Meet the MD: Tim Sewart of Clarity

Whilst working as a lawyer for Clarity - a company which provides software and clinical knowledge to the NHS, Tim Sewart was approached by owners to take over as CEO and run the business. Today Clarity's software is used by 85% of NHS GP's in England. Here's his story.

What is it the company does?

Clarity provides software and clinical knowledge to the NHS; helping doctors and nurses save time and money, so they can spend more time with patients.

Our web-based e-portfolios help medical practitioners to track their learning and development and supports them to be revalidated, which is the process they need to undertake every 5 years to be relicensed. Clarity is the UK market leader and our software is used by 85% of all GPs in England. We’ve also recently launched an education version of the tool that allows GPs to address any gaps in their learning and development, via a range of new e-learning resources we have developed based on nationally recognised best-practice guidance.

We also provide dedicated tools for GP Practice Managers. GP surgeries, like any small businesses, need to manage HR, finance and health and safety. Our TeamNet portal allows Practice Managers to track all of these things and makes it easy to demonstrate compliance during CQC (Care Quality Commission) inspections. A lot of GP practices are also forming federations and TeamNet helps them to collaborate, share resources and policies across all of their practices, saving valuable time.

Lastly, Clarity writes guidance for doctors on how to treat patients. We have some of the smartest GPs in the country who write the guidance on how to treat the 360 most common conditions. This guidance is published as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)’s Clinical Knowledge Summaries (CKS) service. The topics cover 95% of everything you would go to your GP for and outline the symptoms, remedies and evidence behind the treatment recommendations. The CKS service is made freely available to all doctors in the UK and has over 300,000 unique users a month, which accounts for about half of the NHS.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

In my role as CEO at Clarity, I’m responsible for setting the strategy for the business and making sure we execute it. I suppose ultimately I make sure that we as a business are a success.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I started out as a lawyer, so I started my training in 2001 and became a solicitor in 2003. I was working for DAC Beachcroft LLP in London and became a partner in the firm. In my role as a lawyer I helped technology companies like Clarity expand and grow, whilst protecting their IP, and I also helped to connect people in the technology space. I actually worked as Clarity’s lawyer and when the owner, Ian Purves, was looking for investment, I put him in contact with two investors who went on to acquire 60% of the business. They asked me if I would be interested in moving to Newcastle with my family to run the business. I still work in London as a lawyer three days a week, where I am a Partner and Head of Commercial, Media and Technology at Memery Crystal LLP, and then I’m based in Newcastle for the rest of the week. The role is very different to my legal career, so it was a risk and many of the people I worked with at the time couldn’t believe I was going to work in an SME up North! But it has been an incredible privilege to be offered the opportunity to take on a role that is outside of my profession. I viewed it as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I still do.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

It’s important to distinguish between what makes a great leader and a great manager. I think people often don’t differentiate the two and they can become conflated.

A great leader should be a visionary. They should be inspirational. A lot of other skills, such as people management or setting strategies to deliver growth, can be attributed to a manager. But to be a leader you need to have something about you that will make your team believe in you, something that will motivate and encourage them to do their best.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

When I first came to Clarity the business didn’t have a clear focus. We were doing lots of things, but we weren’t doing any of them brilliantly. My challenge was to identify our strengths and focus our work in those areas. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t make me very popular. We went through an enormous period of change, but it was necessary to bring focus to what we do.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

It sounds so simple to say, but I try not to get stressed. There are people out there that face terrible hardship, poverty or conflict, but for many of us we are living incredible lives. Remembering that and trying to maintain a positive mental attitude is really important. On a practical level, I try to do things outside of work that are not related to my role. I also play a lot of chess. In fact, chess is not dissimilar to work as getting stressed doesn’t help; you just need to think tactically and work out how to win.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer! I was very cheeky, argumentative and used to question everything, so I think my calling came naturally!

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I really don’t like it when people don’t care about their job and are just there to work their time and collect their pay. I want to work with people who love what they do and really buy into the company’s values. I also dislike leaders that don’t lead by example. The ones that leave the office at 5pm while their team are still working away.

It’s important to have balance and there’s got to be give and take in the workplace. But I want to have a culture where people are inspired, where you’re motivated to work as a team towards a collective goal.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Clarity has a very strong track record and market share in the Primary Care sector, so my focus is on building and acquiring more tools that will make us indispensable to this market. With the exception of actually seeing and diagnosing the patient, I want Clarity to be there for everything else that helps GPs and Practice Managers deliver high quality patient care.

We know there will be an inventive GP out there that has built an innovative bit of technology to make their working day better, and we want to find them and help them to scale-up. It’s not easy to scale-up in the Primary Care sector as it is very disparate and disconnected. If it’s a challenge for government to communicate with all GP practices, how as a business are you supposed to approach the market? You have to knock on a lot of doors; too many. That’s where Clarity’s business model is special. Over 80% of all GPs use Clarity’s appraisal and e-learning tools and around 28% of practices use Clarity’s TeamNet portal. 

TeamNet is a great example of what we want to become known for - acquiring and scaling up innovative and complementary technologies. A couple of years ago it was a separate business, based just along the road from us in Cobalt Business Park.  They had built up a customer base of around 400 GP practices, but were very North East focused so it made sense for us to join forces. Since the acquisition, we’ve grown that customer base to close to 2,000 practices (28% of UK practices). To achieve this, we used our market presence with the e-portfolio to run free trials of TeamNet, and within six to twelve months enquiries came flooding in which generated more than a threefold increase in turnover in the process.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Have the courage of your convictions. I think when I took on the role at Clarity I allowed people to dissuade me too much. At the time, I needed to trust my judgment and have the courage of my convictions to then make things happen.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

In your professional career, I think you always need to think about where you would like to be in five years’ time, and then every day you need to ask yourself ‘What am I doing today that will put me in a better place five years from now?’

As a junior lawyer, you get into the office in a morning and you’re faced with a league table of who has the most billable hours. Often junior lawyers fight on a daily basis to be at the top of that league table. But those same people will rarely become partners because by doing the most billable hours possible, you’re neglecting building the relationships, developing your network or doing the personal development that will get you ahead in five years’ time.

I wish someone had told me that when I first started out. I figured it out eventually, but it took time.  I suspect it’s not just relevant to lawyers, but it applies to all of us in our careers.  Sometimes what is best for your future is not necessarily what is best for your employer in the short term.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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