Founder series Q & A

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Dr Phil Harris, Vert Rotors Limited chief executive

Dr Phil Harris – Chief Executive – Vert Rotors Limited

What does your company do?

Almost every manufacturing business in the world uses compressed air. Vert has invented and patented a unique technology for compressing air which has been hailed as one of the biggest innovations in the industry for 40 years.  We partner on technology integration projects with global OEMs in different market sectors and have also successfully integrated the Vert Conical Rotary Compression (CRC) technology into our own range of branded compressors which produce a quiet source of compressed air, capable of continuous operation close to the point of use. Our New A150 compressor provides class leading low noise and vibration levels, a 100% duty cycle and portable frame from an easy to use ‘plug & play’ machine.  As our CRC technology is scalable and provides a unique combination of benefits, we believe it is going to revolutionise industries globally.

What do you do there / what is your role?

Aligning the company with market needs and ensuring valuable resources within the business are working, to “making the boat go faster” but also in the right direction. This can only be achieved with a shared vision when the board, the executive team and every employee understands the end goal and their contribution to getting there. My top priority is vision, direction and creating the space for a talented team to deliver and enjoy themselves whilst doing it.

Where did you get assistance when you started? Have you taken any external funding?

Start-up funding was supported by the excellent business angel network that exists in Scotland, through Equity Gap and Par Equity.  We have also recently secured an additional £720,000 from our existing investors Par Equity, Equity Gap, Aero Den and the Scottish Investment Bank, the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise.  It is a highly gratifying vote of confidence from investors with intimate knowledge of the progress we have been making.

Give us a brief history of the growth of the company

The company was started by Mr Oleg Dmitriev who had the original vision and drive to take an almost impossible mission and turn it into the reality that can now be commercialised around the world. I joined Vert in May 2019, having been parachuted in to lead the commercialisation of the world first CRC technology-based product. I joined Vert because I saw the potential to revolutionise an industry that has seen no significant technical innovation in over 40 years. It is a fantastic challenge on which I am thriving.

So, what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?

Although we are in unprecedented times, we are still on schedule to generate well over £0.75m turnover in 2020 and our sales of bespoke compressors have gained good momentum. We have established a number of OEM contracts including one with a US based aerospace company, and the European Space Agency (ESA).  In addition, we will be starting a project in the domestic heat pump market which we anticipate will lead to significant volume sales in the future. There are 14 employees currently and we expect that we will grow further next year.

What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?

Although I only joined Vert a year ago there have been a surprising number of differences – Brexit finally taking place for one and now the various challenges associated with Covid-19!

What is your target market – Who is buying your product / service?

Our key markets are businesses and organisations active in fibre optic cable blowing, university research, manufacturing and hand-held tools. Vert compressors are super quiet, low vibration, continuous running and portable and so meet practically all of their requirements.

What is your background?

My original background was as a research chemist having completed my doctorate in chemistry working on the synthesis of novel superglues for surgical uses which then led to an early career with Ciba Geigy before joining one of its divisions at the time, ILFORD. I have held CEO roles for over 20 years now, with 30 years in manufacturing in a wide range of industries, including precision engineering, satellite and telescope engineering, photographic and specialist materials. I have also held numerous non-exec positions and have advised many companies on structure, strategy and growth. My last role was with medical device company, Clear Surgical, where I was CEO, and before that, at Sphinx Medical in Bellshill, Glasgow as CEO where following a rescue we successfully exited the business to an Argentinian company.

What are your goals for your business?

We are rapidly disrupting what is a very conservative and traditional industry and have only just started. We shall continue aggressively to pursue sales in our first few target niche markets whilst also pushing the boundaries of the technology with a further development of the CRC technology that, I believe, will take the industry by storm.

What are your biggest current challenges?

How to retain the space in the Vert team’s increasingly busy week for innovative ideas to continue to flourish.  As well as the obvious challenges around Covid-19!

What has been the biggest personal challenge so far in your career?

I was working for one company leading overseas negotiation to purchase a competitor business when the receivers had to be called in, which was both a shock and a worry for the work force. At the time I had an excellent knowledge of the entire company operation so was in a strong position to understand where the value was, and so managed to negotiate with the receivers to purchase the undervalued sections. I then led it through a complete overhaul and subsequently sold it to a private equity company having restored a healthy profitability. So, it is odd, sometimes, how the greatest challenges can be turned around 180 degrees.

What do you do outside work?

Running in the hills and woods around Falkirk is key part of my life and I am in training for the over 90’s 5km race, the record for which is currently held by 96 year-old Roy Englert of Springfield, Virginia, but I’m playing a long game there. I’m also a keen martial arts participant, having studied Chinese Kung Fu for many years and enjoy cricket and gardening.

What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?

If they arise, embrace mistakes and set-backs – you never know where they might lead you.

What’s the secret to good leadership?

I learned from a very early age the distinct difference between leadership and management. Recognising that both are required when CEO of a business, depending on the situation, and particularly in technological businesses when it is all too easy to get over-immersed in technical details. It’s my view that we live in an over-managed world and that more leadership is required.

Where do you see the company in five years?

With a growing number of licensing contracts for significant volumes from CRC technology integration projects completed in key markets such as refrigeration, heat pumps, vacuum and HVAC. Also with a strong and established US and European distributor network for our range of branded compressors.

How can the Scottish start-up/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?

We already get tremendous help from both the Scottish Investment Bank and Scottish Enterprise, both of which are helpful with the advice and practical support essential for a young, entrepreneurial company.