We sit down with Richard West, the Managing Director at Red Flag Alert, who’s been with the business for almost 11 years. After being recently named as one of Insider Media’s 42 under 42 – a list of inspirational business figures from Manchester and beyond – we go behind the scenes on Rich’s day-to-day within our organisation.
What is your role at Red Flag Alerts?
I am the Managing Director at Red Flag Alert. My role involves setting the overall vision for the business, defining departmental objectives to achieve this vision, and maintaining relations with investors.
I focus on positioning Red Flag Alert as a UK leader in business data analytics, keeping a close eye on competitors. Additionally, I actively work on enhancing brand awareness and marketing efforts by participating in events and round table discussions with industry leaders. Hopefully, once I achieve those things, I can transition into becoming the CEO, leaving my space then for somebody else to fill.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
How long have you been at Red Flag Alert?
I've been with Red Flag Alert for 10 years and 11 months.
I started when I was 23 and now, I'm 34. In that time, I've done every job except marketing and tech. It's been a journey within the organisation, starting from the bottom. The last 2 1/2 years as MD have felt longer though due to the added pressure; you’re responsible for 45 people so it’s a bit of a constant juggling act, ensuring decisions have no detrimental impact on others.
Despite the challenges, the experience has been rewarding. I've touched every part of the business, evolving with it. It doesn't feel like 10 years, which is nice – quite a ride!
What was your journey to Red Flag Alert?
My journey has been quite a ride. Starting from the bottom in an entry-level sales role, I began my career buying and selling forklift trucks. From there, I moved into advertising, discovering my knack for getting people to buy into a vision and product. What set me apart was a competitive nature that drove me to excel in sales, wanting to be the top performer wherever I went.
I've had the opportunity to work with fantastic people, travel the world, and then eventually found myself at Red Flag Alert. Transitioning from a startup, or as we call it, a "strip-out" from Begbies Traynor, to what it is today—a scale-up—has been an incredible journey.
For anyone reading, I emphasize that you don't need a PhD in business to run one. The key is a strong commercial understanding of your product, excitement about what it does, and the ability to identify and engage with potential customers. Commercialisation has been a cornerstone of my career—knowing what I have, what it does, who wants it, and how to reach them.
My career path includes stints at IBM, GDS International, Johnston Press PLC, and now, a third of my life at Red Flag Alert. From making 200 calls a day to running a thriving data company in Manchester, it's been a journey of learning, growth, and determination. The last 10 years have been about applying the lessons learned throughout my vocational journey and making Red Flag Alert the success it is today.
What do you enjoy most about working here?
What I love about working at Red Flag Alert is the dynamic nature of the data industry. No business excels in data universally, and that includes our customers, suppliers, and even ourselves. Internally, data is ever-evolving, and I find beauty in its subjectivity. Each customer presents a unique challenge, valuing data in distinct ways. Our diverse product offering touches almost every aspect of a business, making it an exciting industry to be in for anyone passionate about commerce.
The key to success in this role lies in embracing the complexity, seeing beyond a transactional sale, and understanding how data flows within an organisation. It's invigorating to engage with organisations of all sizes and industries, facing similar challenges. Red Flag Alert's ability to constantly evolve and challenge the status quo sets us light years ahead of competitors, although scaling brings its own challenges.
What excites me most are the possibilities—whether in terms of product development, market opportunities, or witnessing our journey from a modest office in Oldham to our current expansion. The prospect of impacting the team positively over the next three years, and helping them progress in various aspects, is particularly motivating. The growth from a team of five to almost 50 people and the diversity in personalities and departments keep the excitement alive. Looking ahead, I'm eager to see what the next office will be and how we continue to evolve as a company.
What’s something you’re especially proud of?
I take immense pride in several aspects of Red Flag Alert. Firstly, I'm proud of the team we've built over the years. It's something I might not express enough, but seeing the collective effort and growth is truly satisfying. From a technological standpoint, the transition from Red Flag Two to Red Flag Three stands out. The team did a fantastic job revolutionising the front end of our product.
One of my proudest moments however is revenue-related, as I'm very revenue-focused. Working with Mark Halstead to close Tower Gate Insurance Group, securing our first month with over £200,000 in revenue, was a significant milestone. Achieving this level of new business has remained a noteworthy accomplishment, occurring only twice this year.
Another source of pride is the evolution of our software into apps. Years ago, in discussions with Ric Traynor and Mark, we recognized the need to evolve into apps despite financial constraints. Collaborating with Luke and Jason at Tora Digital, we brought this vision to life. Now, our apps generate £100,000 in revenue, becoming one of our fastest-growing product lines.
Beyond that, I'm proud of our office fit-out, negotiated at no cost, securing an attractive rate during the lockdown, and the fact that we not only survived but grew during that challenging period. There's a lot to be proud of, and I'm excited about the ongoing journey.
How do you stay current with industry trends and developments?
I'm an active user of LinkedIn, where I connect with industry leaders, share insights, and keep a pulse on current discussions (follow me for updates!).
In addition, I subscribe to various newsletters, both industry-specific and sector-focused, to stay informed about the latest developments. However, I maintain a strategic focus by not getting overly absorbed in what competitors are doing. My philosophy has always been to concentrate on our own strategies and innovations rather than being excessively concerned about the competition. By understanding the broader industry landscape and concentrating on our strengths, I believe we can naturally attract interest and support.
To specifically track trends, features, and developments, I subscribe to relevant channels and newsletters. This includes updates from Companies House, supply chain newsletters for our suppliers, and the LinkedIn profiles and newsletters of our competitors. Moreover, I stay attuned to key industries such as accountancy, finance, and insurance. Subscribing to their updates helps us align our strategies with industry issues, ensuring that our data solutions complement and enhance their needs.
How do you approach problem-solving and overcome challenges in your role?
One challenge I personally face is delegating tasks, as I have high expectations for the quality of work associated with our brand. I strive for everything associated with our organisation, whether online, at events, or in any tangible form, to be memorable and stand out.
Historically, a lot of innovation and problem-solving came from the top, but with the addition of fantastic individuals in the business, we now benefit from a diverse workforce with different visions. The key is aligning the leadership team with a clear vision and providing them with the trust and support to make the right decisions.
For technical challenges, I collaborate closely with the tech team, allowing them to advise on best practices, cost-effective solutions, and optimal execution. Trusting the team members responsible for different aspects of the business is crucial.
I acknowledge that while I'm passionate about the business, there are individuals better suited for certain tasks. Trusting their expertise and gut instincts is essential. I strongly push the importance of not assuming you know all the answers and, instead, gathering as many facts as possible before making decisions.
Who is your role model?
My role model is a future version of myself, the person I aspire to become in the next 10 years. This envisioned self serves as a guide and inspiration for my current actions and decisions.
Aside from this, my grandfather is a significant role model. He embodies qualities such as loyalty, genuine concern for others, and a generous spirit. His success in business and commitment to doing right by people make him an aspirational figure for me.
Another influential role model in my life is Ric Traynor, who has been part of our journey since day one. Ric's ability to push the boundaries of what's possible within our means and his unwavering support for my ideas have been a source of inspiration and guidance.
What do you see as the future of Red Flag Alert?
Red Flag Alert is going on an exciting journey over the next few years. In the immediate 12 months, the vision is to achieve 100% growth—a remarkable accomplishment not only for shareholders and management but for every individual in the company. Doubling in size in a down market would be a significant achievement, showcasing the resilience and strength of Red Flag Alert.
In the subsequent 12 to 24 months, the goal is to hand over the reins of the business to someone else. This could involve the current management team stepping up, new investors entering the scene, or current shareholders making transitions. The ultimate vision is for Red Flag Alert to be acquired by a player in the industry or through a trade transaction, transforming it into a global force in the market. Witnessing the business thrive under new leadership and becoming a success story would be a remarkable achievement.
I’m keen to foster internal growth and loyalty as well, I want to see future leaders emerge from within the company. Cultivating a "grow your own" philosophy would involve individuals becoming advocates and champions of Red Flag Alert, mastering the skills needed in their disciplines, and eventually taking on leadership roles. This approach aims to build a strong, loyal team that is deeply connected to the brand's values and mission, contributing to the continued success of Red Flag Alert.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
When I'm not working, my greatest joy is coming home to my wife and son. Being a dad has added a new layer of happiness to my life, and spending time with my little one, whether it's bath time, feeding, or changing his nappy, are some of the best moments.
In the past, rugby played a significant role in my life. I used to play, and staying physically fit has always been important to me. I firmly believe in the connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind. Despite the challenge of getting up early for a gym session, the reward of leaving with the right endorphins sets a positive tone for the day. I see it as a commitment to myself, and on days when I skip this routine, I feel like I'm starting the day with a loss.
In essence, the non-negotiables, like early morning workouts, are crucial commitments to maintaining balance and well-being. While little wins throughout the workday make it enjoyable, family has become the keystone of my life, and ending the day with them is truly the highlight.