Cotton’s sights set on NCC joining £1bn club

NCC Group, which has just been rated as one of the top five best-performing listed companies since 2000, is targeting joining the £1bn valuation club.

Rob Cotton, chief executive of the Manchester-based IT assurance and security group, has watched with interest the recent spate of IPOs from the region, as retailers and Pets at Home have floated with market valuations of more than £1bn.

Such valuations, and that too of Manchester online fashion retailer Boohoo which rose to nearly £800m on its AIM debut earlier this month may have raised eyebrows in some quarters, but Mr Cotton is not perturbed at all, despite running a larger, more profitable business than most of the newcomers, and yet one that is valued at around £450m.

He told “I have had a little chuckle about it, but I say ‘well done’ to the management teams and to their advisers. Floating a business is not easy by any means, and they deserve the plaudits.”

His advice though is simple: “Hit your numbers in the first year. If you do this the valuations will remain. Again it won’t be easy, because as part of the process you want to paint a picture of growth, but you have to meet the expectations.

“It was just like this for us.”

NCC will celebrate its 15th birthday in June. In that time it has been transformed from, in Mr Cotton’s word’s a small “rag-tag and ramshackle”, loss-making business with less than 100 people in Manchester into a £100m turnover company with 1,000 staff based in 17 offices around the world.

Having just been ranked fourth best IPO by The Times , in terms of total shareholder return since 2000,  Mr Cotton feels the business has “really grown up and left home” in the last few years.

“We are increasingly seen as a leader in our sector. In 2000 there were a lot of blank faces when we were talking about Internet security, but that is not the case today. As a business we have been asked for our views by among others the director general of the CBI and the Institute of Directors.

“When I joined NCC and said I wanted us to grow to be an £10m ebitda company, float on the stock market and get to £100m market cap, everyone thought I was completely bonkers.

“We got to £100m in four years, and the goal became £500m, and we are now 50% of the way to becoming a £1bn company which is our clear and stated objective.

“I think it is absolutely achieveable and deliverable as we are developing some absolutely breathtaking new technologies, which will make the Internet a safer place to work and to transact on.

“Back in 2000 I think people thought ‘there’s NCC and Rob Cotton being a bit gobby again’ but when we are talking about making the Internet safer these days, people listen.

“What we’ve achieved is a phenomenal achievement and is absolutely down to the people here and the talent in NCC, and it makes me very proud as chief executive.”