Science: Are they only in IT for the lifestyle?: Many small computer firms shun a 'thrusting' pursuit of the profit motive. And they are often the best performers, reports Lynne Curry

THEY do not want Bentleys, offices with turrets and ivy, 18-hour days or every gold card available. They want small, manageable companies committed to technological advance, steady growth, as little owing to the bank as possible, no dealings with venture capitalists - and time to spend with the family.

Such are the priorities of the 'lifestyle' executives in charge of up to half the country's small information technology companies, as they work alongside more 'thrusting' organisations with a clear profit motive.

The existence of these executives has been uncovered in a survey of the needs of small IT companies commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) and carried out by the City University Business School in London. The researchers, Anne Leeming and Nigel Courtney, stumbled across them as they trawled through a sample of the estimated 4,500 IT firms in the UK with fewer than 50 employees.

They found a market diverse in operations - manufacturers, PC dealers, value-added resellers, systems integrators, consultants and software producers - but divided into two styles, depending on the beliefs and aspirations of the person in charge.

Not only did the lifestyle companies display a marked departure from the breathless shove of the Eighties, but they also seemed to have a better chance of survival. Their average age was eight years, compared with five for the 'thrusting' organisations. Although 62 per cent of the top performers were thrusting companies, 67 per cent of of those that achieved very high sales per employee had a cautious long-term strategy; and 54 per cent of those planning rapid expansion were among the poorest performers.

Four out of five companies interested in employing venture capital exhibited below-par sales per employee; but of those dismissive of venture capital, two out of three achieved exceptionally high rates. Overall, the companies sold between three and eight times more per employee than the average UK industrial firm, the IT employees averaging pounds 137,939 a year.

The survey points to a high-earning sector, but not an industry likely to lighten the burden of job centres, especially since half appear to be dedicated to remaining small.

Ronnie Yearsley, an IT pioneer and chairman of the WCIT's industry development panel, which commissioned the survey, says he was taken aback to discover that the aspirations of his early career are dismissed by many of his successors.

'Perhaps it's a pattern for our children's economy, not my generation, that they say they don't want to grow. We've been nurtured on Thatcherite principles that you have to grow, you have to build a company up. My children's generation say it's too much stress and strain; they want to do their own thing in Bracknell or Newbury; they don't want to touch what they call this 'vulture capital'.

'In a broader sense, the sunrise industry of information technology has these younger people saying they're not going to create new jobs, and that is a bit distressing.'

Mr Yearsley, 60, recently retired as deputy chairman and director of BIS, a software company he established with two colleagues in 1964 after dropping out of veterinary college. BIS has never moved out of central London - it is now near the South Bank - and has expanded to employ about 500 people. He concedes that BIS faced less risk in the early days because of the absence of competition and the ease of borrowing money.

Companies are reluctant to declare total allegiance to either the lifestyle or thrusting camp, but they do see themselves as weighted one way or the other. Ideal Hardware leans towards the latter category. Established seven years ago in Tolworth, Surrey, its annual turnover is pounds 70m. It has 135 employees, most of whom arrive by 7.30am and leave after 6pm. Among the first at work and the last to leave is James Wickes, the founder and managing director.

The firm is entirely involved in distribution. 'We compete very heavily against European and American firms and, as an emerging company, we have to work hard,' Mr Wickes says. 'It's not just people on the shop floor; it's everybody, including myself. But it's the sale force in general that is probably pushed the hardest, followed by the technical people. In terms of the amount of time they have to spend here, I can see no way round that, but they are rewarded well. They earn between pounds 30,000 and pounds 120,000 a year.'

Ideal Hardware has a strong profit motive and is heavily commercial, he says. It has grown by 50 per cent a year and expanded on to three sites in Harrow, Chessington and Surbiton. 'We enjoy the technology, otherwise we wouldn't be in the business. But we compete against large and well-financed organisations, and we have to be commercial. I don't think we shall have a problem in surviving.'

Floating Point Systems, a systems integrator and distributor of hardware and software, based in Bracknell, Berkshire, has only 18 employees and a turnover of less than pounds 5m. Its managing director, Ken Murphy - who led a management buy-out last year - says the company tends towards the lifestyle category, with elements of the thruster.

'The second description fits the way we're developing the market, but we have a long history - the parent company was 24 years old - and we're happy to have quite a lot of customers around. We are growing, and we need to be bigger to be secure. You need a certain critical mass.

'That doesn't mean expansive growth in terms of people; those days are gone. Our long-term prosperity depends on finding the services and products our customers are looking for - unlike the computer industry of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which said, 'Here's the product, let's sell as many as we can.' '

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor