FEATURE27 June 2011

What’s next now the baton’s passed?

Features News

ICM chairman Justin Sampson is confident about the future of the business at the end of his first year in charge. With a management restructure now complete, he’s looking at new opportunities in healthcare research and international expansion.

Justin Sampson joined ICM a year and two weeks ago to tackle what many would consider a daunting task. Not only did he have to fill the shoes of the company’s founder, Nick Sparrow, who ran the business for more than two decades, but he also had to restock the ranks of senior management who had left after Sparrow’s departure.

Losing senior people can be perilous for a business, particularly if they have come to define the company or if they have longstanding relationships with clients.

“When I joined there were two clients I was most worried about given their relationships with people who had left the business,” says Sampson. “But the fact that these two clients – and others – have not only maintained their activity with us but increased it… it is a testament to the depth and strength of the team here.”

Reflecting on his first year, Sampson says the experience has been “very energising”. The new fiscal year, which began in April, has started well with the recent successful renewal of many of the major tracking studies the company carries out for clients. Trackers make up about 30% of revenue – the rest being project work – and with those in the bag for another year, Sampson says the company is in a confident position.

The final quarter of the last fiscal year was also a positive one for the company as it returned to growth, ending the year with annual turnover down 2%. It was an “unusual year” for ICM, Sampson says. Although the performance wasn’t much out of step with the UK industry as a whole, which showed a modest decline in revenue of 0.2% in 2010, Sampson says ICM is used to running ahead of the industry in its growth.

He cites the handover in management as the reason for the sales decline, yet he insists it has been an “effective” process. “It’s like in a relay race,” he says. “There is always some slowing down as you pass the baton.”

Parent company Creston has declared the senior management restructure a success, and so the question for Sampson is ‘What’s next?’

The hirings he’s made show where he wants to grow the business: in advanced analytics, social media and qualitative research. Healthcare research is another area of interest, one the company does do some work in but one with significant growth potential, Sampson believes. He’s looking to treble the size of the company’s healthcare revenue in the next two-to-three years by establishing a start-up focused purely on the sector. He promises to say more later this year. “The pieces are falling into place,” he says.

Sampson is also looking at international growth, to North America and Asia. Plenty to do, then, and plenty to feel energised about.