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Dave Cormack: No place like home for US-based IT millionaire

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Residents of the Granite City might remember the brief spell Dave Cormack spent as chief executive of Aberdeen football club. But the “football mad” US-based entrepreneur instead now keeps up with his beloved Dons from his beach house in Florida.

Raised in Garthdee, the 56-year old seems surprised when I agree he has picked up an American twang. But Mr Cormack and his wife have been living in Atlanta since the 1990s after he sold his software company, Soft Systems, to a US firm and went there to help run it.

A brief chance to come back to run Aberdeen Football Club in 2000 was partly to do with a promise he had made to his wife they would only be stateside for three years.

“We had thought of coming home. But my daughter had a health condition which mean we ended up staying in the States,” he recalls.

“That was the opportunity to come home. The club was really challenged financially. We worked with Martin Gilbert at Aberdeen Asset Management and Stewart Milne. I met a lot of friends and still have them today,” he said.

Since 2004 he has been running Brightree, a fast growing healthcare technology firm. Last week, he came over to launch a new office for the firm in Glasgow. This adds to the existing development office Mr Cormack established in Aberdeen four years ago. The firm now employs 35 software engineers in Scotland out of a workforce of 450.

He initially looked to Scotland – and his home town – because it was much easier to hire skilled people here than it was in adopted home.

“Hiring and retaining in Atlanta, which is the healthcare capital of the US, is very difficult. There’s no unemployment.

“I’ve seen ceos offshoreing to India, places to do it cheaply.
“By and large I’ve never seen it work.
“What we have found is we have a very similar culture, we speak the same language. we also have 24/7 coverage in the US and the UK.
“We were able to tap into some great engineering schools here. We are able to bring them state of the art technology to work on. The work ethic and quality we get is excellent.
“I wish we had gone for more space in Glasgow because we have filled the office almost.”

Brightree focuses on what he describes as the “post-acute care” market, looking after patients’ healthcare needs at home.

If the NHS has its difficulties to face, the US problem seems even worse. Not only does the US spend 18% of its GDP on healthcare – in the UK, the figure is more like 10% – but the aging population is set to have a huge impact.

“There are 10,000 baby boomers coming onto the market every single day,” he says.
“With the aging population this 18% of GDP is going to grow to 35% unchecked in the 20 years.”

When Mr Cormack took on Brightree, he and his partners were aware that this problem would lead to consolidation in the marketplace as the thousands of medicare suppliers cut their costs. Using a clever cloud-based technology, which replaces clunking legacy systems, would also allow the firm’s smaller customers to improve service at a lower cost. Now his firm has a turnover of £80million ($120million), and is backed by a specialist venture capital firm, Battery Ventures.

“We foresaw that reimbursements would get cut, there would be consolidation in the market, then a cloud base solution would be adopted heavily by the providers,” he says.

“We are looking to bring on some other investment for acquisitions. If that happened, it would be our platform that would survive. The need for more developers would be even greater than we have just now.”

But he does love coming home, he says. Before our meeting he had taken a box at Celtic Park to bring his grandad to watch the Dons play, then unfortunately, lose. This was improved somewhat at an event at the Marcliffe Hotel seeing Sir Alex Fergsuon get inducted into the AFC Hall of Fame. Then another game – this time played and won against Dundee United – provided him with an even better spectacle.

He’s sympathetic to the troubles that face the region now as the oil price crash takes its toll, but he figures the people here are resilient – although the city’s main street not so much.

“I’d like the city to do something about Union Street. It used to be the gem of Aberdeen now it is all betting shops now,” he says.

Another aspect of the north-east appears to be the how the people here keep the multi-millionaire’s feet on the ground.

“The thing I love about coming home is the sense of humour. It is the sarcasm. If you get too big for your britches the family here bring you down a peg or two really quickly.”


Who helped you get where you are today?

I’d say there is no one person. I’ve learned from some good CEOs over the years. Sometimes I didn’t realise it at the time. Our chairman Rick Chitty. He bought my business in London 20 years ago. He has invested in Brightree too.

What do you still hope to achieve in business?

I’d like to see Brightree fulfil its potential. Today it is a $120million (£79.5m) turnover business. It has the capability over the next five to 10 years to be a $500million (£331m) turnover business and on the public stock markets. It’s not just for me, it is for all of our stakeholders.

If you were in government, what would you change?

Which one? (He laughs). I would change Obama. I think he has wasted the last few years.

What would your wife and children say about you?
My wife would say – she has always said – I am still a work in progress.

What kind of car do you drive and what do you dream of driving?
I drive 12-year old Jaguar saloon. When I was younger I used to like to change my car every three years. But the car still drives really well. If I were to buy another car it would probably be a Range Rover so I could get all the grandkids in it.

What charity do you support?

We are involved in some philanthropy in South America. We are involved in funding a children’s centre in Cartagena, Columbia.
We come from working-class families. We are blessed with what we have got and we have to give back. We made a donation to the Maggies Centre for £100,000 a few years ago, but we also raised another £150,000 at a charity golf event in Atlanta.
We like to help charities back in Scotland. It was something friends of ours were behind. My wife’s dad died of cancer in 1985. It was a natural affinity.