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Big Interview: Roman Cooper unveils the next act for security firm Allcooper

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Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 11 July 2017 12:29

Big Interview: Roman Cooper unveils the next act for security firm Allcooper

We come to the story of Roman Cooper part way through the middle act.

There is already plenty to tell of his journey and that of the family security firm Allcooper that would make a complete story, but a whole new chapter is about to be published.

Mr Cooper admits he has been conspicuous by his absence from the company’s long-standing Hucclecote offices, spending his time holed-up at a not-so-secret Kingsholm location – the scene for that next act.

“This will be the new headquarters,” he announces, urging me to follow him through the main artery of the former car showroom and workshops for a cup of tea.

We dodge the odd dangling cable and sidestep workers applying the finishing touches as we go.

“It’s basically the mirror of our Hucclecote base,” said Mr Cooper.

“We have some colour coded rooms here. These are quiet rooms for people to get their heads down in as well as meeting rooms.”

He knows the workmen by name. They are not Allcooper staff but subcontractors.

This explains his absence from the main office - he has been project managing the refit.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said, as we walk through to a 4,000sq ft space at the rear of the building.

He plans to install a mezzanine floor and there is serious consideration to creating a drop-in centre business people can use as office space.

As we chat he enjoys a rolling dialogue with numerous fitters, ensuring momentum continues apace.

An hour later, when I stand up to leave, an empty floor space has not only been prepped, but an area the size of a tennis court laid with carpet tiles.

It is a new ground zero for a firm started in 1987 by his entrepreneurial father Gary (who jokingly mistakes me for a tax man as I arrive in the car park).

It now employs more than 100 staff, has a long-standing apprenticeship programme, an annual growth of 15 to 20 per cent and turns over an estimated £7.5million annually.

It is a firm well respected in a tight-knit county business community, the firm has been at the core of apprenticeship training since  year dot and a platform which he has been able to use to channel his energies into other areas - we will come to shortly.

But it could all have been so different for the now executive director who started as an apprentice “on the tools”.

“When I was at school I was probably expected to go on and become an accountant or a lawyer.

“I actually had an interview at what is now Crowe Clark Whitehill,” he recalls.

Perhaps it was the entrepreneurial upbringing, perhaps it was a sense of adventure which saw him change tack and embark on a decade on the tools for Allcooper.

This culminated in a three quarter of a million pound job in the South of France and a return to England with a different mindset.

“I returned to the UK and things had moved on,” he said.

“I was basically without a role – that is when I started to really take a look at the bigger picture for the business.

“The entrepreneurial spirit was very much my dad. He worked for Unilever and he was always running little businesses on the side.

(Pictured: Roman Cooper, Father Gary, Dave Phillips and Gerard Cooper)

“I recall running around the cattle market as a youngster with a little trolley selling plastic bags to the traders.

“We used to supply lots of traders in Tredworth too. I still have the trolley.

“When there were offers on through Unilever – collect so many lolly sticks, send them off and get a free Shakin’ Stevens poster – that was us.”

“My brother Gerard is definitely entrepreneurial,” he said. “I am a little more cautious. I like process and structure.

“I’m always nervous about people calling themselves entrepreneurs. Often they are not,” musing on the differences between himself and his brother who runs the successful private client and consultancy arm of Allcooper from London.

TheSe are the differences which help make the company the success it is.

We are now on the second floor of the building where you can look down from an inviting balcony space through the glass walls onto what will be the main offices.

“On Gloucester Rugby match days we plan to bring our guests in here, to show them around and demonstrate some of what we do, before heading over to the stadium for the fantastic 1873 hospitality we have enjoyed for many years.

We can also hold business functions and meetings in here,” he adds, opening an adjacent door into a substantial room. The new offices are within a good drop-kick of Kingsholm.

He assures me the 20-per cent capacity for growth within the building is not there to accommodate any immediate plans - but it is there in case.

“We are a business that wants to continue to look after its customers and believes treating people properly is important,” he said, deftly flicking away my inquiries about any “five year plan” which might help me get my hands on any detail.

“Haven’t the Chinese done away with five-year plans?” he adds, joking.

I ask him why the Cooper’s entrepreneurial streak does not come with the need - and why not? - to be a little showier about their successful path.

And I am reminded of an aside he once made to me at a business event: “One of the best things about Gloucestershire, is if you get a bit too big for your boots, someone soon brings you back down to earth.”

He adds: “I think that mentality comes from my parents. It’s a jam tomorrow mentality.

“Mum and dad still live in the same house they bought in 1963.”

(Pictured: Roman Cooper, second from the right, on the panel at the recent get Connected Circle2Success event at Hillside Brewrey, which also saw the launch of the Top 100 Businesses in Gloucestershire)

I sense he is not driven by any need to prove himself. He seems comfortable in his role, happy even to admit he does not have all the answers.

“Often it is about having the right questions – and listening,” he suggests.

But he does have a desire to continue to test himself (look back a few years and he was one of the first to complete the MBA in business at the University of Gloucestershire) and I wonder if that is why he has enjoyed taking on what is a major refit of the new premises.

“It has been a good way to see if the business can run without me. I assume people need me,” he says, beginning to joke about whether or not he is expendable.

“Driving this project has allowed me to test the team, in that way it has been a good experiment. I am not in the office for the same amount of time every week, but are we still hitting our KPIs? Are customers happy still? Is there sales growth? Are the staff happy?” he says, adding with a smile “Although there is a point between delegation and abdication.”

His focus, at least outwardly, is on the long term - which includes maintaining stability of the business whilst achieving growth, and strengthening his influence as a board member for the Gloucestershire Local Enterprise Partnership (GFirst LEP).

At GFirst he represents businesses in Gloucestershire as the new SME champion.

“It’s a position that the Government insisted each LEP area has in place, to help give a bigger voice to small businesses in the county.

“The role is new and evolving but the idea is that the needs of small and medium sized business have a voice at the LEP board level.

“I’ll be speaking at targeted events for the SME community and taking on their feedback.

“It’s a chance for me to get in front of people to hear what they have to say.

“I’ll be engaging with business representative groups, such as the FSB, IoD and others, but also want to engage with businesses directly.”

Abdication does not look likely in the near or even middle future.

With the LEP and Allcooper he is determined to help establish routes into his industry, not least through a new partnership with the innovative multi-million pound SGS College initiative that is Berkeley Green.

“Together with SGS, we recently launched the fire and security systems trailblazer apprenticeship programme. This will give young people in the area fantastic opportunities to start a career in the security industry, which is growing at a phenomenal rate.

"Recruiting engineers is a really tough job, so the idea is to harness the apprenticeship ethos and offer young people a secure route into a real business. This will allow employers like Allcooper to ‘grow their own’ and benefit from the enthusiasm and potential apprentices have to offer.”

This article first appeared in the Gloucestershirte Top 100 Businesses 2017.

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