Back in 84, our family business, Femcare, began trading in Nottingham. It was a medical device manufacturer. And along with the business, the famous Filshie Clip was born. For over 30 years this simple clip has remained the premium method of sterilisation for women – It’s stood the test of time.


My family – what greater inspiration could there be?

I was too young to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made. They gave up a wonderful life in South Africa, in 1984 – a life they’d created and worked bloody hard for. It must have been very daunting for them, especially with three kids (aged 15, 16 and 17). It was not the first time they’d up-sticks and moved across the globe. In the 70s all five of us got on a boat and left our motherland, New Zealand, heading to South Africa. They were already well-established – good jobs, good schools, a great home with a swimming pool, and 4 dogs.

My pride in their achievements – I look back with great pride in what they achieved. My mum, Penny, had unbelievable drive and determination to success in everything she did. In 1986 she won the British Sales and Marketing award – still recognised as the highest honour given in the UK Marketing industry. She knew she could drive Femcare and the Filshie Clip to becoming the world’s market leader.

Penny McQuilkin

For a woman to win such an award, back in those days, was a major achievement in itself. Her prize was a trip around the world on Concorde and the QE2. Penny now had the world at her feet. I was just 20, and everything was going so well. But disaster struck. In 1989, Penny was cruelly struck down by the dreaded C. And at the age of 47, mum was still young when she left us.

The struggle to carry on – It must have been in incredibly tough “ask” for my dad, Pete, to pick things up again, after mum’s passing. Again, I was too young to fully appreciate how difficult it must have been to steer Femcare and keep his kids on the right path. But he did it.

Along the way, Femcare continued to grow in people, T/O and in EBITDA. It picked up a host of local and national industry awards, including Nottingham Company of the Year. Femcare gained access to the US and rose to dominate the world market. Anyone who’s gone through the US FDA approval process with know how hard it is – it takes years. But Femcare did it.

Then, in 2004, my dad felt he’d done enough. Femcare sold in an MBO for 24 Million!

Femcare’s International success – how? How could this small Nottingham business rise high above international medical companies in a highly competitive market?

1 – Product

Firstly, they had a great product, but how many good ideas do you know of that just haven’t made it? It happens all the time. It wasn’t just about the Clip.

2 – People

Femcare was no ordinary company. It was ahead of its time in people management and the use of technology. Dad was a great leader and he saw the value in investing in his people and empowering them. He built on strong foundations of trust, loyalty and respect. He employed people who knew others in the organisation, building on deep-routed trust and understanding they all had for one-another, to get the very best from them. And that he did! My dad was like a father to them all – Now, I follow the same methods in my business. I call it my web.

In the beginning Pete didn’t take-on graduate level people. He worked with local semi-skilled people who had the ethics and believed in his vision of the perfect team. Even if they didn’t fit a particular role, if they fitted the culture he’d find a place in the business where they could excel!

Dad was always strong but fair. So long as they learnt from mistakes, then it was okay. In a time when finding fault was rife, there was no blame culture at Femcare.

We had a circle of safety around the whole company, where people enjoyed coming to work, learning, and going home knowing that they were making a difference. These days, Simon Sinek speaks of the circle of safety. Simon gives talks all over the world about these ideas. Back in the 90s, my dad had no idea he was already doing these things.

3 – Technology

Technology made a huge contribution to Femcare’s success. The company was agile and open to change. It was quick to adapt to the digital age. It could punch above its weight. Yes, in the early 90s, Femcare digitally transformed. Though technology had its limitations in those days, Femcare invested in a mainframe network, an ERP system known as Datafile (still around today), email, and DeskTop Publishing. At a time most people thought the World Wide Web was a giant spider, Femcare already had a web presence on the Internet.

Department heads had the BI they needed to drive management decisions based on sound data, and through efficiencies, create more profit.

As this unfolded I knew I was taking a part in something special. I remember going to dad with a proposal for him to invest in technology. He listened – he always did, if I presented my case in a professional manor! I knew the future of business was digital. The results speak for themselves. Supported by technology, Femcare grew rapidly.

4 – Marketing

 Marketing was one of the favoured disciplines in our armoury, and my mum’s pride and joy.

With the technology embedded into the business we used a mix of traditional and digital approaches, the Marketing department gave the company an International profile. When the business was sold, Femcare worked through distribution in 56 companies around the world. By looking after distributors in each country we could make sure they were successful and they would help us gain international market penetration.

5 – Customer Experience

We knew, even in the 90s, the customer experience was of paramount importance. We worked tirelessly to deliver a quality Customer experience for our distributors We firmly believed that the distributors’ success ensured Femcare’s success. Everyone understood that they could make a difference to the process, from the store and the clean room, to the management and the board. As today, Buy-in is a key component of any customer experience strategy.

My Vision – In 2005 when Femcare was sold I had a vision. I wanted to work with small businesses throughout Nottingham, helping them transform, just like Femcare did. I got straight to work and founded Air-IT. From the off I offered a single fixed price for all IT services, including Directors’ reports – what we now know as VCIO services or fractional IT Directorship.

Roll-on 13 years, and we have not only transformed our own business, based on my dad’s model, but we have also transformed over a 100 Nottingham and Derby Businesses. Even during the recession, we only lost 2 clients, our other clients excelled through those difficult times – Why?

I firmly believe that through listening, they saw the value of investing in technology, so they could leverage it to drive their own business to be world-class in their respective sectors – just like Femcare did all those years ago, and as Air-IT are doing now.

Respect and paying my dues – My dad’s example, combined with all I’ve learnt from him, has been invaluable. His model was the blue print from my vision of building a business that people will be proud to be a part of.

He taught me that you can be a good guy and win. He taught me that a strong leader with a vision that is honest, to be straight but fair, who listens and empowers their people – a strong leader who understands the importance of the customer experience, and the part people, technology, BI and Marketing play in working towards a successful transformation.

I have total respect for what my parents achieved. I feel privileged to have learnt from them, and happy to report we continue to drive Air-IT based on that very same model.

Transformation is not a buzz word for us – it’s part of our DNA!

Those of you who follow me on LinkedIn will know that I stepped out of Air-IT nearly 2 years ago, to drive the company at a strategic level. James Healey, who came to me as Air-IT’s first employee, is now our MD. My daily focus now is on helping aspiring MSPs achieve the transformation they are looking for – it’s a real passion of mine.

One of the main reasons I have been able step out of the business so successfully is because of the way we operate at ground level – the information I have at my fingertips gives me the confidence to empower the next generation of leaders in our business.

James and his team don’t have to worry about how the business back-office runs – the efficiency we’re driving through, in all departments, is staggering because we’ve invested in technology, systems and process.

We have nearly reached what I call, TPSA – Total Professional Services Automation.Comms CDR Billing is the last piece of the Jigsaw for us. We’ll have it soon. Once in place, we’ll have reached our holy grail and TPSA will be complete.

Most Managed service providers struggle to achieve TPSA – it’s a tough task and one in which most will fail.

If you are one of those technology companies in need a helping hand, or a bit of advice, then give us a call – At Air-MSP we’re here to help you the journey to achieving Total Professional Service Automation.

TPSA is the holy grail of any transformation, and “a must” if, as MSPs, we are to succeed in the competitive world of managed services.