FSB had the pleasure of meeting PJ Farr and staff in his amazing Guildford Offices ahead of Armed Forces Day. Here is PJ’s story:
It was a selfie with a penguin, snapped while on service in the Falklands with the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, that kick-started former soldier PJ Farr's telecoms business.
During some down time on a remote island in the South Atlantic, PJ started taking some photographs of the local wildlife to send home.
"I got some photos of some penguins and I got one of myself with a penguin and decided to email that photo back to my father in law in the UK," he says.
His father-in-law, a housing developer, was immediately impressed by the Army's ability to reliably communicate, even from remote areas.
"Being a developer, he would struggle to get effective, secure communications into a construction site," says PJ.
"And that was where the idea was born really, we realised there was a solution available and a clear commercial opportunity for us to sell to."
PJ left the Army and set up his business, initially named Countrywide Telecoms, in January 2013, with the aim of becoming the leading provider of communication services to the UK construction industry.
"When I first left the army to start my own business, obviously I had to convince my wife it was a good idea," says PJ.
The couple had just over £1,000 saved up and PJ had to quickly get to grips with the nitty gritty of setting up his own business such as learning about VAT returns, corporation tax and corporate structure.
"I only had military experience to lean back on to. A lot of ex-forces guys are very entrepreneurial anyway, they maybe don't realise it," says PJ.
"There's a term used often which is: Improvise, adapt and overcome. We use that daily in the forces to try to overcome adversity. And actually, running a business is very similar to working in the Army. You need a clear set of goals, you need to be clear on your plan. You need to rehearse your plan, practise it, and then go out and do it."
Countrywide Telecoms grew to become a leading supplier of communications solutions and works with some of the largest UK house-builders, providing more than 1,000 construction sites across the UK with a super-fast broadband service. It was rebranded as UK Connect in 2018, to recognise its growth and won the Business of the Year - Scale Up category at this year's (2019) Soldiering On Awards.
PJ has some advice for other service men and women thinking of setting up their own business when they leave the forces.
He says: "Firstly go and reach out to the network, reach out for help and look who's out there already, actively supporting ex-military and military people.
"Some of those companies are people like the Federation of Small Businesses and X-Forces Enterprise, and there are other social enterprises out there as well whose job it is to try and help you succeed in business."