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Organic Growth 25 profile: Gerry Graville, CEO of AIS Interiors

From a small local lifestyle business to working with multi-national corporations, hear from Gerry Graville, CEO of AIS Interiors, about how his company achieved its growth, weathered COVID and his plans for further expansion. 

Revenue growth: 126%

Sector: Design and build services

Region: London

AIS is a global workspace design and delivery company. Its global team of experts help create workplace environments that transform the way people work. The company has gone through a period of phenomenal growth both in transactional and geographical terms, expanding the business into four separate entities that offer a full spectrum of workplace design and build services across the globe.

Can you tell me about the background to your business?

The business will be 43 years old this coming October, and I have been involved since 2013 when I bought it from the previous owner. Up until then, it had been run as a local lifestyle business and had one small office in the old registry office above High Wycombe station. Most of the work was done in and around the local area, with a small amount in West London.

How has the business evolved since then?

What was attractive about the business was that it had traded for a substantial period of time, it hadn’t taken on any risk, and had some good case studies. I used this platform to develop the business in a controlled fashion by growing each year and taking on additional workload, and writing business plans for two to three year periods and revising them as we’ve gone along. We’ve very much pushed and hit our targets, and I think probably one of the mainstays was taking it from a local business in High Wycombe and expanding it into London and then nationally, trying to turn it into a national interiors company. Subsequently, in around 2013 we started working with a few multi-national corporations and we’ve now delivered projects in 25 countries across the EMEA regions. 

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Gerry Graville, CEO

The biggest challenge to our growth has been our people really – the talent you’ve got -  and opportunity. Attracting and retaining good staff is a key part to growing a business. The other part is obviously choosing and finding the right clients and the right opportunities.

Was growing organically a strategic decision?

It was. When I took on new teams through acquisitions in the past, it was quite difficult to embed them culturally, particularly in the same marketplace. With our growth up to date, we’ve primarily focussed on one market, and where we are a team of less than 100 people, we felt that if we were to bring in new teams, it would have been hard to mix the different company cultures. But as we move forward and diversify both geographically and into different sectors, the scope for acquisition is more so than it was before as we are targeting different markets.  

What has been your biggest challenge to growth?

The biggest challenge to our growth has been our people really – the talent you’ve got - and opportunity. Attracting and retaining good staff is a key part to a business growing. The other part is obviously choosing and finding the right clients and the right opportunities. But the people are the primary thing: we’re a service led business, so we need to have the right staff in place.

How did COVID impact your business?

It slowed our growth down considerably for what we had planned that year, as we had a number of contracts which were either delayed or stopped. Going into the following business year, we had to modify our business plan somewhat and we were able to stabilise our position and achieve very similar numbers to the year before, which was actually quite a good result given the circumstances. During the first part of COVID we also started to look into alternative markets and how we could diversify, and we considered two routes: the public sector and life sciences. We have chosen to focus on the life sciences; there’s obviously been a huge amount of investment in that marketplace, and there haven’t been many businesses specialising in what we do in the sector, so we’ve seen the area as a good opportunity for growth.

What are your business plans for the next five years?

We certainly want to invest in the life sciences market, and alongside that we’d like to build on our international platform. Those are what we see as the two real growth areas for us, which would either be via finding strategic partners if it was internationally, or potentially acquisition opportunities.

What would be your top tips for other entrepreneurs or start-ups looking to achieve high growth?

If you’re in a start-up situation it’s always about having a plan. You have to have a target when it comes to financial aspirations, but also a recruitment plan, where you’re planning to take the business and what you’re trying to achieve. I think that’s crucial: however small the business is, you need to have that aspiration and the ability to keep focussed on what you are trying to achieve as sometimes you can get distracted by the day-to-day quite easily. That plan can act as a sort of map to follow, which you can go back to and remind yourself of what you set out to achieve to start with.

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