Brian Luff discovered an entrepreneurial spark mid-way through his career which led him to found and grow two businesses in the software sector. He started as a Software Engineer, System Designer and Business Area Manager before he established a UK subsidiary of a US software company. Around a decade later, he became the founding Managing Director of Critical Software Technologies Ltd and currently chairs the board at the company.
He supports several causes outside of Critical Software and is committed to mentoring Future Worlds’ startups to achieve their own business success. “The whole idea of Future Worlds has caught my imagination,” he says. “I’m always keen to get involved in interesting projects. There are a lot of good initiatives going on at the University of Southampton and its associated businesses. The most important thing Future Worlds does though is make people more aware of the possibility of being entrepreneurial.”
Brian was born in Nottingham and wanted to be an astronomer in his youth, choosing to study Physics at the University of Dundee. Despite finding his passion more in science than engineering, he decided not to complete the course and instead became a Software Engineer for the Ministry of Defence’s Maintenance Data Centre. “There were plenty of distractions and I lost my way,” he says. “Sometimes you can’t avoid making mistakes. The trick is to not make the same mistakes twice if you can help it.” Brian maintains a deep interest in astrophysics and cosmology.
A 14-year spell at the Ministry of Defence continued with posts as a System Designer for the Navy and a Software Manager for the UK Land Forces as Brian stretched his managerial experience. “I found management really appealing,” he says. “You could be working with people and really making a difference in their careers.” Brian combined the posts with a degree in Computer Science at the University of Reading.
Ambitious to build his experience, he spent two years as an Engineering Manager at Plessey Defence Systems and a further three years as a Naval Systems Business Area Manager at EDS Scicon Ltd. One project his department wished to bid for needed a solution which Brian soon identified was available in America. “I quickly realised there was an opportunity to set up a U.S subsidiary,” he says. “It was a risk to leave a secure well-paid job but it just so happened there were three major contracts that all came at the same time and any one would be sufficient to float a company if you could survive long enough to go through the bidding process. We went ahead and won all three.
“It was a very exciting time. I remember it was January 1992 and it was like Christmas had happened all over again. There was just me and a single room in the Southampton Science Park. Over the next three years the company grew to over 50 people.” Brian’s first experience of running a company at INRI UK Ltd lasted over 10 years, a fruitful period towards the end of which his company was acquired and became Northrop Grumman IT Europe Ltd.
With international software company Critical Software seeking a UK subsidiary in 2004, Brian stepped forward as the founding Managing Director of Critical Software Technologies Ltd, located in the University of Southampton Science Park. “I really enjoy what we’re doing with Critical,” Brian adds. “Critical’s growth in the UK has been steady over the years and we’ve become more integrated with our parent company.”
Brian divides his time overseeing Critical Software Technologies’ operations as Chairman with other activities close to his heart including contributions to Solent LEP’s Employment and Skills Board, chairing the board of Trustees of Chilworth Hall and helping organise a Hampshire Patient Support Group on behalf of the Cardiomyopathy Association. “I enjoy seeing opportunities and like doing new things,” he adds.
Brian can offer expert advice on strategies for staff and student startups and would potentially invest in the right opportunity. “I’m happy to act as a sounding board and to bring my experience of starting and growing businesses to people who are just about to start off on their entrepreneurial careers,” he says. You can get in touch with Brian using the contact form on this page.
“One thing I’m good at is seeing synergies and connections, and the opportunities that could arise from those,” he adds. “I’ve worked in central government, for large companies and as a senior manager in small companies. I far prefer small companies and best of all like starting them and growing them.”