Using Queen's to grow Kainos

BY his own admission Frank Graham has been in computers almost before there were computers. Now a member of the QUBIS board, he was in at the birth of the project as the managing director of Kainos, one of the earliest and most successful spin-outs.

Starting his career at Rolls Royce in Derby in the late Sixties he later moved to Dundonald.

“At the end of 1986 I was working for a company called Software Ireland in the centre of Belfast,” he said.

“I was marketing director there but I saw an opportunity in the paper of a new company that was being set up in collaboration with ICL, which at that time was by far and away the biggest computer company in Britain, and Queen’s. I went along and did a couple of interviews at the end of 1986 and was appointed managing director of the non-existent company which I started at the beginning of 1987.”

Starting out as the only employee, Graham began to grow Kainos to around 14 people in the first year and double that the next.

“I became aware, of course, that QUBIS was heavily involved in the setting up of the company in that Queen’s was a big supplier and between them that had hatched up a plan to use the quality graduates that Queen’s had and the shortfall in software delivery that ICL had.

“It seemed to be that the two could satisfy each other and that’s exactly how it worked out.”

By 2001 Kainos had a staff of 250 and was producing software for a number of large organisations as opposed to developing and marketing its own products.

“The latter, the products company is the high risk/high reward scenario and there are a lot of dead bodies in the products pile whereas the other one is usually a bit more secure in that you get paid as you go along.

“Kainos was in that former group and has customers around the UK and Ireland, a lot of them financial institutions who want specific job that’s maybe too tricky for their own people and Kainos will be called in to do that.”

However, with profits piling up it was decided to “take a punt”, in the mid-90s on creating a product.

The product was Kainos Knowledge and the result was that a venture capital company in Dublin called ACT became attracted to Kainos and duly acquired a 30 per cent share.

A short time later it was decided that the product and services wings of the company should part and the former the products side was spun off to form another well known name in Belfast, Meridio.

Not just well-known in Belfast however as last year Meridio was itself sold to English firm Autonomy in a deal worth more than 20m.

“We set up Meridio taking 50 staff who had worked on the product and I went over to lead that company as managing director and it was from there that I eventually retired a few years ago.

“Since then, Kainos has continued to prosper Meridio was sold last November to Autonomy and the shareholders all made a fair bit of money out of it .

Graham is a shining example of the experience and knowledge valued by Panos Lioulias and he is equally complimentary.

“I think QUBIS has to be credited with a lot. Universities are not by nature risk takers and I think that they have pushed the frontiers more than any other university and they are reaping he rewards for it.

“Whenever you’re setting up a company you’ve got about a one in 10 chance for doing it very well and you’ve got about three or four out of 10 that are going to do all right. The other five, you’d be lucky if you don’t lose them and that’s a fairly normal spectrum.

“Queen’s has actually done better than that. I think statistics say a lot of it. The fact that they are number one in the UK in terms of university holding companies and the sheer volume of employees speaks volumes.”