, I believe we’ll continue to see a move towards cloud communications and data analytics – systems that are smarter than we’ve ever seen before.
What are your biggest achievements since you founded the business?
RH: As the foundation of the business, we have a really outstanding team of almost 200 people positioned around the globe, all pulling in the same direction, and all helping to deliver the company’s objectives. I’m proud to have played a part in leading and developing that team. The strength and talent of our team is something I value over and above winning the Queen’s Award and all the other products and industry awards, product and market successes we have enjoyed.
How much has the fire sector changed during your career?
RH: The fire sector has undoubtedly become smarter. There is far more intelligence operating behind the scenes than there used to be, with risk analysis now becoming integrated into a system’s design. At the time when we launched Advanced in the 90’s the responsibility was with the fire brigade to ensure a building was fit-for-purpose. That's now moved into the realms of the building owner. These individuals are now more educated and have the ability to come up with the specification required to maximise safety and efficiency in their buildings.
What is the legacy that you leave behind at Advanced?
RH: It's a fantastic brand and a fantastic business to be a part of, with teams across all disciplines of the organisation focussed on achieving a collective goal. Within the UK market and beyond the business is now moving into a position where it can offer a complete system as opposed to only supplying panels – working towards its objective of being one of the top-five fire systems manufacturers in the world.
Are you the last of the original founders to retire?
RH: The two engineers are still involved but on a part-time basis and our sales guy went on to pastures new in 2017.
You are the new Managing Director Pete. Can you provide some background information?
PB: As a qualified accountant my background is in finance. I've worked for two main groups, 3M being one, where I worked in in various roles primarily in accounting, and Halma, the parent company of Advanced, being the other where I’ve now worked for approximately eight years. Including Avire and Apollo, Advanced will be the third Halma company that I have had the fortune to be a part of. In my most recent position at Apollo I started off as Finance Director and more recently took up the role of Operations Director.
What excited you about this particular role?
PB: Being a part of Halma for a number of years prior to my posting at Advanced, I had always heard good things. Great company, great products and great people – so that is a great starting point, and as a Director, but having never been a Managing Director, this is a great opportunity for me on a personal level.
Ray obviously came from an engineering background and you have a different skillset. How do you feel your skills will be of benefit?
PB: My degree in physics seems a long time ago now, but there is no doubt that my strengths are different to Ray's. One of the challenges for me is to understand the industry in more depth, and push on the commercial side. It’s a great personal challenge but one that I can’t easily meet without all of the dedicated and experienced team at Advanced.
What do you think are the main opportunities for Advanced?
PB: One of the biggest challenges will be to ensure we are working on the right opportunities and not spreading ourselves too thin. So far, I have been overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome I have received. The enthusiasm from staff across the business has been really encouraging.
What are the main challenges facing the business?
RH: The industry is changing and, as I previously mentioned, I believe we will see a move towards greater digitisation and more processing. There's going to be less reliance on the physical products and more reliance on software to enable the decision-making process.
There's going to be a big push – even though it is a regulated industry – from developing nations, countries and companies eager to introduce the latest and greatest technology to the market. We need to have the foresight to see that these innovators could disrupt our business and we’ll need to ensure that we’re aware of the impact this could have on our position among the top players in the fire industry. We need to be versatile enough to adapt, ensuring we’re in the right position to take advantage of opportunities.
PB: As Ray’s suggested, digital opportunities certainly have a role to play within Advanced’s ambitious growth strategy. Market conditions are good, and we have some strong market drivers. Global urbanisation and a move towards increased legislation around the world are factors we can definitely leverage, and we need to identify how we can best approach these to be as successful as possible.
We also need to consider the compliance side as we talk about standards and products being approved. As a former Operations Director, the big concern I had was compliance - protecting people in the right way – and this is something that was and is really important to me and reassurance is something I think we can go a long way to provide customers with.
It's not just managerial changes at Advanced. Do you want to tell us about the other changes that are going on?
PB: It's a great time for me to start personally, not only because of the platform Ray has provided me with from a commercial point of view, but also as we have just relocated from four separate sites in Northumberland to one state-of-the-art, purpose-designed premises in Newcastle Upon Tyne, that provides us with the opportunity to bring the company together and grow.
RH: The new building represents a substantial investment, supported by Halma, and is a move that will have significant benefits to the business. We have some excellent trading relationships and trade partners and some of the investments we have made in overseas business over the last few years are starting to bear fruit. Our new HQ provides us with a fantastic opportunity to continue to push that forward. The 48,000 sq ft premises will be occupied by around 150 staff and will provide opportunities for employment in a forward-thinking industry to people in the North East for years to come – something I believe to be one of my greatest achievements.
What's next in the product pipeline?
PB: I’m sure you’ll hear about them first, at the right time but in the near future our customers can expect to see a wider range of software features and new physical products that protect and expand their opportunities globally.
What sets Advanced apart from its competitors?
RH: One of our key strengths is our strong relationships with customers and trade partners – something we have nurtured and developed since the very early days of Advanced. We have never burnt any bridges and offer outstanding, award-winning technical support while, as we have grown, we have always tried to keep our feet firmly on the ground.
PB: Customers know what they’re going to get with Advanced. We have great products famed for their quality, reliability and ease of use, but with that we offer exceptional training and unrivalled technical support. It’s a package that many try to imitate but like all genuine market positions, it’s very hard to replicate. Our job is to bring the significant Advanced difference to more people in more territories.
Ray Hope is the former managing director of Advanced and Pete Browitt is the newly appointed managing director of Advanced. For more information, please visit www.advancedco.com