Over the past 35 years in the mobile phone industry, I’ve certainly witnessed an unprecedented amount of change.
Looking retrospectively, to achieve career longevity, I would encourage those just starting out to have confidence in themselves. I had to believe in myself and be confident in my ability to convince businesses that mobile phones were a useful investment and worth spending on.
When I first started out, in 1988, it was just three years after the first mobile call was made in the UK. Mobile phones were the size of bricks, and they could only make calls. Handsets were extremely costly and didn’t work everywhere. At that point Apple still just made computers, and the first iPhone was almost two decades away. As a 20-year-old from East Kilbride it was my role to try and convince sceptical business owners that they needed to spend thousands of pounds on a mobile phone. I found myself to be a competent salesperson. I managed to convince enough firms to get a mobile. I even won a trip on Concorde for being the top salesman and after that, ended up running a team of salespeople.
The second tip I would give would be to always trust your guy instinct. It has served me well throughout my career, but as a youngster fresh into the mobile phone industry I really wanted to do sales – but at first, I wasn’t allowed – I had to begin as a canvasser.
I made the decision to leave a well-paying job to join a company called Woodend Communications, and in doing so, took a pay cut. For the first four months I worked as a “canvasser”. This meant visiting businesses on industrial estates in Scotland and asking the receptionist if the company had considered getting mobile phones.
“I learnt a lot – mostly about how to read people and how to talk to people who were in a bad mood. You had to predict whether people were having a good or a bad day, or were pleased, indifferent or unhappy to see you. The skills I picked up then have helped me in negotiations to this day.”
At that point, mobile phones weren’t aimed at consumers at all. Handsets which cost £1,500 – or £4,000 in today’s money – were too expensive. There was a scepticism because of the cost – not just the handset but the running costs. There was a £60 connection fee, £25 a month and then 25p a minute for calls. It was a lot of money.”
So, a ten-minute call was £2.50 – or £6.60 today. Looking back, I think, how did I sell that to businesses?
Mostly, I explained how it could ultimately help them to make more money. For example, I would explain how they could generate work even when away from the factory, yard, or office by being able to take a phone call while driving or on site.
The third tip would be to have patience – when I was working as a canvasser in the early days, I was eager and impatient to join the sales team, but I knew you had to get the training in and learn on the go – and that paid off.
Learn from those with more experience
In terms of learnings to be had from more experienced individuals, one leadership characteristic I found useful was when managers gave responsibility and autonomy to their team. Allocating a task to an individual and trusting them to run with it has always paid off well, and when I was managing a team of salespeople, I encouraged them to push themselves, and achieve targets without having me micromanaging them.
Embrace change with enthusiasm
Working in a technology company, change is continual and ever present. Every few months there are new products and innovations launched to market, so we are in a perpetual state of development and innovation. Throughout my career at Alcatel, which then became TCL, I’ve learnt that embracing change is generally a good idea, and it’s often considered a crucial skill for effective leadership.
I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed longevity in my career, with over three decades spent in the mobile phone industry.