Add confidence and competence to C4L’s four Cs ….. colocation, connectivity, cloud and communications.

Matt Hawkins is very good at spotting business opportunities. He’s been doing it since he was five: selling sweets for pocket-money profit to friends and neighbours, graduating to primary school deals, then software trading at secondary school and college, moving on to building computers for students and local businesses to help cover his university fees.

Yet, money is not the key driver for this natural entrepreneur, who today aged 39, heads up one of the UK’s leading integrated data centre and connectivity solution providers – a rapidly growing company having gained, among other recognitions, inclusion in the 2011 Times Tech Track 100.

Money is the pleasant business by-product of his desire to achieve personal success – in whatever he does – whether that is leisuretime kite-surfing, snowboarding, and rock-climbing, or running a major Internet integration business turning over £15 million in 2014 and employing more than 65 people.

Note those risk-taking sports. Challenging his limits is the competitive spark and adrenaline rush that arguably drives his entrepreneurship. “I guess, being an only child, I wanted to prove things to myself.“

And, perhaps that also led him to be personally imaginative, hands-on creative and a confident self-starter. Certainly, he is all of those.

Either way, Hawkins gained business craft early, learning from good and bad operators – “You go into business trusting everyone; I’ve learned to be more cautious“ – and creating successful websites, then online businesses for affiliate marketing and the clubbing music scene.

By the mid-1990s he was astutely viewing the big picture – 21st century opportunities, and specifically the Internet’s future role as a core business communication and data medium.

“I tend to take business risks that others wouldn’t, but my risks are as calculated as I can make them.“

In 2000, aged 25, Hawkins founded C4L, then survived the recession, gained blue-chip, international and government clients, achieved five-

year growth of 3,425%, established C4L’s coreTX data centre network (one of the UK’s largest), and became Dorset Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.

Hard work and talent don’t aptly describe his achievements. Suffice to say, Hawkins has endured 100-hour-a-week periods of obsessive work and now recognises the need for sensible work-life balance – and time to think and strategise rather than immediately react to workday concerns.

It’s one reason Simon Mewett was invited to become Group CEO in 2012, and dedicated directors have recently been appointed to cover C4L’s four key operational areas: colocation, connectivity, cloud and communications.

Internal communication is key to C4L’s entrepreneurial culture. Staff provide feedback and ideas through a business continual improvement scheme and regularly meet for team and social events.

And Billy the pug? Nowadays, Hawkins tries not to take his work home. But, Billy is a part of home at work…. and a relaxing presence in the C4L offices. Not that the C4L culture is anything less than ambitious and vibrant.

Is Hawkins still personally motivated? Absolutely. “I still enjoy what we do; being first to market with innovative products and inventive solutions. We pull together colocation, connectivity, cloud and communications within one integrated solution and I don’t think there is anyone doing that as well as we do,“ he adds proudly.

“I like building things, doing something new,“ says Hawkins, revealing that he aims to take C4L global. “We now have the infrastructure to develop many Internet-related business options.“

Although growth is likely to be client-led, cash-rich C4L has a scalable business suitable for international growth, with only cultural differences and local partnership arrangements to resolve.

“I’m hoping that next year we will be in Hong Kong, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York and Moscow.“

With an eye to that future, C4L has just introduced a share option scheme for its employees – to retain, reward and incentivise them.

For a fast-growth company like C4L, attracting enough skilled recruits is a challenge, admits Hawkins, but “being the only infrastructure service provider based in Dorset operating cloud platforms and integrated networks is a definite advantage.“

Hawkins oversees internal training, apprenticeships and upskilling within C4L. He also mentors entrepreneurs at Bournemouth University’s Entrepreneur in Residence scheme and supports the local Fast Growth Business Group “. . because they’ve helped me a lot.“

Innovative cost-effective solutions and impressive customer service have driven impressive year-on-year growth since C4L’s inception, but a focus on corporate structuring and a £6m committed infrastructure investment recently slowed progress.

Now, C4L’s proven and upgraded systems (with an extra 95% data storage capacity now available) are ready for fresh work.

Opsview has a sales-target ‘Monitorometer’ as a visual motivator for all staff within its offices. The target is to hit one million devices managed by 2016. I wouldn’t bet against that.