North can become “major force” following COVID-19

27th May 2020

North can become "major force" following COVID-19

The North of England is poised become a "major force" following the Covid-19 outbreak according to the founder of a group of digital transformation companies.

Andrew Johnson is the founder of Simplytrak, a vehicle and camera telematics specialists based in East Yorkshire.


The company is part of the SAAS Global Group of companies, which specialise in digital transformation across the UK and worldwide.

Johnson hailed the North of England as “vibrant, full of opportunity and potential”.

He said: “Captain Tom, the Yorkshire-born World War Two veteran who raised a record sum for the NHS by painstakingly completing 100 laps of his garden with the aid of a walking frame, is a symbol of endurance in the face of the adversity of the coronavirus crisis.

“People and businesses in the North of England are innovative, resilient and hard-working. They are hungry to succeed. The North of England is ripe to become a major force after Covid-19, after Brexit, after whatever else you throw at it.”

Johnson highlighted the challenges faced by the group since its establishment and the role being in and from the North of England played in its growth.

He said: “Happenstance and honest toil. That would best describe how we ended up running a group of four successful companies in the East Riding of Yorkshire. SAAS Global’s, journey actually started back in 2002, in the Caribbean, on a yacht. It wasn’t mine, the yacht. I was merely a travelling chef at the time.

“So switching to Yorkshire business owner and eventually CEO of a group staffed by talented people destined for great things was a little bit of a transition. From being a fledgling seller of tracking systems based in an old farmhouse to creating a group of companies turning over millions of pounds based in the East Riding of Yorkshire and now a member of the Northern Powerhouse, it has been an interesting few years.”

Johnson highlighted his experience establishing SimplyTrak in demonstrating the opportunities in the North.

“Coming back to the North of England after 15 years of traveling and working abroad facilitated looking at things from different perspectives,” he said.

“And it formed the realisation that the North of England really is the land of opportunities with so much still ahead. Now more than ever. Returning to Yorkshire in the days well before GPRS, 2G, 3G, 4G, smartphones and broadband, Simplytrak was a foray into UK business. Our telematics company has seen and worked through all of these technology changes and many more. The 2008 financial crash, a number of oil price crashes and peaks, currency fluctuations, SARS, MERS and now Covid-19, in business it is always interesting.

“They said that vehicle tracking had about five years of life back in 2002. Here we are in 2020 and it is now an essential part of most businesses, with fleets, daily operations. It has adapted and morphed as all good technology does. It now includes four-way cameras, legislated DVS truck safety systems and remote immobilisation. Simplytrak is a FORS member, approved by DEFRA and ISO and Crown Commercial Services certified. We track for the world’s biggest online seller and have sold into more than 40 countries over time. The business is stronger than ever and handles all technology for the group.”

Johnson also highlighted journeys of the other group companies.

“Forward And Thinking was conceived in 2009,” he said. “It started selling blue-tooth marketing and pivoted when smartphones made that industry redundant. The company became a force in media buying and digital advertising and specialises in the education sector although its many customers range from housebuilders to councils, solicitors and football clubs. It is a Google and Facebook Partner and is part of a group of agencies with access to TikTok’s UK advertising platform. It doubled in size last year and, despite this current disruption, we power on. We have an award-winning MD and work UK wide from our base in Market Weighton.

“Wold Outdoor came about through happenstance. An introduction from our house conveyancer to a bridge and shoe designing architect led to a new partnership. Forward And Thinking were selling a huge amount of digital out-of-home advertising throughout the UK. So naturally, we set about designing sculptural, digital media towers of our own. We applied for funding to create jobs, got refused, so the directors went all in and built the first tower anyway. The company now has two further structures in planning and a remit of improving the urban environment in which they are placed with street-scaping and improvements to the public realm.”

Johnson added that, with the support of businesses, the North Powerhouse had the potential to thrive going forward.

He said: “Given support, the Northern Powerhouse will catapult the region into an exporting force like no other. You can obstruct progress, enable it or just get out of the way. But you will struggle to stop a region on a mission. Happenstance, hard work and opportunity. The skills are here. The opportunities are here. The Northern region is poised to thrive.”

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