You may know him as Syscap’s Head of Direct Sales, but Paul Slapa narrowly escaped a career in software programming. He explains how the company has changed and his hopes to lend more to the UK’s SMEs.
Paul says: “I was quite good with computers at school, so I did IT GCSE, then A Level, then a degree in Computer Science. At the end of my degree, I realised I actually had no interest in spending my life working in IT and that it was just a hobby. I didn’t fit as a computer geek – I just wasn’t as passionate about it as other people on my course.”
Unsure about what to do after university, Paul got in touch with a graduate recruitment agency. “They got me an interview with Syscap, saying they did computer sales. Luckily, I researched the company before the interview and worked out it was not an IT sales company!”
Paul was offered a place on Syscap’s graduate programme. “I haven’t looked back since – I’ve worked for Syscap for almost ten years now.”
Paul can see that there may have been a family influence on his career choice, although he was not aware of it at the time. His father worked for Lloyds Bank for 38 years, and his mum worked in banking too before having children and retraining as a nursery teacher. Paul and his dad still enjoy a good chat about the finance world, “although the rest of the family switches off!”
Back in 2006, Paul found a very different company to the one he knows today. “It was a typical sales organisation back then, not as extreme as the Wolf of Wall Street but there was a fair bit of ego around; people liked nice cars and being a bit flash, making lots of money. As a 21-year-old straight from university, I thought it was great.”
Paul did not enjoy this booming environment for very long, however, as the financial crash hit two years after he started in the team. “The world changed, the company changed. It felt like everything was imploding.”
After some turbulent economic times, Paul believes Syscap has come out stronger: “It’s definitely a better place to work today. We have a more considered, commercial approach to how we do things. It’s not all about the money; there is a longer-term plan. For employees, this means better career progression and a clearer organisational structure.”
Now a manager in charge of a team of 16, Paul enjoys developing and implementing strategy, as well as regular contact with other teams, especially marketing. The recent move to target SMEs as well as professional firms is really paying off.
“We’ve been doubling the business written for the last two years, and I expect we will again this year. Now we’re owned by Wesleyan, a bigger company, there is more money to lend and a longer-term approach. There are five million SMEs out there that we can canvas for funding. My role is to build the team that will take on the huge growth opportunity. I want us to be – hands down – the most important part of Syscap. It is very exciting.”
Paul recently helped restart Syscap’s graduate recruitment programme. As a graduate recruit himself, he feels strongly about the benefits of hiring people fresh from college: “You get people at a stage in life where they are hungry to be busy and work hard. I always tell them that sales work is not rocket science – the most successful people are simply the hardest workers.”
The first question graduates and recruiters ask Paul is always about sales targets. “I’d love them to hit targets from month one, but really what I care about is behaviour. If you can learn and absorb as much knowledge as you can, ask questions if you don’t understand something – but ask once, not twice – I believe in the long term you will be successful.”
Outside work, Paul is the proud father of a five-year-old daughter and son who is nearly two. Another boy is on the way, due next spring. The family moved to North Wales, where Paul grew up, so his daughter could go to the same school as him and to be close to Paul and his wife’s parents.
Despite growing up in Wales and living there now, Paul is keen to dismiss a misconception: “People think I am Welsh, but I am not! I was born in Shrewsbury and lived there until I was five.”
An avid sports fan, Paul plays five-a-side once a week and inherited his dad’s love of Manchester United, “which is not very entertaining right now – we’re in for some lean years!”
Now we come to Paul’s darkest secret: his love of professional wrestling. “My wife tells me I’m nearly 30 and should have grown out of it by now, but if I was ever on Mastermind, pro wrestling from the late 90s would definitely be my specialist subject.”