Shebang looking to right past mistakes

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Shebang chief Iain Humphrey admits it’s been a tough 18 months for the company – with mistakes and the economy resulting in cost cuts and redundancies. Nevertheless he remains upbeat, as he tells Paul Withers

Just over a year ago, Shebang Technologies Group CEO Iain Humphrey (pictured) spoke to Mobile News at length about his plans for the future.

Those plans included a company restructure, designed to provide greater clarity on its offerings.

This move saw Shebang effectively split into six divisions – Consumer Solutions, Logistics Solutions, Business Solutions, Software and Services, Web Solutions and Properties – under the Shebang Technologies Group name.

Humphrey said he’d provide an update on how successful the restructure had been by the middle of this year.

And sitting at Shebang’s HQ in Daventry, Humphrey doesn’t feel the need to mince his words, saying without hesitation how he “absolutely regrets” the move.

He says the initial move provided little benefit to the business, and the six business units are now being brought back under the original Shebang Technologies Group.

“It wasn’t of great benefit at all and I absolutely regret making the move,” Humphrey says. “We split it for the right reasons and we needed to identify each division in the marketplace. It was designed to ensure we got the funding in the right places in each of the arms.

“It didn’t quite work to that effect and it segmented too many people in the business. I’ve always loved being around a team environment and you can see that now as it comes back together.

“We’re going to operate as we always should have done, which is under Shebang Technologies Group.”

Challenging times
For the past three years, Shebang has managed to consistently achieve turnover of close to £60 million. Humphrey says this has come at a cost, though, as much has been spent on improving Shebang’s structure and services in the past two years.

He admits the company has found the past couple of years tough, due in part to a lack of outside investment that has meant he has had to keep an extra vigilant eye on Shebang’s financial outgoings.

“We couldn’t really grow any more under the conditions we were in with cash,” said Humphrey. “We’ve really wanted to improve our services and structure and that has cost us heavily. This year is about peeling that back, continuing the same level of service that we’ve just started to learn to enjoy and the same sales, with the right margins.

“It’s now time to focus on the things that give us big contract wins and concentrate on our great routes to market, delivering a better experience for consumers either through our franchise or web operation, as well as growing our MVNO network.”

Reality check
The man behind the cost-cutting is former Everything Everywhere (EE) director of indirect sales Duncan Hay.

Hay joined Shebang in January as its managing director and is charged with the daily running of the business. His appointment saw Humphrey take up the role of CEO, focusing on new business opportunities and Shebang’s MVNO operations.

Hay, who left EE after four years, followed another former EE man in April 2011, online sales director Steve Heald, who is Shebang’s group commercial director.

Humphrey praises Hay’s influence on Shebang, claiming the appointment of someone with top-level experience was vital in realising what areas the businesses needed to improve on and where money could be saved.

“Sometimes you need a reality check,” Humphrey says. “I’d like to say there is no one better qualified to make a decision than myself, but often it’s good to have that level of professionalism to provide some real in-depth
understanding.

“Duncan, with that experience in the corporate sector, has noticed we need to restructure the business, getting focused on fewer areas and do more in less rather than trying to do some of everything. You can definitely see the fruits of those labours appearing now in the business.”

Departures
Cuts have been made internally, with around 35 staff redundancies since October, largely in the company’s software support division.

In total, staff numbers have fallen from 240 at the end of last year to less than 150 today, leading many to speculate the firm is in financial trouble.

Among them were the three high-profile departures of Shebang Logistics Solutions MD Joe Bennett, Shebang Consumer Solutions MD Julian Burton and Shebang Business Solutions managing director Tanny Cordingley (see boxout left).

Bennett, who had previously worked for Unique Distribution and Brightstar, spent just over two years at Shebang. Burton, who joined a year earlier in March 2009, previously worked as head of mobile at Tesco – and oversaw the growth of Shebang’s Go Mobile retail operation and the roll-out of its Purple Partnership franchise programme. It is understood he left as a result of the impending sale to A1.

Cordingley, who left after just nine months, was brought in to lead the firm’s B2B franchise programme but left in February to set up her own consultancy firm, Pomegranate Soup.

She is now advising Shebang on a number of projects, including leading its B2B indirect operation.

The firm also this month sold off its much talked about Go Mobile retail  business and online retail brand Affordable Mobiles to Derby-based online retailer A1 Comms – which operates the consumer brand BuyMobilePhones.net.

Humphrey insists there won’t be another bout of redundancies and the firm is now exactly where it needs to be. He adds that staff should not be concerned.

He says any further departures from the business will be because they have not performed to the levels expected
of them.

“This restructure has put a lot of fright into people,” Humphrey says. “We’ve had to go through that structural change, as most businesses would in the economic climate as it is presently. We believe we’ve done it for the right reasons for security for everyone in the future.

“Those who bring benefit to Shebang shouldn’t be concerned. We’re coming towards the end of this mass change and we are a different-looking business from six months ago. We’re where we wanted to be over the first quarter of 2012. We’re at that stage where we’re generating the right profits on a monthly basis to make a real impact and still deliver high-quality business.

“I feel really confident about the team we have here and the amount of enthusiasm towards success that is starting to show throughout the group by bringing it back together as one team. I’m really looking forward to this year and putting Shebang back in the right place to move forward because we know we deliver on behalf of the networks.

“We’ve been chasing the game. We have never really had major capital input, so you have to keep a close eye
on cash.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 516 (June 18, 2012).

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