Matthew Elson is the CEO of SHE Software, a leading health and safety software company delivering innovative solutions to a global customer base for over 20 years. But before he took over SHE, the 2017 Enterprise Award finalist served in various executive roles that made him not only a successful entrepreneur but also a highly respected leader in the tech world.
Matthew graduated with first-class honours in Engineering, Economics and Management from Oxford University, which equipped him with essential technical skills and a wider business perspective to begin his professional career. Upon graduating, he joined the Unilever Graduate Programme, where one of his first assignments was running operations at a Birds Eye plant in Grimsby “with 500 part-time women on the production lines”! Whilst he learnt a lot from the experience, he quickly realised that manufacturing wasn’t the place to be in an FMCG business.
Seeking adventure, he bought a one-way ticket to Nepal and began a year-long travel through South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, eventually settling down in Hong Kong for a while.
“I decided to look for a role there and I found a job in a newspaper. The guy called me up and asked me to come in for an interview that same day, so I had to cut off the ponytail I grew on my travels and get a suit made in a hurry – which was only possible to do in a day in Hong Kong” he remembers.
“I got offered the job, starting the next day.”
Matthew spent the next 18 months running a frozen food importing and distribution business with 200 employees – only 5 of whom spoke English – before returning to Europe overland through China and Russia to continue his studies with an MBA from INSEAD in France. He then joined McKinsey and Company and progressed over 7 years to Associate Principal, building up his reputation in business management.
In a turn of events, through his network, Matthew was recommended for a role as Tony Blair’s Transport Policy Advisor and was interviewed and employed by the former Prime Minister himself, during his second term.
“It was really interesting to be at the heart of government, working in a very small, tight team so closely with the Prime Minister” he added.
After 3 years in politics, Matthew returned once again to the corporate world as Managing Director at Atkins Management Consulting, with P&L full responsibility and gaining practical insight into how all the different aspects of the business fit together.
However, the corporate environment didn’t suit him and, building on his McKinsey credentials, Matthew moved on to become an independent expert, and spent the following years in consulting and interim leadership roles, including working as interim Chief Executive at a PE-backed safety consulting business, eventually sold.
Partners at the PE firm, aware of Matthew’s entrepreneurial ambitions, introduced him to SHE Software – a small troubled business with 9 staff members and less than £500k core turnover, in need of someone who saw its potentials and had an affinity to revive and grow it. Matthew acquired SHE Software in 2011 for the proverbial £1 (“cash-free, debt-free – I had to inject working capital to turn it around”) and became its full-time CEO in 2014.
“The business had a decent product with a great market and a good number of customers, but they were struggling to commercialise it. So, our first job was to build up the sales and marketing capability and stabilise the business” Matthew explains. He also set up a strong, well-regarded leadership team, and together they reached a consistent 50%+ per annum growth over the next few years.
After the initial years of bootstrapped growth, when it was time to look for outside investments, Matthew sought the help of ScaleUp Group as their advisors in a Series A fund raise. The £3m investment successfully secured has helped the business to continue to grow and become a leading health and safety technology provider with a significant global presence.
SHE Software now serves nearly 400 customers across a range of sectors and has offices in the UK, US and Australia.
In his free time, Matthew enjoys spending time outdoors and makes time in his busy schedule for a strict training regime. Modestly self-described as a “reasonably keen triathlete”, his competition results put him at the cusp of qualifying for Team GB for the World Championships in his age group.
Matthew is the epitome of a true entrepreneur with an independent mind, a keen eye for opportunities, hunger for continued growth and stamina to stick it out through the highs and lows – in all aspects of life.