Paul Barlow’s schoolboy ambition to become a mining surveyor was deeply flawed.
Not least because he hates enclosed spaces and working underground in the claustrophobic confines of a coal mine would have been his ultimate nightmare.
Luckily, Paul came to his senses and joined Barclay’s Bank instead, a decision that paid dividends and led to a hugely successful career, initially with the bank and then as a company boss.
His current role is Chief Executive of criminal record checks firm Disclosure Services, who last year moved to Wrexham from Gobowen, near Oswestry, investing £1.5 million in a new HQ on Wrexham Technology Park and a state-of-the-art IT system to underpin ambitious plans for future growth.
Disclosure Services employs a total of 35 people and there are plans to take on another 10 people over the next six months.
The company already has 9,000 clients, including some of the biggest corporate names and charities in the UK, and is signing up an average of 120 new customers every month.
The next staging post for the company is to increase the annual number of checks they carry out from 350,000 to one million and Paul is aiming to achieve this target within the next 18 months.
It’s a career path that was never on the horizon for the grammar school pupil from Bromborough on the Wirral.
He said: I have absolutely no clue where the idea to become a mining surveyor came from. It was a light that shone brightly for a while, but it was extinguished very quickly. Thankfully, common sense prevailed.”
After deciding university wasn’t for him because he wanted to earn some money, Paul joined Barclay’s as a wet-behind-the-ears bank clerk straight from school at the age of 18 in 1980 and ended up running global change projects for Barclays Bank.
He recalled: “I was a slow burner and kind of by accident I discovered there was a world in banking outside of your traditional career, which was starting off on the counter and making the tea and building your way up.
“After working in various branches, in the late 90s, I went on a secondment to work at Barclays’ change management centre which is based in Knutsford.
“From there I went through managing small projects to eventually managing multi-million-pound projects on behalf of the corporate bank.
“It was very exciting. Barclays gave me a fantastic career and gave me a grounding in terms of where I am now. It gave me a real understanding of business and how it works and the importance of surrounding yourself with good people.
“The realisation that you’re only as good as your team was another real lightbulb moment for me and that’s certainly been a mantra of mine as my career has gone on.
“You have to make sure you surround yourself with good people and don’t feel threatened by them. Bring them on board and celebrate their success. Give them opportunities to develop their own capabilities, and support them through that process.
“The real joy of my last two jobs have been around finding raw talent, developing it and watching people grow and take on more responsibility. That’s the exciting bit.”
His next challenge after Barclays Bank came as the boss of data management firm Avox on Wrexham Industrial Estate which had 40 employees when he started and a headcount of 350 staff when he retired in 2017.
However, the potential of what Disclosure Services could achieve proved too much of a temptation.
Paul, who lives in Chester, said: “It’s a fantastic business and had grown to a turnover of £12 million, but the business wasn’t in the right place for growth.
“We identified a number of areas to prioritise including improving processes, upgrade the technology and moving to new premises and I was appointed as chief executive to implement them.
“Originally, Disclosure Services grew out of the Pendine Park care organisation and it was established to do background checking of the Pendine staff only, and as safeguarding became more and more of an important thing for all organisations to do it grew and snowballed from there.
“A lot of corporate organisations will now do what’s called a Basic check as an integral part of their recruitment process. Although it’s not a statutory requirement in many cases, it’s now seen as best practice.
“We carry out a whole range of check right up to Enhanced level checks for people who are working with vulnerable people or children.
“Many of our clients come from the care and the voluntary sector, but we have a significant number of very large corporate accounts, household names who require a high volume of checks.
“We have ambitious plans for growth. In 2018 we did just over 300,000 applications, and we’ve got a goal over the next 18 months to grow that to a million applications and to triple our revenue by the end of 2020.
“When I started at Disclosure Services my first and most important appointment was Julie Timms, the operations director, with whom I’d worked at Avox.
“We have a great staff and have put an excellent leadership team in place so we now have all the right building blocks in place to take Disclosure Services to the next level.”
Welsh News Extra April 26, 2019