All change at the top as Fonehouse eyes growth

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After taking a less hands-on role at the end of last year, Fonehouse founder Clive Bayley is back as CEO with a new management team that he says can drive the firm’s plans forward, as Paul Withers reports

Last November, it appeared that Clive Bayley, the founder and owner of mobile phone retailer Fonehouse, was ready to put up his feet.

After almost 20 years at the helm of the company, Bayley (pictured) relinquished his position as CEO to become, by his own admission, a “less hands-on” group chairman.

The move was part of an internal rejig to help the company move forward in both the business and consumer channels.

Wholesale changes were made to the leadership team. Stepping into Bayley’s shoes was former Virgin Megastores and Zavvi boss Simon Douglas.

Douglas was tasked with taking the Fonehouse operation to the next level, including driving its B2B plans forward and strengthening the Fonehouse brand.

At the time, Bayley described Douglas’s appointment as a “golden opportunity” to further strengthen the Fonehouse brand.

Another new arrival at the firm’s Putney Bridge offices in January was Mark Noonan, replacing the outgoing Daniel Schama as operations director.

Noonan, who had held the same roles at Virgin and Zavvi as Douglas, was responsible for managing Fonehouse’s commercial relationships with the networks, its e-commerce offering, logistics, procurement and marketing activity.

Mike Moss completed a trio of former Zavvi and Virgin employees, becoming Fonehouse’s new retail director. Three months later, however, they had all gone, with Bayley swapping the chance for longer periods on the golf course for a return to the “frontline” as Fonehouse CEO.

“I prefer to be the colonel and not the general sat in the back office,” says Bayley. “I like being in the field, taking the bullets and avoiding them.”

Identity concerns

Bayley admits that while the trio of Douglas, Noonan and Moss made a positive impact during their short stint with the company, the move to bring in personnel of such “calibre” was perhaps not the right one.

He says that while the structure that was put in place had the desired effect in the short term, he was concerned the business was becoming too corporate and in danger of losing its “personality” – something he feared could have a negative impact on its customers.

“Simon and Mark put a lot of structure in and moved on,” said Bayley.

“With the deals we had in the pipeline and the stores we wanted to open, it was good to have that kind of head that was very managed and very structured. It was probably the right move to make at the time.

“With the market conditions and where the business was going, we probably didn’t need a management team of that calibre. We need to be a bit more sales-orientated, flexible and retain our wackiness.

“When you bring in a management team like that, it puts the business into a different dimension. I find that difficult as it takes the fun out of it. We’ve always played it straight and are a trusted firm, but when you start getting very corporate, the business turns into a different beast. That doesn’t really excite me – I prefer a business with personality.”

Bayley says Fonehouse now has the right people in charge to enable this to happen. He says he has opted to promote from within rather than recruiting headline names.

One such example is Russ Wheeler, who was promoted from director of B2B to group sales director in May, having originally joined in early 2012.

B2B ready

Wheeler’s appointment, coupled with the structure injected into the company by Douglas and Noonan, has enabled Fonehouse to aggressively drive forward with its plans for the B2B market, something it has been threatening to do for the past couple of years.

In the space of five months, Wheeler has instigated the launch of the Fonehouse Business Partnership Programme, a branded partner programme selling business and unified comms deals through a network of mobile, fixed-line and IT resellers.

Dealers are able to connect business to 4GEE, Orange and T-Mobile, and sell unified comms services through telecom provider and Vodafone MVNA Gamma Telecom.

Fonehouse is aiming to recruit up to 20 partners by the end of this year, and 48 by June 2014. In addition, an internal division called ‘White Sheep’ has been set  new partners with 50 “qualified business leads” from Fonehouse per month, so they have an immediate form of attack.

Bayley says: “I would rather bring up people who have been with the company for a while and understand our culture. I’d like to put my time and effort into training them.

“We may need to bolster the management team in the future because we are already getting really busy.”

Wheeler added: “I have 20 years experience in B2B and have used that to build this programme. We advertised and contacted dealers interested in joining us. We’re seriously looking for the right people to come on board.

“It’s a very exciting programme, based around what the dealer needs. We provide them with business leads every month, identity under Fonehouse, an exclusive territory, full back-end service, desk and field-based BDM support, great commercials – we give them the whole wrap.”

Convergence reluctance

Wheeler claims one of the biggest problems in the past few years has been convincing mobile dealers to make the leap to sell more converged products and services, and vice versa.

However, he’s confident Fonehouse’s B2B partnership with Gamma, a company making its own moves into B2B through mobile, provides a solution to this, based on the step-by-step tactics employed and the experience within the team.

In addition to its head office in Putney, which oversees the company’s consumer retail and franchise operations, Fonehouse has a designated B2B office in Stoke, Staffordshire, housing 12 B2B specialists.

“It’s been a common thing that fixed-line dealers don’t get mobile and mobile dealers don’t get fixed line,” says Wheeler. “It’s a matter of pulling them together, which we have with our unified comms play with Gamma.

“We support them and do regular and fast-track training with them. We do that in a dot-to-dot fashion so they get it. If there is something that is a bit more solution-based as it has a greater requirement technically, then we would send someone over from business development manager support.

“The key point of our play is we are ultra experienced from a dealer point of view. We have our own call centre that farms all this data for them, which then tops up onto a business lead bank so they can see their immediate sales opportunities, as well as 12, 18 or 24 months down the line to see the pipeline build up.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 542 (July 1, 2013).

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