Chris Bayne: How I went from intern to boss

Chris Bayne knew he wanted to start up his own software business the moment he completed his internship with Access. So, how did he come to be at the head of his former employer?

Rejection by Hewlett-Packard in 1991 came as quite a shock to Chris Bayne. But it would also prove to be a huge blessing. He had applied for a year's work placement with the US computer giant as part of his computer science degree. "I assumed they would accept me and hadn't looked into a placement anywhere else."

Bayne, now 48, found a place instead with Access UK, "a tiny accounting software company, operating out of a converted lounge". Despite being "paid peanuts" Bayne loved the experience. "I was writing code for Windows and Macs it was very cutting edge at the time." Being at a small company also meant Bayne was involved in everything from making software to sales. Eventually he returned to Aston to complete his degree, but his time at Access left him determined to start his own company. Three of his friends Mike Audis, Ket Chauhan and Rob Parkinson felt the same and, in 1993, following their graduation, they decided to set up Armstrong Consultants.

The idea was that they would win contracts to write small, custom computer programs. "We didn't really have a sophisticated business plan. We were just guns for hire." All four tapped their parents for start-up cash and raised £5,000 for office equipment. Bayne's father then working abroad agreed to let them use his house as a live-in office. The quartet started arranging meetings with possible clients but found that "no one seemed to need custom pieces of software". So Bayne turned to Access. The firm agreed to take on Armstrong to help customise software for its clients.

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The partnership gave Armstrong a steady stream of clients. "It was a big help because once we were established with a client we found they had other bits of work that needed doing." By 1996 sales hit £500,000 and they moved to a "proper office". Feeling confident, the quartet decided to give sales another go. They hired more staff and began contacting potential clients direct. Soon they became one of Access's most successful dealers, selling the firm's goods and picking up maintenance and operation contracts.

Market conditions also helped the firm grow. In the late 1990s, IT was spreading across sectors and one-off events such as the switch to the euro and fears about the Y2K bug encouraged clients to update their accountancy software. "If I knew then what I knew now I could have grown the firm far more quickly." As it was, sales hit £3m by 2000.

By 2003 the group decided to be bolder and invest in developing their own programs. One of these allowed key data, from, say, time sheets or purchase orders, to be streamed live from an employee's computer to their accounts department. These new programs proved a massive success and by 2007 Armstrong's turnover hit £10m. Bayne was delighted. Access was not. "Our businesses were starting to overlap."

Eventually they bought out Armstrong for £8.5 million, but retained Bayne within the newly enlarged firm. In 2010 there was one more twist in the tale. Access's founder and chairman quit. Bayne and his partners arranged a management buyout with help from venture capitalists in a £50 million deal. Now Bayne heads the firm that hired him as a work placement 20 years ago.

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.