Employee Spotlight on Bob McKay: From IT in the Sun to Security in the Cloud
The Dot Com Bubble Bursts & An Exciting Opportunity Arises
I was running my own business in the Caribbean until 2016, and it had UK offices in Yorkshire and Newcastle. The problem was, I was travelling too much, which sounds idyllic and exciting, but is stressful, boring, tiring and tedious. One of the final nails in the coffin was that I wasn’t seeing my kids. I was waking up in hotels and not knowing where I was. My wife and I, because we jointly owned the business, decided to sell up and do something different. That’s when I joined Perfect Image.
We moved to the Virgin Islands in 2005 when my wife finished university. Before that, I was the IT manager for a women’s sports brand called USA PRO. I’d gone there when we shut up shop on the first business I’d owned – a web development business – after the dot com bubble burst. That’s how old I am! All of a sudden, after the “LastMinute.com” debacle, company spending on websites dried up overnight. The work just vanished – it was unbelievable.
So, we moved on and all went to work for some of our customers. I went to USA PRO but eventually, I’d done everything there was to do. I’d built them a new network, a new website and some sales tools. I said to my wife, I’ve got an open job offer in the Caribbean through acquaintances, why don’t we take it?
Opening an IT Business in the Sun
We moved out there and put in a trade licence application for an IT business, working for other companies when we first arrived. My wife was employed by a yacht sales company and I was working for a photographer that did websites, doing a mixed bag of IT and development.
Then we started up the business. That just took off unbelievably. To really shine, certainly at the time, you just had to be reliable and turn up when you said you were going to. We were lucky with the staff that we had. Even the customers we had were really good – no divas! – they just wanted stuff to work well. The challenge we had was trying to hire people fast enough, because all the good staff get snapped up quickly. We hired from the island whenever we could, but also from Canada, Australia, Afghanistan, Egypt, USA, England, all over the world to relocate them to the Virgin Islands.
In the first year we did struggle because it was such a big change. But after that we settled in, and we started the business, then we had our first kid. By that point, you’ve got a good group of friends and you’re into surfing and sailing and all the things you can do out there.
Leaving the Caribbean and Progressing at Perfect Image
When our second born was on the way we decided to come back to the UK. We moved to lovely, sunny, Newcastle. I started at Perfect Image in 2016 as an account manager after we sold the business. Account management was one of the many hats I wore in my other business. I was spending a lot of time with customers, not necessarily doing the work but talking about solutions, strategy, etc. so Perfect Image and the new role was a good fit.
Coming back to the UK was different for a few reasons. One was that you couldn’t historically offer cloud services in the Caribbean. The internet was unreliable and quite slow so you couldn’t rely on operating anything in the cloud. Also due to the offshore nature of many of our customers, data residency meant no cloud services. When I came here cloud was all new to me, which was quite cool.
Getting a routine was great, too. People kept asking, “Is the drive to Perfect Image okay, all the way from Wylam?” It’s a 26-hour roundtrip to the Caribbean… An hour’s drive is okay. I feel like I’ve got just enough time for the car’s heater to get warm. It was nice to work in a team of peers again. Being the Managing Director before, it gets a bit lonely sometimes.
It was nice as an account manager to get exposed to different businesses. The variety of customers here is awesome. With the Caribbean business, it was primarily tourism, accountancy, law or offshore trust incorporations. Here, we’ve got SMBs like Gardiner Richardson and Springfield Centre for Business in Development who are lovely. On the other hand, we’ve got larger operations like Arcinova who are just rocketing in growth, still lovely people but it’s a completely different way of running a business.
Practising Physical & Digital Defence
I spend my evenings hacking (ethically). It’s all I did last night and the night before. For nearly a year I’ve also been into MMA fighting. I train for that that twice a week and spar once a week with Kevin Marsden, a BI Consultant. He informally trains me by punching me in the face when I’ve lowered my guard, but then I know not to do that in the future. I also practice lock picking, though finding time to do it can be hard.
In 2018 I did my Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification in my own time. That was a monster. I’ve recently done the Microsoft Enterprise Security Fundamentals exam too. Now I’m trying to do my certified ethical hacker exam. It’s really interesting. You train using systems you have permission to hack. If a customer wants you to test their systems to see if they’re vulnerable to the kinds of things a hacker would do, then you can do it. I like to have an understanding of it.
Based on what I know I want to run informal training sessions with members of my team. We’re going to have some “capture the flag” hacking sessions where we provide pizza, put a hackable server in a room, and give everyone hacking software. I also want to give teams servers and kit and teach them how to build a corporate network that works. It’ll be a big learning curve. Some already have these skills, but it’ll level the playing field.
Future Plans: Helping to Keep Customers Safe
In 2019, I was promoted to Head of Managed Services & Infrastructure. In this role, I manage around thirty people. At my last business we had around twelve employees, however at one point I had two developers and myself in Newcastle, six people in the Yorkshire office, and staff in the Caribbean. I was bouncing around all of them as MD. It definitely helps that the team at Perfect Image are in the same office… and the same time zone.
I can honestly say that two days are rarely the same which is a good thing. We’ve got a lot of projects which can be a lot of plate spinning but it keeps things interesting. I’m currently working on repackaging how we structure our support, assisting in the ISO 27001 compliance and other operational projects.
Always Finding the Sunny Side
Being a manager now, I try to be as positive as possible to buoy the team. If you’ve got good staff – which we have – you shouldn’t need to do more than that. I try not to be too critical, particularly if someone has made a mistake. I try to look at it positively as a lesson learned. There’s nothing worse than working on a project, making a mistake and someone keeps banging on about it. You’re already punishing yourself. Luckily with our guys actually things don’t go wrong that often.
I report to Rob Hankin (Perfect Image’s CEO) now which is great. Another thing that’s nice is on a couple of occasions Rob has thanked me for just cracking on with my role. He’s had a lot going on, and he’s let me run with projects and he’s been happy with that. I also like the way things have panned out with who the heads of departments are. It’s lucky for me that it’s good people who I get on with like Paul (Head of Solution Architecture), Lee (Business Solutions), Simon (Business Intelligence), Kate (Marketing), William (Dev) and Mike (Sales). It’s a good group that works well. No one’s looking out for just their team.
What’s interesting is that a lot of people in my team now didn’t realise I had a technical history. They just saw some account manager swaggering up the office and taking on the Head of Managed Services and Infrastructure role. But this is where my heart is really, in infrastructure and managed services.