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From Writing Code to Calling the Shots

When Brendan Flood joined Grampian Computers fresh out of university, he never expected to one day become the CEO of a software company serving the global distillery industry. But like many other leaders at Volaris Group, Brendan possesses a unique combination of curiosity and adaptability that’s led him to interesting places and allowed him to thrive in all of them.

“If you want to expand your skills and take on more responsibility, you probably have a good idea of the type of opportunities that you're looking for and the direction you want to travel,” Brendan said. “But when an opportunity comes up that doesn't necessarily align itself with that path you have mapped out for yourself, I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss it, because you might find that it takes you on a more interesting journey than the one that you had planned. I think that's certainly been true for me.”

Brendan started his professional path by completing an accounting and finance degree, but quickly found his newly chosen field wasn’t providing the right kind of challenge. So he went back to the drawing board, completing an MSC in software engineering before accepting a software development role with Grampian.

Given his finance background, management initially set Brendan to work on the firm’s payroll and accounting software. But Grampian’s uniquely diversified business served a varied group of customers, and Brendan’s desire for variety in his work led him to design software for all kinds of businesses.

More often than not, once you get into the nuts and bolts of an application you’re developing, you build up a certain level of knowledge there that’s useful, so you don't get shifted around too much. But changes in staff, changes in requirements, and changes in focus for Grampian meant that I moved around to quite a few different things, and the DRAMS situation was an interesting one.
- Brendan Flood, DRAMS CEO

Keeping Things Interesting

When Brendan joined Grampian in 1998, the company was developing a new Windows version of its distillery management software. While that software would later blossom into the cornerstone of a fully formed, multinational business named DRAMS, at that point the potential of the product wasn’t fully understood.

The DRAMS story began in 1974, when Grampian first developed a system to support their internal payroll and then began offering payroll bureau services to other businesses. The computer Grampian bought for the project had left them with excess capacity, and the managing director at the time saw an opportunity to use it to solve a tracking problem at Invergordon Distillers, his previous employer.

The solution was primitive by today’s standards, but revolutionary at the time. Invergordon maintained paper records of their inventory transactions and sent them to Grampian every week by train. The Grampian team prepared punch cards to enter the data into the system, generating an updated inventory report which was then printed and sent back to Invergordon. The software had undergone a few improvements over the years, but when Brendan arrived in Invergordon in 1998, he found a single developer working on the solution’s biggest technological leap forward to date.

After spending a couple of months helping to get the new DRAMS program up and running, Brendan moved on to another application. Then another and another. The way that Grampian handled development as a service meant Brendan was contracted out to a variety of businesses with unique needs, often travelling to the company’s headquarters for the duration of the assignment. After spending six months working on systems for clothing retailer Edinburgh Woollen Mill, he took on a project for Trinity House lighthouse service, developing a solution for monitoring the condition of lighthouses, buoys, and other aides to navigation around the coastline.

“It was a real mix of stuff. That was something that attracted me to Grampian initially,” Brendan said.  “A lot of the software jobs you could have gone into at that point would have been working for a company who developed a solution for themselves and just needed that in-house solution maintained going forward. So Grampian was always a more attractive option, because it was real product development you were doing.”

Decades of this type of development had turned Grampian into a large company grappling with a lack of focus. In 2005, Grampian’s managing director at the time decided to split the company in two: Grampian Software for the payroll/HR side of the business and Grampian Software Holdings for the company’s transit duty allocation system for bus drivers and for DRAMS. Then in 2007, Trapeze acquired Grampian Software Holdings to expand its presence in the transit space, and Brendan came along for the ride.

The Trapeze acquisition gave Grampian’s transit division the attention and focus that had been lacking in a more fragmented business, but that singular focus inadvertently eliminated the variety that had made Grampian such a fun place for Brendan to work.

By 2011, I think I'd done as much as I could in terms of the duty allocation side of things. We’d redeveloped that product. We had the product out live. We were continuing to add new features to the product, but there wasn't the same level of interest for me in just making incremental improvements to what we had.
- Brendan Flood, DRAMS CEO

A New Challenge

More than a decade had passed since Brendan had worked on the DRAMS product, but the small group of employees handling the distillery management business hadn’t grown since 1998. In that time, two of the world’s largest beverage companies – Campari and Bacardi – had discovered the business through word-of-mouth, and the ensuing expansion into new product lines and new geographies had strained the team beyond their limits.

“There were a lot of things that needed somebody to throw their arms around and improve the situation,” Brendan said. “So that was what I did initially, and I think it was clear that the existing team, which really only was a couple of people at that time, needed to grow to manage that workload.”

When Grampian Software Holdings was acquired, DRAMS had been the odd man out within Trapeze: a distillery software business among other business units solely focused on the transit sector. But by 2011, Trapeze had acquired many other businesses in several different vertical markets and grown well beyond the transit sector. Volaris Group was formed as a parent company over Trapeze to administer those other businesses while Trapeze remained focused on transit, and Brendan transitioned to DRAMS team manager. Over the next three years, Brendan oversaw the building of a unique brand for distillery solutions, the creation of a website, and the beginning of user groups that put customers in the driver’s seat for the development of new product offerings. By 2014, DRAMS was recognized as a thriving business in its own right, and Brendan transitioned to a P&L lead. After a few more years of high profitability and proven success in adding new clients, Volaris turned DRAMS into its own business unit in 2017.

When DRAMS moved out of Trapeze and under Portfolio Manager Kevin Bradley in 2019, Brendan made his case for growing the business during their first strategy meeting. He was asking to make big investments in expanding his team and developing the DRAMS footprint around the world, but after almost a decade at the helm, he had the data to back up his request.

The response that I got from Kevin was exactly the response I wanted. He looked at the numbers and completely agreed that I should invest more in the team.
- Brendan Flood, DRAMS CEO

Stepping into a New Role

When Brendan became CEO of the newly spun-out DRAMS, he slid into the role seamlessly because he had been developing the necessary skills for years. On-the-job learning experiences and formal training around leadership and managing the business had built up his skill set so that when DRAMS was finally separated out, he felt like he’d been doing that job for a number of years already.

But proving himself had earned Brendan the freedom to make more sweeping changes, and now he needed to make them. He knew the heart of his team was a small number of people that the company had been relying on too heavily for too long, and it was time to make decisions that would relieve some of that burden.

“A key thing for me was marketing. We had an outgoing salesperson and I made the decision not to replace him, and instead to bring in somebody in a full-time marketing role,” Brendan said. “I could see that our sales process relied on our implementation consultants and myself to talk to prospective customers about DRAMS solutions in significant detail, and we’d struggled to find a dedicated salesperson who could start those conversations or contribute to that process.  Moving our attention to marketing meant that we had someone focussed on bringing in more opportunities and allowing us to have more of those detailed conversations, and that was a real step forward for us.”

DRAMS has also been growing its management structure, focusing on five-year strategy planning to ensure the company is proactive as the global spirits market evolves. Adding a Human Resources manager was another must-have on Brendan’s list, to ensure that there will be a renewed focus on giving employees the opportunity to take on new challenges and new responsibilities. Brendan said he hopes exposing his team to different areas of the business and other companies in the Volaris family will give them a chance to think outside their preconceived career path and maybe find an unexpected road they’d rather explore.

I think if left to my own devices, if I'd been looking for an opportunity to move, it wouldn't have been to move into DRAMS or to move into a CEO position. I'd have been looking for a development manager position that would have been just following that expected developer career path. So I consider myself fortunate that this opportunity came up at the right time. My advice to anyone looking to progress their career would be to stay open to the opportunities that present themselves along the way.
- Brendan Flood, DRAMS CEO

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