What we hold in our fund

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  • 14 mins 04 secs

Learning: Unstructured

Benji Dawes, co-fund manager of Premier Miton UK Growth Fund in conversation with Adam Palser, CEO of NCC Group plc – a global cyber and software resilience business
Channel: Premier Miton Investors

Automatically generated using Asset TV AI and Amazon Web Services.

It may contain errors and omissions.

Yeah. Mhm. Hello and welcome. I'm Benji does the co manager of the premier mitten UK Growth fund, one of the areas of most interest to us in terms of the investment landscape currently is cybersecurity and we are joined today by NCC group. Ceo. Adam Paulse NCC group is one of our largest holdings and it's been a fantastic turnaround story over the past three years. Adam the industry is evolving very quickly and adopting new technologies and new business models. What is it that excites you most about where the industry is today. Fantastic. Well, thanks Benji. And what an introduction. I feel like, you know, it's difficult to sort of go further up after that. But you know, the wonderful thing about working inside that is we've we've only just begun I think. Well, we all wish we probably set up our own cyber firm 10 years ago and I've ridden the wave of have increased demand to now. We've got another 10 years of this, 20 years of this ahead of us. We always talk about four secular drivers of growth in the cyber industry. # one is the connected environment. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger as people plug more and more stuff together. Secondly, it is our dependence on that environment, whether it's us as individuals, as companies, as society, you name it, we've seen it increasingly over this covid disruption period. So that's number two. Number three, the threats increase, whether it is from organized crime, it's hard to believe that the first ransomware was only in 2012, right? And today it's a multibillion dollar industry just growing and growing incredible. Can't see that stopping in a hurry. So number one, the connected Environment. Number two, our dependence on it. Number three, the threats keep growing. Number four is regulation which is scrambling to catch up and as that increases in the costs of compliance, failure to increase, it drives everybody into the arms of more cyber protection. If you're not doing that now, you're you're just negligence. So There's a wonderful expression which my Dutch colleagues taught me, which is the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is now, right. So we should all be getting a decided now if we're not in it already because this has got another 20 years to go. And what I just Love about this is if, if I were building a house today, I know what's gonna look like in 20 years time. If I'm building a cyber company, I really don't know what it's kind of like in 20 years time because the capacity for innovation in society where people plug stuff together and make more use out of it is only matched by the capacity for mischief in society where people can exploit the good intent behind. We've said some of its smart agriculture or Blockchain or machine learning or whatever, it can be. All the stuff that's out there that we're trying to take advantage of the meanwhile, hackers are trying to subvert it for their own reasons. People design software to be used in a certain way, right? And the mild, the evil people who some of whom worked for me, you're thinking about ways to subvert that when they show clients how what they've done can be used in a different way. The most common feedback we get is. But why would you do that? Why would you use our software like that? But the point is what firms like NCC are here to do is to show not what your software could do if used properly. It's what the damage or software could do if it's used inappropriately so exciting times and an industry that's going to be around for a while. So lots of growth and lots of potential in the industry. How do you make sure that NtC doesn't get left behind? Yeah. So I think the most simple way for me to describe that is just that NCC is a services business. Okay. So we exist to supply our customers with what they need with the solutions. Now let me put that in context because there's some wonderful technology companies out there are some wonderful software companies out there. But cyber landscape has become so complicated. There is no piece of technology or there is no one piece of software that can solve the cyber problem. And yeah, I would say over the last 5, 10 years we've seen a number of companies appear really good companies with really great technique okay which have been incredibly exciting and price as if they're going to all the world and then there's a realization. But actually this piece of software is not a silver bullet. It doesn't solve absolutely everything. I suspect that's a cycle. We're going to see again and again. As the cyber challenge has become more complicated as industries have taken on more technology is the threat has become more evolved. What is required is somebody who understands the threats, who understands the landscapes, who understands the potential answers to step up, understand you understand your business model, understand how you make money, the regulations that you're under and then propose a solution frankly to carry you through from wherever you are today to a position where you are appropriately resilient and demonstrably so so you can just crack on with making money or fulfilling your purpose or or whatever it is. And that's where services companies like N. C. C. Come in and we therefore, yeah just enduring. They have greater potential. It is a long term sustainable play in cyber. So adam since you joined at the back end of 2017 profits for NCC group of doubled And the share price is almost 50%. Tell us how you doing? Yes. There's two things I'm really I'm going to talk to that in a second. But one thing I'd really like to say is how we stay relevant in a world where there are new software providers coming in all the time because I think it's a really legitimate challenge to say okay and you see with all of this investment all these new companies arriving, how do you stay at the forefront? And so the joy of being a services company like ourselves, the joy of being vested in our people is that we get to stay leading by doing a bit of research instead of having to spend tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on Catholics. What we do is we fund our talented people to look at the next technology, to work out how to break it, to educate themselves and educate our clients as to what the new risks are and how to overcome. And so in amongst the male strong of investment and change. That is the cyber market. That's how companies like NCC get to stay leaving now coming to your question which is directly related. There are new technologies arriving all the time, you know and best of breed is changing and NCC what we try to do is strike a balance. We have some technologies that we greatly respect and think that they are world leading and of course we form partnerships with those companies that we can help our clients exploit them to their full extent but we're not waiting to them and I'm afraid as the industry moves on, new technologies appear we are wonderfully able to skip and take on whatever is leading in the industry at the moment. So we formed technology partnerships. All the sign benji, but what we're not is a anything like a value added reseller you like wedded to one or two software houses and therefore dedicated to pitching their solutions about anybody else's. As I alluded to earlier, you've done a fantastic job in stabilizing the ship at NCC since joining in 2017. The share price rise as as far outstripped the all share index and profits of more than doubled since 2017. So what have you done? Can you can you help us understand how you, how you managed to achieve that? Yeah it's kind I mean I would say I feel not so much about stabilizer ship but I've just unearthed what was was there all along about NCC group. It's about unleashing the true potential. It was very clear when I arrived and the diagnostics before we arrived, pretty much the same diagnostics I hold today. We have some incredible capability vested in our people primarily. We have some amazing clients and that is the ultimate arbiter or whether or not you are delivering value. But we were we were being held back by some very simple things. NCC group had grown very rapidly through acquisition and also organically which left it spread all over the globe with different processes, different systems, no nervous system if you like, an inability to control the global animal. We're also working with customers in a very transactional way, so we weren't building thick relationships where we depended on them and they in turn were able to depend on us. So we set off in a way with two very simple aims in mind to become global instead of local and to become strategic instead of transactional in the way that we work with our clients and the way we've done it. Benji, I'd love to tell you there's a magic source, but I think it comes down to two things. One is about common purpose and one is about relentless management. So there was a wonderful, wonderful moment early on in my tenure where we brought the extended leadership of NCC together for the first time ever. Never been done. Like I see why, because it's expensive getting everybody from the States and europe into one place etcetera. But we got everybody on stage in groups and asked them to describe what was important about NCC. And you heard different words and you heard the story being told in a different way, but you heard a common resonance which was about a passion for taking on the cyber challenge, a passion for making the world a better place, pitting yourself against the problem and coming out on top and bit by bit by listening, we were able to distill what matters about NCC, our mission to make the world safer and more secure our vision to be a complete provider of cyber resilient services. I mean don't tell anybody bends you, but I've always found with leadership, if you listen really carefully, people tell you what to do, and it's just about you creating an environment where they feel empowered and motivated to go to go on and do it. So once we distill the purpose and people wanted to become this global powerhouse insider we set off from then on, I'm afraid it's back to a phrase I've used again and again, businesses do what you set them up to do. So it was a relentless week on week program of improvement and change and that's why I still do right every single friday we sit down and review and aspect of our transformation program because I can't ever see that finishing businesses have never finished. You keep going. So adam at NCC you've got a stated aim to be amongst the most respected cyber companies in the world. What does that really mean? Yeah, I mean it's one of those things we all like to matter I think. And so the greatest moments for NCC when we get a sense that we do matter when a client in trouble, hit by ransomware or whatever it might be called and they need help and they turned to us and then we're able to mobilise to step in to get them back on their feet to shore up their defenses. So it's going to be harder to be hit again. There is a wonderful feeling working at NCC group at the heart of cyber, which is at the heart of progress that you're, you're in the thick of things. I've worked for companies before where you wait for months for a decent case study to come along that you can show that. I mean we've got them every week, the war stories and and the things that are being done day in and day out by NCC group, by others in our industry. It's absolutely thrilling. Benji. So I think that's yeah, that's something you talk about. How does it feel to be. I'm not sure there yet. I'm not sure we'll ever get where we hope to be but we want to be the complete provider aside, resilient services. We want to be sought after. We want to be the people that you turn to when you really do run into trouble because you know that you can rely on us, you can rely on the passion of the people who I don't say they work for me. They don't really work yeah. For this mission, frankly uh, to come home I think in the past when we've chatted you you've shared some of those anecdotes with me in terms of the way that some of your people have been able to to deliver case studies but deliver successful for the businesses that you that you serve your clients where some of your experts have been able to go in and in an instance, hack into whether it be a Ceos, um, phone or some real technology on, on a carriage. Could you share one of those sorts of insights just to give our listeners a bit of an insight into what it is that that your um, cyber specialists are able to do. Yeah, absolutely. And the, I suppose the simple answer which doesn't really help you is that they can do almost anything. Almost no system is Impenetrable. It's just a matter of time. So over the course of the last couple of years, I've seen our teams hack into trains, uh, into cars. I've seen them seize control of the steering of the car whilst it's emotion and uh, you know, safe and controlled conditions I should stress. I've seen them install ransomware on some high end cars. Would you believe that you turn the ignition on and it goes, you're not going anywhere until you pay some Bitcoin. Thank you very much too. This little address here, I've seen them walk into a bank because they also do a physical penetrations to with nothing. But I think the british airways loyalty card, which they used to get pretty much all the way through and of course some very robust financial institutions who sat there and said, look, there's no way you're getting into the Ceos uh in boxes there or to our trading floor and behold there, we were short time, there are absolutely terrifying frankly, Benji what they can do, but the more we do it, the more people realize where their risks are. And bit by bit we smooth out the complacency to which we can all become susceptible. So it's an exciting place to work as you can imagine. So you stabilize the business profits have doubled since 2017 and we're delivering organic growth again, you've now gone out and made an acquisition in the U. S. What does that signal? Are you back on the front foot? Yeah, we are absolutely back on the front foot. It's quite right that for the first couple of years of my tenure, which focused on the things that were right in front of our face, the need to improve quality of earnings, need to improve our cash flow. But he's become controlled reliable. Somebody that we could be relied on. Whether that is people come to work for us, whether it is our investors looking to commit to us. We wanted to become dependable but of course this is such a growth environment that we've discussed. We are on the front foot. So we in NCC group of fortunate to have two wonderful divisions. One is the cyber division that I think we've spoken a lot about. The other one is our software resilience division, which protects against failures in the software supply chain. So as you say, we've been able to fabulous acquisition over the United States to support our software resilience division and it's just a question now of where and how we go further forward. I would love to continue acquiring some beautiful assets in cyber as well. The prices of cyber assets as you well know, are fairly high. They're fairly highly sought after. You find the right ones, they're terrific. We'll add them to our portfolio and if not we'll continue to invest thoughtfully, deliberately methodically in our organic growth and watch that success comes through too adam we're out of time. It's been fascinating chatting to you as always. Thank you very much. It's a pleasure. Thanks for giving me the chance

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