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December 12, 2016

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In Conversation with Martin Smith, Alcumus

martin smith

As part of SHP’s series of interviews with some of the most influential leaders in safety and risk management, Roz Sanderson speaks to Martin Smith, CEO of Alcumus about the growth of his business, the recent Santia Consulting acquisition and Alcumus’s safety culture and vision for the future. This article was originally published in April 2016.



Having acquired Santia Consulting last year what have been the biggest challenges?

Santia was the sixth acquisition that we made on our growth journey, starting with Sypol back in 2009. Santia is the biggest of the acquisitions to date, but every acquisition, big or small has its own challenges.

The key thing we look at when considering businesses is that they have a similar culture and similar business characteristics, so, technology-enabled consultancy, repeat revenue streams and quality services that are offering significant support to their clients is always central to our thinking. When you then step back from that, all of the businesses have been very similar to Santia – all have technology at their heart (be that client facing or as an integral part of their back office and service delivery), all have high quality service propositions, all are supporting the compliance or certification needs of their clients in different ways, be it training, eLearning, risk assessments, auditing, contractor accreditation of ongoing monitoring and surveillance.

As well as getting the right cultural fit, it’s also important to get to know the people, understand the characters of the business, and spend time ‘in’ not just ‘on’ the business.

Ultimately everyone wants to work for a growing successful business and it’s quite easy to get people aligned around working on the vison and strategy. We only buy growing, ambitious andsuccessful businesses so actually pulling those businesses together is easier than it sounds.

Are you looking to acquire more businesses?

Santia will not be the final acquisition that we make. If you look the history of our success and growth about 60% of our growth has come through acquisition and about 40% has come organically. This organic growth will continue and this year we expect to grow organically by 14% over last year. We will continue to invest in sales, technology, and service delivery. We will also continue to invest time in potential acquisitions and talk to and meet many organisations and companies who are in the market. And yes, we will absolutely acquire again. For every business we acquire we have probably spoken to about 50 businesses. Once your strategy has been defined and developed the process of acquisition is essentially a sales process, a prospecting process – but very personal and involves a lot of time.

“Forms being filled in and put in a file and put in a cupboard doesn’t actually help anybody. Transparency is key to compliance”

In terms of international development, we have a number of opportunities. Of our 28,000 customers about 3,000 of them are overseas already – mainly in terms of certification, COSHH and compliance H&S Software.

We have followed our clients around the globe and we work particularly in construction and oil and gas in the Gulf and many offshore installations. We also work internationally with a number of key construction and retail technology clients in Australia and overseas. In addition we have and consultancy delivery office in Dubai and a seven agency certification offices in EMEA and APAC

Over the coming years we will also explore the opportunities in North America and Australasia There are similar regulatory regimes, similar processes, and similar best practices. ISO is an international standard and that works – but actually technology and compliance works as well – so I wouldn’t be surprised in the next three to five years that we have more of an overseas footprint.

But while we will continue to work with clients overseas and invest in overseas offices, there are so many opportunities in the UK to focus on at the moment.

What are the challenges of acquiring businesses that may conform to different regulations?

That’s an interesting one! Is it an overseas acquisition or is it organically growing something or setting something up overseas?

I think the challenges are: one’s faster and you buy skills, one you actually invest in – but ultimately what you need to do is have quality very technically competent people on the ground.

Chemical safety is pretty similar the world over. Sometimes it uses the word COSHH, sometimes it uses chemical safety, sometimes it uses chemical compliance – but actually the principles are the same.

Global harmonisation is exactly what it says. There’s a global way of packaging and harmonising some of the compliance issues. So our services are internationally compatible. If you look at our COSHH management system, we have multi-language output into 15 languages, it’s compliant with the latest regulations on global harmonisation.

Strategies and ideas about how to monetise safety, and in particular health, is communicated very well to large organisations and isn’t necessarily trickled down to SMEs. What can we do about that?

We work with a vast number of SMEs, mostly sub-50 employees, and I think an effort needs to be made to de-mystify advice, making it plain, practical and transparent.

Most SMEs hear headline health and safety stories in the press, and actually it’s about having the right processes of work, and the right structure of safety in the organisation enabling businesses to grow and support their growth.

The key thing about SME compliance is in supporting the owner and the health and safety manager in what they need to do and ultimately to keep their employees safe

In terms of the HSE’s Working Well strategy, how are you working towards this in terms of managing risk and health?

There are a number of aspects of health and safety where we operate in the market.

There’s managing the health element of health and safety and exposure to chemicals, our COSHH product, exposure to and managing asbestos, fire and legionella in buildings. This part of it is about keeping people healthy.

Then, there’s the occupational hygiene element: air, dust and noise monitoring. The safety element comes in in terms of building compliance, construction and manufacturing. We manage accident and incident reporting across the London Underground, John Lewis Partnership and across the Sainsbury’s network of stores – so a whole host of very key corporate clients.

WeI embed our consultants, auditors and technology into our key client infrastructure and strategy and we work in partnership with them. We also work with a whole host of SMEs to make sure that they are managing risk appropriately.

What kind of vision and culture do you have at Alcumus?

We give the same messaging to the media, external clients, internal clients and investors. We’re very open and transparent.

The easier you are to work with the more clients and the more people will want to work with you.

As a large organisation does the responsibility of health and safety sit with you?

Yes, quality management, environmental management and health and safety all sit with me.

We have a whole host of operational leads who are responsible for health and safety, environmental compliance and quality compliance in their areas as well, but ultimately it sits with the executive board and me.

As you might expect in a health and safety compliance business, our number one agenda at every board meeting is health and safety. We take it very seriously.

We have about 650 staff over five locations in the UK. Our biggest group of employees work from home and we have over 300 people on client sites every day.

As you would expect, we conduct various types of process and risk assessments to ensure our own people are safe. We advise and support our clients, carry out risk assessments, work with them support their competent person.

We live and breathe it, we couldn’t not.

“We are very fortunate that we have a huge amount of expertise internally.
So it is by default in everything we do. It’s part of our DNA.”


How do you think the health and safety profession is moving forward as a whole and what do you think the future holds for health and safety at work?

Technology is playing a part in every aspect of life and how people comply with and manage health, safety and environment, as well as a whole host of other compliance areas.

Technology improves reporting, it improves knowledge, and it improves interpretation and understanding of data which ultimately therefore becomes knowledge and improves vison across a work process or organisation

Understanding what is happening is a starting point. Forms being filled in and put in a file and then put in a cupboard doesn’t actually help anybody, transparency is key to compliance; technology aids that and streamlines that.

Safety is central to how organisations need to operate – whether in a downturn or in an upturn you always have to keep your people safe.

There’s an element of cutting red tape, but whether there are more regulations or fewer regulations the key thing is that people understand what the regulations are. So, a big push coming out of the current government on red tape means that people no longer know what they are meant to comply with and what they are not.

It’s important to maintain information flow, using software and technology to help manage compliance.

A lot of businesses are now 24-hours, either in the UK or globally, so organisations like Alcumus are set up to support clients 24/7.

Clive Johnson spoke of embedding health and safety in every part of the business that you work in. What are your thoughts on this?

You have to think about health and safety in everything that you do. We are an office-based organisation; one of our biggest risks is fleet safety and fleet management. Those are things we take very seriously.

We are very fortunate in terms of our organisation that we have a huge amount of expertise internally. We are probably slightly unusual in that we have more health and safety people in our business than anyone else. So it is by default in everything we do. It’s part of our DNA.

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John Garnett
John Garnett
8 years ago

Hello Roz, may I congratulate you on a well structured set of questions which has allowed Martin’s responses to give honest and clear guidance, on what can be complex matters, to others who will benefit from this input.

Simplicity is the key – and it worked well for me – thank you.

Best regards

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
7 years ago

Yup, a very sharp and clean advertorial, just a incy-wincy concern that solely focusing on conservation of efficient record keeping and data management as well as limiting occupational hygiene to physical and chemical exposure to stressors in fostering the ethos of ‘Better Work Places’ whilst, sort off missing the, now recognised as pandemic, risk of “Fatigue” manifesting in presenteeism, increased rates of error, mishaps even accidents. Just sort of wondering whether, following the comments about the FA today, if the institutions, organisations and corporate bodies or agencies may also be a little top heavy or even suffering a little atrophy… Read more »

Craig Shaw
Craig Shaw
7 years ago

Very good article.