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Riordan and Rogaczewski: Leading the tech charge

Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council and André Rogaczewski, CEO of IT and business consultancy Netcompany, discuss why Leeds is the best UK base for international technology companies, and how the city is helping to create flexible, quality living and working environments, as restrictions ease.

Known as the ‘Capital of the North’, Leeds has a reputation of being a self-starting and successful example for aspiring and expanding cities across the UK and beyond.

Leeds has seen a lot of success in fostering an innovative culture in recent years and is today recognised as a highly successful tech hub, which continues to attract and support the expansion of international technology businesses.

A sense of global connection

“We have that sense of global connection and being able to work with anyone, anywhere. People love our city,” says Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council.

“We have the third biggest manufacturing base in the country, we have very strong financial services, good retail links, and a whole set of wider sectors, like healthtech, are choosing to work out of Leeds. Our technology base grew out of supporting that wide range of industries, but it is versatile in its own right, today. Netcompany is a great addition to what is already a thriving and growing industry.”

Founded in 2000, Netcompany is a next generation IT services company which accelerates digital transformation in public and private enterprises across Northern Europe. Headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, the business is spread across six countries and operates out of 10 offices, globally. In recent years, as work has expanded in the North of England, there became a need for the business to create a local office base, and so Netcompany expanded into Leeds in 2018. Since then, it has seen such a large expansion of work in the North that the company has moved into larger premises in the centre of the city, on bustling Greek Street.

“Netcompany has delivered an average revenue growth rate of around 20% for many years, and when we were looking into which cities we would like to grow in, it was clear that Leeds was at the very top of places that we wanted to invest in. It’s the perfect hub for us to grow our entire UK presence,” says André Rogaczewski, CEO of Netcompany.

“Around eight in 10 of our hires are young people straight out of higher education, so for us it is very important to be in a place that has a strong educational set up that is geared towards our growth.”

Post-pandemic culture – flexibility with responsibility

Leeds City Council employs 15,000 people, of which 8,000 are currently working remotely. Although post-lockdown working practices have not been fully decided at the local authority, Tom recognises that it’s important to give employees as much flexibility and choice as possible. “We’re trying to use this time to review our policy and practice. There will be limits but there is more flexibility we can introduce. We’re using personal choice, service needs, and affordability to chart what we do next,” he says.

Tom is also taking the time to listen to the tech companies that have set up base in the city, to get as much insight into how organisations with different resource and requirements will proceed.

Netcompany is looking to adopt a hybrid solution across all of its offices, Leeds included. “It’s going to be even more important to meet in a great office space with a nice culture, where you have everything you need to thrive, whilst offering a high standard of living at a reasonable price. You’ll find that in Leeds,” explains André.

“We are a very project-orientated company, with more than 3,000 employees. We will not make it obligatory to sit in the office. If the project decides you don’t need to be in the office, then you won’t be. But as well as offering more flexibility, we will actually be investing more into our physical and social spaces, into activities, sports clubs, meet ups – we currently have more than 100 social clubs within Netcompany. These are our cultural glue. If you don’t have this culture, and you are just working away on your own at home, you could be working for anyone. There is no differentiator for you as an employee, and that’s not how we want our people to feel.

Adopting the post-COVID workplace

During COVID-19, Netcompany has seen productivity go up and churn go down, but as we start to lift restrictions, its CEO is aware that this may change. “For us, and for any growing businesses, it is very, very important that we make sure we have an efficient and effective way of conducting our work, while making sure we create quality time with our teams.”

And that hybrid, flexible but responsible attitude is one that Tom is hoping the city will adopt over the coming months. While the UK has been locked down, Leeds City Council has been busy preparing to reopen. “You’ll see more pedestrianised areas, more eating and drinking spots outside, we’ll have signage welcoming people back to the city. The UK, at some point soon, will move from an environment where there are restrictions and rules to one where it is all about choice, so we’ll also be trying to encourage people to be kind and respectful to each other,” he explains.

As we prepare for further lockdown easing, Leeds City Council’s commitment to innovation, collaboration with other European cities, and partnerships with leading technology providers will likely stand it in good stead during the otherwise unpredictable months ahead.

The next step in the city’s digital journey 

Five months on from Brexit, the city has continued to attract international businesses from multiple industries and is continuing to build on its reputation as a leading tech hub. “It’s unfortunate that the debate in the UK over the last few years has been a binary one – remain or leave – but we are now able to move on from that and Leeds is all too aware of our strong links with Europe,” says Tom.

“When it comes to technology, our focus has and will always be on tech for good – on developing and implementing new innovations that will create better societal outcomes. The only way you’ll do that is by working across national boundaries. So, it’s crucial to have that link with those European and international companies that we have.”

Tom says that there’s also lots more his team within the local authority can do to make its services more efficient, collaborative, and effective. “We want to move more towards allowing people to get council services digitally, while making sure nobody is excluded. We have the connection with citizens directly, and we want to bring that to the table when working with the tech sector to see how we can improve outcomes.

“We ultimately want Leeds to be the place where the world’s most challenging problems are solved by the tech industry.”