Highlights and learnings from a career leading contact centres

Industry leader, Derwyn Jones, has seen many changes in contact centres over his 35-year career. In this article he shares the highs and lows of his career, including lively discussions with a young Richard Branson on the merits of 0800 numbers, his experience building global businesses and leading through the turmoil of the financial crisis. Where did you start your career? I started my career as an Architect working for British Telecom, now of course BT. Shortly after they were privatised, I was lured into becoming a salesperson, a role that BT hadn’t needed before. To support the development of a sales culture, they adopted a new approach and set up their own sales training college where everyone spent 6 months being coached on every aspect of sales. I sometimes look back and ask myself why I left the drawing board to become a salesperson, the only reason I can remember at the time was the thought of the company car and an expense account! I can’t say I have ever regretted it though, the move to sales opened a world of opportunities for me and experiences I would never have had otherwise. Why did you choose to work in a contact centre? Like many people back in the mid 80’s, it was not necessarily a conscious choice, I just found myself selling all the components of what was to become a contact centre, like ACD, PBX and 0800 numbers. On many occasions I have thought that perhaps it’s time to go in a different direction, but then I’d remind myself that the industry is in my blood, and I’d miss all the drama and excitement that goes on in it. How did your career progress and what were the highlights? Having spent many years in contact centre sales, I moved into operations within BT and remained there until 1994. At this point, the outsourced industry was just starting to take off and there were only two main players, Merit Direct and The Decisions Group, and I decided to join the latter, going back into Sales & Marketing. The Decisions Group was to become the seedbed for many future BPO leaders, and when it became part of SITEL in 1998, I decided to try my luck in the USA and moved there for a few years. While I had some great experiences, being part of a large corporation again was never going to be right for me, so in 2002 I started out on a new adventure and joined forces with a business partner to set up on our own. The next 20 years saw my career develop, I took CEO roles at The Panther Group, Parseq and then became Chairman at Connect Assist. On a personal level, one of the greatest achievements of my career is the role I have played in creating jobs and attracting talent into an industry that has not always been regarded as a top choice for careers. It has also been great to see so many people who worked for and with me progress to be industry leaders and influencers today. The industry is now a significant employer on a global basis, and it’s great to know that I played a very small part in that. What are the most memorable moments in your career? As you would expect, I have seen most things, many of them are positive memories, but not all of them. I was CEO of The Panther Group in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, and it felt the world was falling apart around us. Many clients were cutting budgets and I had to make some very tough decisions that affected people’s livelihoods, it was a difficult time for everyone involved in the business. But, while there have been challenges, I have also had the pleasure of meeting some great people. I remember back in 1989 sitting in front of Richard Branson trying to convince him that Virgin Atlantic should use 0800 numbers and pay for their customers to call them – he thought I was mad. There have of course been some funny moments, although at the time they may not have seemed that way. Back in 2004, my business partner and I travelled to India to meet a well-known entrepreneur for a business meeting. We knew this was going to be an unusual trip from the moment we arrived at Mumbai airport, we were met with the sight of huge queues and scorching temperatures but were quickly ushered through the diplomatic entry channel and into waiting cars. Still puzzled by the airport experience, we were put into one car while our luggage was placed in the car behind. Despite some protest from us, our driver insisted this was the best option and, after some questioning, we discovered why.  Our host was very successful and had many friends, however he also had a few dangerous enemies, and they needed to scan our luggage to ensure that it had not been tampered with before we could open it again! We felt like we had walked into a movie script. Why have you chosen to become part of My Quality Team? Over the years, I’ve seen so many platforms and software applications that are pitched as the ‘next big thing’ that will transform my life as a contact centre leader. Whilst many profess to be the panacea of performance improvement and unique, they generally are very much all the same. Every so often you meet a person with a passion and a product that makes you sit up and take notice. I’ve spent a long time listening to Vanessa and her team and seeing first-hand how MyQualityTeam can make a difference in an industry where quality and performance improvement is becoming more important than ever. The combination of an innovative, competency-based framework with AI and speech analytics creates the difference – it is a game changer. My instincts in the past have served me well and I have no doubt they will again with MyQualityTeam.