Turning training into an art

Roger Trapp reports on a computer expert with attitude

If Margot Dodd-Wilson could hardly be accused of carefully planning her career it is hard to deny that she has made the most of her opportunities.

The painter and sculptor made her first venture into the commercial arena in the graphics department of a television company. And when she left that to form her own business in 1994 her initial activity was selling those skills to investment banks.

But that was just the start. Her company, Jupitec, has in the past four years expanded from just half a dozen people to an organisation employing 50, largely on the back of offering computer training to equity traders.

Mrs Dodd-Wilson explains that the supply of graphics skills soon developed into being able to "package information in such a way that users of systems could learn quicker". And that led to the recognition, initially by one bank, that she might be suited to training 750 equities staff in personal computer literacy skills to prepare them for forthcoming changes in the way shares were traded on the London Stock Exchange.

Since then the company has grown fast - seeing turnover rise about 200 per cent, to more than pounds 1.5m, last year alone. Business expansion so far this year has not been as explosive. But Mrs Dodd-Smith attributes that to the end of the rush to deal with the arrival of the single European currency. In recent months clients have continued to buy consultancy services but slowed down their decision making, she says.

Not that she seems worried by the falling off of work. Hitherto, her company has "never really had a sales effort", relying instead on referrals to obtain future work.

She remains confident that the still-fledgeling company can expand from its present position, with offices near her home in Woking, Surrey, and in Leadenhall Street, in the City of London, to a global presence.

Indeed Jupitec seems to be constantly able to find fresh niches in which to operate. For example, another development from the PC training was becoming involved in testing of new screen-based services.

According to Mrs Dodd-Smith the secret of being able to expand in this way is developing an empathy with the customers - the people on the trader floor - rather than the executives.

"Most of our people live with the traders," says Mrs Dodd-Smith. When investment banks are introducing new systems, "We have to hold their hands while they are learning to use the system."

A bundle of energy who admits to "going at 100 miles per hour", she says the policy of "hiring on attitude" is paying dividends. "Attitude is at the heart of it. Our clients are as demanding as you are going to get."

New recruits - who are employed in a variety of ways, from consultants to permanent staff - come from all walks of life, but all must be prepared to fit in with the highly distinctive world of the trader. "There are days when you are Queen Bee to them, and there are days when you're getting everything thrown in your direction," she says.

Mrs Dodd-Smith, who keeps a foot in the creative camp by writing drama and fiction as well as continuing with her painting and sculpture, says she is very much the ideas person of the company. But she also hands a lot of credit to her colleagues, including her husband Timothy, who serves as logistics director, in helping her develop a plan for controlled growth with clear objectives.

Likening the pressure in dealing rooms to that which she experienced in broadcasting, Mrs Dodd-Smith believes that there is also a lot of frustration, which is usually linked to communication. "You need people who can go the distance and see beyond the frustration," she says.

This approach is encapsulated in one of the company mottos: "Never put technology before people." But it is also evident in the company's commitment to training and developing the people it takes on.

"It is the ethos of Jupitec to treat professional and personal development as one and the same, to enable the individual to develop as a whole," she says.

Admitting that she is not afraid of flying in the face of orthodox business thinking, Mrs Dodd-Smith says she sometimes keeps consultants on between jobs in an effort to develop their loyalty.

Some may find her espousal of such concepts as astrology as aids to recruitment and personnel development even more unorthodox. But she is unrepentant.

Intuition and quality information go hand in hand in the decision-making process, she says, adding that she strongly believes in "management by intuition" and gut feeling - backed up by solid information.

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