My Career

A lot of people write about their lives, and fill the pages with self-justification, how other people were always wrong, how they were brilliant. The section of this site 'My Life' avoids that, but this touches on a bit of bragging :-) All true, though ...!


A History of the Mobile Phone

In this episode, I am a bastard, calls get crackly, and I am famous! (in a small way).

1980 -  I’d been promoted and was looking for a new job. I looked at all the departments in BT. I wanted a little one, where I wasn't just a cog, but could get on with stuff. I found a group of about half a dozen people in 'Mobile Radio' . Very little was happening at the time, but I said 'I think mobile radio (carphones) are the future', and got in touch with the boss there. He offered me a job. Probably the most momentous (and advantageous) career move I was wise enough to make. Pretty amazing for me, I'm usually not that perceptive.


At the time, there was a car telephone system with 3,500 users only, covering selected cities, but not widespread. Only the rich and famous were our clients and it cost them a bomb!

In some ways, this relatively primitive system (one up on a police radio) was easier to use than today. In the front (or often the back) of your limo was a telephone handset. You lifted it, heard ringing and a lady answered. You told her the number you wanted, or just a name and address or well known restaurant etc. and she said she would call you back. Very shortly after, the phone rang, you picked it up and she said 'putting you through now sir (/madam)' and you were connected. Wonderful!

I joined the group at a time when they were installing a new system, which gave direct dialling internationally from the handset. I was first responsible for testing mobile units, developing new equipment such as base station transmitters and specifying equipment. One colleague organised the implementation and maintenance of base stations and network, and the other specialised in testing radiopagers.  

Once I got into specifications, I took to the para legal language, and was then asked to write all specifications for radiopaging as well after it became a separate group. I had great fun inventing and specifying new radiopaging transmitters which could just be fixed on a wall in the street in cities rather than great lumps of fancy traditional, outdated equipment on shelves in air conditioned rooms feeding an antenna stuck up a mast. I never liked waste or bother. 

The bloke I had working for me, Jim, was a gold mine of information. He knew everything. But he had such a retiring personality that no-one listened to him. My other two colleagues didn't think he had much to offer. I used to take him down the pub, chat, and just listen, then seize on something and pursue it with him.

'Oh, then we could ...'


'Have you told anyone about this, Jim?'

'They didn't seem interested.'

The first couple of years of my career success in mobile were mostly based on Jim's knowledge. He knew; I applied and delivered. I always credited him, but of course, I got the kudos for managing.


I'm afraid I was a bit cheeky with my implementation colleague on two occasions. We were both (by then) ambitious and highly capable - over the years we chased each other up the tree in parallel departments to the senior grade. Very capable bloke. But in the early days, we often locked horns. He was very traditional, a technician come up through telephone exchanges who knew how 'things were done'. I didn't give a bugger, provided we did something useful.

The first time I rather undermined him when he was on holiday, I turned the old system 'duplex'. Let me explain: the early phone handsets had a 'push to talk' bar in the handset, you pushed it when you wanted to speak and released it to listen. One of my abiding beliefs is that users should not be inconvenienced for technical reasons, and I thought, for the money they were paying, this was crap. So I'd written a spec which described a mobile unit which worked fully two way, and I had a manufacturer lined up to supply (Mobira, Nokia's original mobile phone company). But it needed a (fairly easy) modification to the fixed system and my colleague was 'considering it'. He said he didn't see why we should change it just for that reason. So I made a proposal to the boss while he was on holiday saying that to test the mobile prototype, we should do a trial in one area for a few weeks. He agreed. Once the change was made, there was no looking back. It was adopted system-wide, no question.  If I had a good idea no bugger was going to stop me!

The second time was more serious. It was the new automatic system. Lovely, crystal clear, good quality, but  it would just cut off mid-call. I discovered it was because this chap's philosophy was if it wasn't top quality, the connection should be dropped. I disagreed. I consulted Jim, who gave me chapter and verse on the operation of the mute in our receivers (this is the signal detector that switches off when the signal drops below a certain level). So, again when my colleague was on holiday, I went to the boss and said 'I'd like to try the effect of turning the mute level down and see how that sounds to customers. Can we do a trial at one base station so I can run a mobile around?' He agreed, and so ... (I bet my colleague loved me at the time (not), but we became pals later.)

Instead of the call simply chopping off (which many thought was a technical failure in the system) the user now heard increasing radio noise before the signal finally went. This enabled them to know the signal was fading, to round off the call or advise the callee they would ring back. Much, much better I thought. And the big bonus was that overall, the phones worked over a much greater area.

Once we'd implemented it system wide, the customer service people came to us, gobsmacked. 'What did you do? We've got lots of letters from customers!' Oh, oh, I thought. '... Praising the changes - they think it's much better.' Hooray! My faith in human nature was soundly placed. It illustrates one characteristic which repaid me greatly: I can work out what will piss most people off about a product.

I was soon promoted again, and brought in a new bloke, Chris, to work for me and manage Jim. I briefed him thoroughly about 'gold-mine' Jim, and he was very successful with him. Chris was great, a brilliant engineer with ideas, and I took on more the role of promoting our work to the organisation, getting funding, as well as having bright ideas. They were happy years. We three were a formidable team. I was authorised by the government ministry concerned to sign off mobile equipment for use on the system, and no one else in the UK, except perhaps the military and security services, had our depth of knowledge and experience with sophisticated mobile equipment. So much so that when BABT was founded (the current authority for cellular phones), Ken, the bloke in charge, came to me to find out how we type-approved mobile units. Famous, eh? :-)


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 2

Saddam undoes my hard work but the Big Boss entertains me. I leave a legacy to the French, Scandinavians and Eastern Europeans. We are reorganised and I end up with two jobs!

I was in Kuwait City. BT had loaned me for two weeks to the local mobile telephone company to help them write a specification for a cellular system. It was a strange place. While I was there, the then Chairman of BT, Sir George Jefferson, made an official visit. I was invited to take coffee with him. He was in the same hotel as me, but while I had a small (but luxurious) room, he had an enormous suite full of French furniture. He was a nice bloke, and actually poured a cup of coffee for me and chatted about what we were doing. The next morning I was paying my bill to date. There was I, at the reception desk surrounded by gold and jewels in glass cases, for sale, with prices in the tens of thousands, and affluent Arabs drifting by, paying my bill using £25 travellers checks, which is what BT had issued me with. I had a stack in front of me, signing away when Sir George sauntered up and said ‘Good morning, are you having problems?’ I explained. He looked thoughtful. They changed the rules. And Saddam invaded Kuwait and stole the cellular system.

Early on, I was working in a joint BT/France Telecom team specifying the next generation of Mobile, and aimed at getting support from all European countries for a Pan European standard. We adopted the NMT (Nordic Mobile Telephone) system as a basis (used in Finland Sweden, Norway and Denmark with roaming between countries). We adapted it for 1000 newly-released channels for mobile use across Europe. At the time, mobiles chugged through available radio channels until they found one free, and connected. This was fine for the old band with 160 channels, but one thousand would have taken unacceptably long, given the slow processors of the time. So I invented the ‘Director’ channels. Five channels spread over the thousand channels (not all channels bands were in use everywhere) so the mobile went straight to one, and it had a signal which told it which channel to use. So connection became almost instantaneous. I wrote the protocol to fit the system signalling. Amazingly, this was adopted, and I was able to present it at an International conference in London to all the European Telecoms operators. It was pretty daunting, as I was only a relatively junior engineer at the time.

Unfortunately, Telecoms was suddenly deregulated in the UK, and the Government announced the creation of competition (eventually in the form of Vodafone). BT had to set up an arm’s length operation (Cellnet) which it could only own 60pc of. The government decided the standard to be used, a variant of the US cellular system. However, our hard work on adapted NMT was not wasted. The French employed the improved NMT system we’d developed in a lower frequency band, later widespread in the newly-freed Eastern European countries as it was more economical for low demand. And the Scandinavians adopted our changes in their own improved system. I think the last NMT based system closed sometime in the nineties, so my clever scanning was not entirely wasted. 

With deregulation and ongoing privatisation, BT decided to invest in small start-up businesses outside the main organisation, which would fend for themselves and develop in new competitive markets. One such was BT Mobile Phone, which would sell phones and contracts to customers, bill them etc (much as Carphones do now), as the operators were not allowed to sell direct.

We were reorganised, and I was offered the choice of three jobs:  Development, in Cellnet; Chief Engineer of the old system, System 4 (which ran for some time after cellular started), or Head of Products in the brand new Mobile Phone, responsible for specifying, purchasing, storing and distributing phones to dealers. Of course, I chose the latter. But when they couldn’t find anyone who knew anything about System 4, I was asked to do that job as well, so I agreed. I had about a dozen engineers on the system side, and just Jim and Chris on the Mobile team. So I had two business cards, one Head of Products, and one Head of Networks  Ha ha! What fun I had. It was like a schoolboy dream.  I had no engineer above me in the hierarchy, only a commercial manager/MD type. I did what I thought fit, with no interference, no committees, no consultations (except with my colleagues to make sure I got what they wanted).


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 3

I join a new business, Angela is severely tested,  we are knackered by the dead hand of a pre-privatisation manager, other departments are jealous, and I do deals.

We started our new BT Mobile Phone business with five of us in a room, discussing how we would run it and whether we thought it would work. Colin was the boss. He knew a lot about sales and marketing. Working for him were myself, Andy, David and Al. I handled the product provision and distribution, Andy repairs and customer service, David marketing, and Al sales. We worked through independent dealers as we thought BT itself would be too slow and inflexible. Al had to recruit a network of dealers (sun roof, car HiFi and alarms businesses) who knew about fitting things in cars. We had an immediate advantage when cellular opened in 1985 because for a year before we had built up our dealer network and distribution for the old system. Colin wrote two things on the whiteboard:  - ‘we are here to support Cellnet’ (BT’s joint venture cellular operator) and ‘ this is not a hardware business’ - (ie we wanted to sell contracts not boxes).

Meanwhile the old system, System 4, boomed, benefitting from the hype given to cellular as cellular was only available at first in selected areas and System 4 had nationwide coverage, as I had just completed an expansion.

Cellular had started and was doing well. At the time, the basic charge for the cellular phone was well over £1000, plus fitting in the car, and then quite a hefty monthly payment. The first hand portables from Motorola were well over £2000. We’d been 18 months in our new business and were number one supplier when disaster struck. Up to that point we’d been very much left alone, but big BT decided it was going to pull back the independent businesses into its control. A chap who had been around for years, Andrew, took control of Mobile Phone. He was an old civil service manager, who lived to balance his yearly books, full stop. I do believe he had no inkling of entrepreneurial  start ups and commercial business. Our objective, drummed into us by Colin, was to build a monthly paying customer base rather than make a profit on the phones. Such a business goes into the red maybe for several years before it comes up, breaks even then goes into profit. The more monthly payments you get, the steeper the recovery curve and the eventual profits - but you have to look at the business over 5 years at least. Andrew didn’t do that. He looked a year ahead. His decision? Because we were ‘losing money’ we would sell fewer phones by keeping prices up when others dropped theirs. Magnificent! I was too junior to protest, but knew it was entirely wrong. He also sidelined Colin and brought in highly paid Marketing and Sales Directors. Despite these high-powered guys, we lost our number one spot and sank down the list. The dead hand of civil service management had struck!

Let me tell you more about Andrew. One night we were in a hotel bar in Denmark and he told me a little story. A very bright lady, Angela, was up for promotion into a job in a business he ran at the time. She’d worked in the business for years. They interviewed her and decided she was the right person for the job and she was informed. Andrew said, ‘But  I wanted to make sure, so I then held a limited competition (just candidates from anywhere in BT). ‘And ...?’ I asked. ‘Oh she was selected again, she was very good.’ His face became thoughtful. ‘But as I really wanted to be sure, we held an open competition (include non-BT candidates) . ‘And ...?’ I asked. ‘Oh, she was selected again. She was really very good.’ Then he became thoughtful and he said to me, ‘Do you know, John, Angela must have been really pleased to know she was the best person for the job.’ I knew Angela, and was amazed that she must have bitten her tongue. Poor girl! But that was Andrew.

But back to cellular - our little team produced several innovations: the first voice-recognising phone, the fastest data modem (let you send faxes from the car) at the time. Cellnet in particular were definitely jealous and had become a little hostile - and Andrew became worried :-) . So, I invited them, along with the Martlesham development boys, to a presentation where we revealed all our work and future plans, emphasising areas where we could cooperate and I would need their help. Andrew was very pleased. And it got them off our backs - no sniping after that. I didn’t mind doing this, I never minded if someone stole one of my ideas, because I knew I’d have another one and they wouldn’t, and they’d probably have problems implementing it anyway.

Colin taught me a lot. He taught me about win-win deals. For instance, we found a Voice Recognition company in Dallas, VCS. Eventually, in the revolving restaurant on top of the New Otani in Tokyo (which I recently revisited) I signed the ‘revolving restaurant accord’ between VCS, NEC and BT. NEC agreed to licence VCS’s technology, and as a thankyou for the introduction, NEC agreed to supply the first phones using it in exclusively in the UK to BT for six months (that’s all we needed). That was a deal. Something Andrew never understood.

Colin left. His problem was that senior management didn’t like him because he was brash and not a ‘corporate man’ and he worried Andrew (surprise). I’d absorbed a lot of his good teaching, but could also do ‘corporate man’ when required, so I got away with things and did ok.


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 4

I’m sent into the lion’s den in New York. I put phones on trains. I upset the Telecoms Ministry.

Although junior, I was the senior engineer in our new business, so the Chief Executive took to ringing me direct to ask about technical things to do with mobile phones. I don’t know why, as the project was about investment, not just technical, but he asked me to go to New York to meet an investment banker about a proposition to do with mobile. New York! I thought, hey! But I didn’t see much except wandering up 5th avenue and having lunch in an ultra upmarket private restaurant. When I first arrived at the office, I was introduced to three luminaries of the US telecoms market, their leader being Billy Oliver, ex-head of AT&T long lines (ie the nationwide trunk network). What the hell was I doing in such company? What happened was Marty Cooper (ex-Motorola - first hand portable) and Arlene Harris (Harris Corporation) pitched an idea for cellular payphones on ferries. The next morning, the buggers sat me down, me on one side of the table, them on the other, and said, ‘What do you think?’ I’d read the pitch overnight so had a reasonable idea of what it entailed. Can you imagine my feelings? Sitting there in front of these highly experienced blokes, me a lowly engineer. I thought of dissembling a bit - waffling on the merits and demerits. But I’m never one to duck a challenge, so I took a deep breath and told them what I thought. Silence. My mind was racing - what had I done? Would they think I was a complete fool and be kind to me, pat me on the head and send me home? Eventually, Billy Oliver spoke. ‘We’re glad you said that, John, we agree.’ Joy! I’d escaped! The banker wrote a glowing letter to the Chief Executive, praising me. I kept a good relationship with him for many years until I retired. He offered me several jobs (which I turned down) and asked me to do some evaluations of investment proposals . He was always friendly and helpful if I needed some inside knowledge of US characters I ran into later in my career who were offering to invest in start-up businesses. For instance, in response to one chap he simply said, ‘after you shake hands with him, count your fingers’. Cryptic, but very helpful at the time.

Coming out of the Ferry phone idea, I was having a day off when my pager asked me to ring the Chief Executive. ‘Can you put phones on trains?’ he asked. ‘Probably,’ I replied, ‘but give me a couple of days to check.’ When I did, he endorsed my plan, which basically gave me carte blanch with my boss and other departments. A year later, we were putting cellular payphones on all 200 InterCity trains. The good thing was I was not only responsible for the successful engineering (thanks to Chris and Jim), but I’d then changed my job into Marketing, as Product Marketing Manager in a unified (with paging) BT Mobile organisation. As such, I was also responsible for the commercial negotiations with BR and the BT departments (payphones, phonecard). This is my number one achievement in my book because of my complete ownership of a major project. It was great stuff. Me, a lad from a terrace house in Liverpool, moving in distinguished company and spending millions! We also did cross-channel ferries and a prototype taxiphone (which we ditched because there was no money in it).

My second best achievement is more personal, and to do with my rebellious streak. I’d found I was good at legal language, and could understand and write contracts that the lawyers thought OK. A lot of it was due to experience as an engineer of reading and writing technical specifications, which had to cover all eventualities and be absolutely correct. Little different really from a contract for buying mobile phones from Nokia, Motorola, NEC etc. Anyway, one day I was perusing the specification for cellular phones put out by the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and to which they were tested by BABT (British Approvals Board for Telecoms) for approval. Our dealers were supposed to be exclusive - ie only signing people onto Cellnet through us. But of course, if a customer demanded Vodafone service, what was the guy to do? We tolerated it. But I had a brand new transportable (a carry around phone not a hand portable) and it was a major step forward - our salesmen loved the prototype - smaller lighter, prettier. The phone, made by Mitsubishi, was exclusive to us. I realised that while the official specification demanded that all phones would do the basic things and work on both systems, there was nothing about additional features - such as number memory etc. So I thought, what if I get Mitsubishi to make the software switch off those features if it was registered on Vodafone? We did it.

The DTI screamed. I prize a letter from them that said ‘we agree you have kept to the letter of the regulations, but not the spirit.’ Bollocks! It took them 3 months to change the regulations, which we, of course obeyed but only after a further 3 month delay agreed by them because of ‘implementation of production line changes’.(Hee hee!) We also agreed to change chips retrospectively (for a juicy fee) after that. So we had 6 months exclusivity with the phone on Cellnet, which was fine. Andrew got really worried (!) but he was on the front page of a respectable daily newspaper talking about how BT ensured the best phones with the best performance so wished to capitalise on their efforts and not just give them away. Great stuff from the PR department. But Andrew? He didn’t like it at all.

Mitsubishi were scared of offending the government, and I had to come down very hard, reminding them the phones were ours, not theirs, to stop them changing chips for free at once. That would have spoiled the game. They were more scared of breaking their contract with BT, so they held off.

What fun I had! :-)


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 5

I spy on our competitor, I damage phones, our phones become Flymos, and I am a TV advert.

I always used to visit factories. They were the heart of the pricing and features, and generally I made some good friends, especially with the Japanese companies, NEC in particular, and also Matsushita (Panasonic) amongst others, even though I never bought phones from that company as they were the major supplier to Vodafone. But on every visit they were very friendly, wanting to share their experience, and they showed me all the upcoming models Vodafone would be getting.  Part of the good relations with the factories was because I was a brother engineer, not a know-nothing buyer. I knew what was difficult for them, and what they could do easily, and they appreciated that when times got tough. I also gained credibility by spotting things that were wrong ( my best talent! :-)). Once, NEC showed me a transportable with a large antenna on a spring. A cable within the spring connected the antenna. It sat on a table in front of me, and I didn’t touch it, just looked, I said ‘If that antenna is bent by 90 degrees, as it might be in a car boot, the cable will snap.’ They assured me it wouldn’t. I asked permission to try, and gently pressed on it until it was horizontal. The cable snapped. Consternation! But unlike some nationalities, the Japanese reacted with respect rather than hostility, and thanked me for finding a problem.  I gained a lot of face with them for that.

All manufacturers had phones developed for the US market. Our technical specification in the UK only meant some simple changes to frequencies and channel width to meet European standards. The software logic was almost the same, so US phones were easily adaptable for our system. So I was able to inspect fully-developed products for the US system and see what they were like. I always demanded changes - user interface, some facilities, shape of handset etc. My personal aim was always to present a product that a customer could use for the basic facilities without reading the instruction book. Phones these days have become fairly standardised, but back then everybody had different codes and buttons ... And early Japanese hand portables were designed by radio men, so they were quite functional, like police or military radios. Early on, I spent time preaching to Japanese companies (26 of them!) the ambition to have standardised functions, and consumer-oriented design. At the time, in the shops in Tokyo, there was beautifully designed domestic equipment, and I wanted them to make phones that followed the same principle. Today, no one has to preach, they did it long ago.

At the start, to meet our marketing strategy, we didn’t have the manufacturer’s name anywhere on the product, just BT, and most of our phones were exclusive to BT in the UK. Later we introduced a ‘house style’ design, across our phone range and later radiopagers. They were created by the same man who was responsible for those nice big orange Flymos. He was an industrial designer and made perfect models with many cosmetic changes and colour. When I presented them to the Japanese, the engineers were excited and flattered. Motorola and Nokia said ‘no’ (at first, until their contracts dried up*). I think my favourite was the first hand portable to challenge the big white Motorola. It was made for us by Hitachi, and they were completely willing to do the cosmetic and software changes to our specification. Chris and I spent a flight to Tokyo designing new simplified understandable user interface menus. One little innovation I introduced seems trivial compared with today’s phones, but no one else had it back then. I got them to put in five ring tone options that the user could choose from. Years before, I’d sat in a European meeting where engineers discussed what the (the!) mobile ring tone should be in Europe, and I had felt it was completely wrong that a user had to accept some arbitrary choice by an engineer, so the first chance I got ....

Now, new mouldings cost in excess of a hundred thousand dollars to produce, but I got them for free. The snipers within BT said I must be paying too much, but  I got turned over twice on price and they had to agree I wasn’t. This was not entirely due to my genius :-) but because having a contract with BT was seen as valuable to suppliers, so they went the extra mile (win-win). The reason I got the free changes was the deregulation of the US market, where every area had ‘A’ and ‘B’ operators. So, instead of having one model only for both operators, generally losing one of them, the guys who dealt with us were handed an attractive professional second design which they could use to differentiate the two operators, for free. A lot of my colleagues couldn’t understand this, because I guess they thought in straight lines and didn’t understand deals.

They were good days. The procurement bloke who I took on to assist me (and to please Andrew), was a great help and described me as the ‘Man from del Monte’ when he saw me in action, which was pleasing. I was surprised I could master a new skill and be successful at it, a lot of it thanks to Colin’s teachings of course. I owe him a lot.

*More on this in ‘My Life 3.5 - The ‘Late Night Call’ Life/3.5/


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 6

This time: I silence Andrew my boss once and for all, we are reorganised and I change career, I have two jobs again for a while.

Andrew was getting a bit worried about me, I could tell. I worked out that while he was happy with the results I got, and praised them, he was not sure about my methods and what it looked like to other people (as I say, old civil service ....) So I decided to silence him once and for all, to do something to which was so good he couldn’t possibly doubt my methods, unconventional (to him) though they were.

Six months before, two factory engineers from NEC who I knew well were actually flown over to meet me in London urgently. This was unheard of. They explained that they had made a mistake in costing the phones we were getting, which meant they would show a loss against target. They didn’t mind that particularly and were willing to absorb it, but their concern (most unJapanese to reveal such things) was that it would give their marketing department ammunition to snipe against them at a higher level. They asked if I would be willing to pay an extra £5 per unit to dig them out of the hole. This was on only 1000 units where I was paying over £800 each, so it was only £5,000 extra on an £800,000 plus contract, less than 1pc. I agreed, and asked them to send me a letter saying a change I had requested would cost an extra five pounds to implement, which I then authorised and sent to the finance department. I didn’t tell anyone, let alone Andrew, as there were some who would have wanted to fire me for voluntarily paying more, even such a small amount.

But good turns are returned, and the factory were grateful. I didn’t realise how grateful until I hatched my ‘shut Andrew up’ plan. I rang the UK NEC man, Hugh, who was the only UK representative of a Japanese company that had clout with Tokyo. I said, ‘Look, I don’t want anything special, but if you had something up your sleeve, I’d appreciate it if you could pull it out of the hat now so I can silence the snipers once and for all.’ He understood about organisations. ‘OK, see what I can do.’ Shortly after, I took Andrew to Japan to sign a deal where we got not only a new exclusive model at reduced prices, but 500 free units of the old model (worth over £35,000 at least) from the factory  (end of line) and the cherry on the cake: £50,000 of marketing support from NEC if we mentioned their name. Hugh  arranged that the Marketing Director and I had our pictures taken at a lectern with an NEC name above our head. Hugh sent this to Tokyo and they were satisfied.

It was customary to give small gifts in Japan. According to status, I would give crystal, porcelain, anything very English. I got lovely Japanese pottery and technical products like the first walkman products - ones you couldn’t get in the UK at the time. Everything was less than £100, so OK by BT rules. Andrew was presented with  Nikon camera worth well over £300. He worried about whether he should report it. It bothered him all the way home ... 

When we got back, the Chief Executive, John, praised Andrew to the skies, but when Andrew turned away, John winked at me. He knew who had done the deal.

Andrew never grumbled about me again.

The Marketing Director, Charles, was a great guy and even though I didn’t work for him, used me as his product marketing representative, allowing me full freedom with design etc, provided I was following his global objectives (which I was). When we were reorganised, I realised I’d have a boss who was an engineer when I’d run my own ship for several years and I was reluctant to move into the technical department - the fact the Technical Director was a prick (old school like Andrew but worse) also swayed me. So I took up an offer from Charles and moved into marketing as Product Marketing Manager. Of course I had limited marketing and sales experience but could do the ‘hard’ end of marketing (product and pricing) well - two of marketing’s ‘four P’s’. The other two, ‘Place’ (distribution channels, sales etc)and ‘Promotion’ were handled by my ‘paired’ colleague, John, who was a really nice bloke, smooth as they come and great at presentations.  I knew I’d have to give up the happy days of amazing technical developments with Chris and Jim and also System 4 but I’d trained up a guy called Ken who quickly learnt as much as me, and I had him promoted to my old spot. Chris followed me into marketing and turned out to be a highly successful product manager and negotiator (the organisation was ‘marketing led’ so we looked for opportunities and did the commercial negotiations). He soon got professional marketing qualifications. Of course I had to give up what they called ‘procurement’ although I could still demand and fiddle with the designs of what they bought. I didn’t mind. I’d had three or four happy years, and once I master something, I like to move on and try something new. But they couldn’t find anyone suitable to replace me for six months, and I had to go on buying stuff alongside my main job (two jobs again!). The lady who they eventually found was great, and we got on like a house on fire. I took her to Japan, Chicago and Finland and introduced her as my successor. I was pleased to hand over to someone I trusted to do a good job. Not the same way I had, but equally as good I felt, and maybe more suited to the changing market. It proved to be so. 

In marketing I was forced me into some hard self-examination and some realisation about my strengths and weaknesses, always a good thing.


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 7

When I moved into marketing, I inherited 60 people from the combined businesses. I hated it. Staff issues took up most of my time. I had limited time to plan or put through bright ideas; I had to look after them all. I worried about whether high-flyers were getting enough opportunity and encouragement, I was concerned that there might be some in the middle ranks being held down for the same reason, and that some of the sick lame and lazy could be turned round with a bit of effort. I’d done this in a previous small group, and put someone back on their feet after a bad patch, but faced with so many, what could I do? I should have delegated more, but felt responsible for each and every member of staff. Thus I discovered, being honest with myself, I was not good as a man-manager with a big staff.

They were just starting a new department. Other countries were deregulating telecoms, and licences for mobile in particular were being issued in a bidding process, as in the UK. I knew Alan, the Director who was starting it, so I went and asked him for a job. He owed me a favour for something I knew he was up to under my nose, but he didn’t know I knew :-). Being a nice chap, I knew he’d be feeling guilty and want to make amends. He agreed.

When I left BT later, Maxine, the Occupational Psychologist assigned to me in the outplacement agency to help me decide my prospects for other jobs, after a battery of tests, said, ‘Your ideal job is to work with a small group of self-starting bright people on a number of international projects.’ ‘But ...’ I said, ‘that’s the job I just left!’ ‘Often the case,’ Maxine said. She told me that, apparently, you work your way to a job that suits you, which I had done. I loved working with a dedicated, clever team, and we got on really well as they were close to me and understood me, knowing I’d deliver and ignoring some of my little habits :-).

My first big job was BT’s Mobile Project Manager in Germany. Along with Nynex (US phone co) we partnered Daimler-Benz (Mercedes) and RWE (giant utility company). I was responsible for one of the three volumes: Marketing and Financial Models. As such, I had to recommend strategy for bidding etc. The German in the lead position was a very difficult guy and he and I had a few run-ins. He was a very smart man, and assumed everyone else was an idiot and actually shouted at them. We had a pitched battle over distribution. I insisted we had to include the possibility of what they called ‘resellers’ - agents who sold airtime contracts, as in the UK. It had not been announced what policy the German Ministry would follow, and all I wanted to do was include it as a possibility (‘if the Ministry so decide, we would ...’) to show we were ready for all eventualities. I finally got my way with a consultant from one of the top German agencies and a German lawyer who had become my buddy sitting either side of me in a meeting and telling him I was right. Of course I was, it was simple! The irony is after all his resistance, he became Chairman of the German Reseller’s Association which was indeed the method the Ministry chose. It was tough, but I was responsible to the whole consortium, not just him.

The job I was in was more high-profile than I realised, unfortunately. I was told I could have ‘anyone from the whole of BT’ I wanted on my team (all 240 thousand!). As I already had  several teams run by colleagues I could trust, seconded from their regular jobs, I saw no point in disruption. But, as the German companies we were teamed with were not at all market savvy, I asked for someone who had experience in modern marketing in Germany to vet our marketing plans. It was arranged by our big Divisional Director that the ex-head of IBM Germany would visit me. Wow! He sat for the day at the desk at the end of my large office in the Hotel Intercontinental in Stuttgart while I received delegations from all the working parties at the conference table, checking on progress, giving instruction, direction, agreement, praise ... At the end of the day, he muttered, ‘That’s ok,’ and left. I was bamboozled. Why had he come? I found out. My boss phoned at the weekend, The first thing he said was ‘John, what have you done?’. Oh shit! I thought - what next? It turned out Alan had been to lunch with the Director and the blokey, during the course of which he’d told them that they couldn’t have found a better person for the job, and he didn’t understand how I could put up with ‘all those bloody Germans’ (he was German of course). He’d been sent to check up on me! Anyway, luckily I’d scraped through, and as a result was promoted to BT’s Senior level as Project Manager, with a salary hike, big car, company Amex and various allowances, privileges and expenses. Great!  Of course I was in the lower part of the Senior Grade, but hell, I’d made it! Happy days.

Ours was judged one of the top three bids amongst many. But we didn’t win. I knew we wouldn’t a month or so before the due date, but said nothing and still worked my socks off. The reason I knew was that small stickers had appeared on lampposts in Stuttgart showing the German eagle being strangled by the Mercedes star. Why? The public thought Daimler were getting too much power as the Government had just let them take over Dornier, an aircraft manufacturer. They’d never have been given the prized cellular system licence. It went to a consortium containing BMW and Vodafone - an understandable choice. Doom! Daimler-Benz said they would never compete in a bid again as they ‘did not lose’. I sensed BT felt very much the same, as in subsequent bids in other countries, our group never really had the full backing of the centre. I honestly think also there were a lot of advisors hanging around Ian Vallance who thought mobile was a flash in the pan (I called them ‘old wireline men’ ), one later facet of this was BT selling Cellnet (later O2)off (which they have just bought back into!). I think partially as a result of this lack of support over the next year or two, we only succeeded with one bid (nearly) which sadly was snatched away from us an hour before the result was announced.


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 8

This time: I love Swedes, Brigitte steals my licence, and I leave my steady job.

I developed a very good relationship with people in Swedish Telecom when we joined a consortium led by them to bid in Poland. They gave me much of the responsibility for strategy and bid production, also dealing with partners. At one point, I had to tell Prince Radziwill (from the Old Polish Royal Family) that we didn’t want him in our consortium. I dressed it up in terms of balance and fit, and he took it very well. A nice guy. Truth was, neither our US partner, Bell Atlantic, nor BT wanted his US backer in.

Poland was an experience. The place was a wreck. But we were quite well received by the telecoms people in the Ministry. The one thing our consortium offered was what we called the Baltic Mobile Telephone System, which would have included Poland in the Nordic system, offering roaming into the Scandinavian countries to Polish users.

Anyway, a week before the announcement of the winner, I was invited to the Polish Ambassador’s residence in Hampstead for a few drinks etc with some movers and shakers. Some woman MP started banging on to me about the iniquity of BT’s monopoly. Thankfully, as I tried hard to be polite, I was rescued by a sympathetic bloke who headed her off.  A week later, I’m in Warsaw, pretty sure we have won. We’re sitting in a room with all the other hopefuls, and the beaming telecoms blokes, very proud as they offered croissants and coffee, something new for them, gave me encouraging looks and nods. Then, just five minutes before announcement time, the three head honchos entered the room - following my pal Brigitte from France Telecom!  She sat down opposite me. I said, ‘Brigitte, what have you been up to?’ She replied, ‘Well, John, France Telecom generously decided to offer support for the fixed infrastructure if we were involved in the cellular.’ Bugger, I thought, but congratulated her. When the result was announced, all the junior blokes looked distinctly puzzled, and some gave me worried looks. It was all a game. But later I got my own back.

Brigitte and I and a German guy, Klaus, were the key representatives for a bid in Hungary. We used to meet and discuss progress in a restaurant overlooking the river and the city. It was enjoyable, and we three got on very well. Brigitte, a smart woman who later became France Telecom’s Head of Mobile, had the very funny sense of humour many educated French women have. She always came out with little jokes. Klaus had joined Telekom in a ‘fall from Heaven’ - ie he’d been seconded from a diplomatic post in the Government. Speeding back to our hotel one night, we were stopped by a motorcycle cop. In a flash, Klaus whipped out a passport plastered with gold lettering. The cop nodded and departed.

I met some influential and powerful people while engaged in this task for BT, many of whom came in useful later, as I developed some excellent personal relationships.


I had known for two years that there were big changes afoot in BT, and was also aware that our little department really wasn’t earning its keep, and would be culled in any rationalisation plan. In 1992, BT conducted a massive exercise to almost halve the number of employees. They also changed the basis of their Senior Management to focus more on man-management, with big divisions, rather than clever sods like me running specialist departments. In consequence, in terms of the voluntary redundancy packages offered, people like me got the cream, and they were very, very careful with us. I did not want to stay on in some mainstream routine job, which I could have taken, and strangely for a normally conservative, risk averse bloke, at the age of 46, I left regular employment and took a leap into the unknown. Shocking. The day I left, 30,000 people left BT.

I had strung out BT until the last minute in order to leverage some extra benefits. One of the things they offered was a very expensive outplacement agency. The course was in two parts. In the first, you were analysed and advised by an experienced ex- Managing Director and an Occupational Psychologist, who conducted a battery of tests and interviews to determine what your ideal job would be. The second part was ‘launch’ where  they helped and advised on finding a new job, with office space and a seeming ‘secretary’ for people who rang you up. I asked BT to pay for the first part on the basis that I would then decide whether to leave or not, depending on the analysis and advice I got. They agreed. So it was only two weeks before the due date that I made the decision to leave. I asked my PA to let all my contacts know. By return, I got a call from the guys at Swedish Telecom. Would I meet them the next night for dinner? So, at my favourite restaurant, L’Etoile in Charlotte Street, a bloke opened the door to us and said, ‘Good evening Mr Griffiths.’  I hadn’t been there for a couple of years. How the hell did he remember my name? The table was booked by the Swedes. Impressed? Yes.

They asked if I would work for them on a bid for cellular in St Petersburg, starting in a couple of months, on a consultancy basis. I said I‘d be delighted. After, I started worrying about how much to charge etc. So I consulted a consultant (!) who’d worked for me in the past, and he gave me a rough idea of how to scale charges and what someone with my experience should expect. I was amazed. 

Roughly, in the redundancy deal, I got a big tax-free lump sum, a guarantee of three months paid consultancy work  (they only got a week out of me before the time expired, but I still got three months pay) and more comforting, a much enhanced pension, which I chose to start at 50, four years later. Whatever happened, I thought, we would not starve. Mobile offered me a massive amount for training courses, and BT central the same. I couldn’t possibly have spent it all. I went on some financial and management courses and to the French Institute in Kensington for some crash courses in French. Most useful. I suppose I should have found some financial courses run in luxury hotels in the Bahamas - they wouldn’t have objected. The five-star, worldwide health insurance that covered the whole family ran for another 5 years - but we never needed to use it.

Amazingly, in 2000, several pensioners sued BT for a technical discrepancy in the 1992 pension offer. As a result, some pensioners, including me, were able to review their 1992 choice with the benefit of hindsight and within reason, change the option. I gave up 5% of my regular pension payments and got a further massive tax-free lump. Excellent!

So, I left the world of dependable salary payments every month and entered a world of uncertainty. Would I get another steady job, or what? I really could not decide.


A History of the Mobile Phone Part 9

This time: Should I get a steady job, or remain independent? I finally win some licences and tour Russia.

Having been offered a project by Swedish Telecom after I left BT, I wasn’t in a hurry to get a new job. However I kept my irons in the fire and was on the books of a few good head-hunters. One opportunity was  as MD of British Rail Telecom. I probably would not have taken the job if offered, but I wanted to test myself and my value. I went for an assessment, and the woman there was very keen on me (as a candidate). As a result I was one of two interviewed for the job. It was funny going into the building, right across the front of Euston Station as my old office had been there in that very place. It was strange organisation. All the guys were very friendly, and nodded and smiled as I passed through the general office.  But I noticed two things: One, they all wore light blue shirts. Two, there were very few women, only what appeared to be secretaries. They offered the other guy the job, which relieved me of the decision. Not being a networking handshaker or puffed up with my own importance, I probably was not the figurehead they wanted.

The consortium the Swedes had joined to bid in Petersburg was led by Finnish Telecom and also had Norwegian Telecom in. I knew some of the senior guys at Finnish Telecom so they were happy about me. The bulk of the bid preparation was being done by the Swedes, but we were based in Helsinki. I was introduced to the representative of the Russian partner, the Petersburg telephone company. One of the major problems was apparent immediately. The Finns did not trust Russians, and vice-versa. The Swedes did not want to intervene. But I was trusted by both sides. I got on well with the Russian, and he was relaxed with me - I was English. After we won the bid, he made a speech at the celebration dinner in which he said ‘When Djohn walked in the room, I knew everything would be OK.’ Pissed? Of course. Multiple toasts of champagne and vodka, characteristics of a Russian dinner, had taken their toll. But I did appreciate it. I had in fact been instrumental in chairing the meeting at which a preliminary joint venture agreement was agreed and signed. I saw the Russians had no idea of financing and company formation, so without being patronising, explained each point with parallels (such as two people building a house) that they could understand and they were not slow to pick up the ideas. I also had to reassure the Finns I was not giving away the shop. I played it perfectly straight - no other way. The Finns put great trust in me. Clearing my old stuff recently, I came across the power of attorney they had given me to sign documents on their behalf. There was no limitation, so I guess I could still do so.

Winning a bid, at last, was a great sensation. I rang up the remnants of our BT group and told them we had at least been doing the right things.   

When I was still at BT, Alan had retired and a very smart guy more my own age (in fact younger) brought in. He had been in finance in Cellnet - and later became Finance Director there. He was also very knowledgeable in legal matters. I learned masses from him. It showed when I spent a day in Helsinki after the bid with lawyers from Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian Telecom going through the details of Joint Venture agreements, indicating what to watch for, what possibilities might occur, etc etc. At the close of business, they went into a huddle, then the Finnish guy came over and said, ‘Mr Griffiths, we are all agreed you could have been a lawyer.’ I managed to stop myself from laughing, and thanked him seriously. To him, it was a compliment. But who’d want to be a lawyer? I liked to dabble a bit, as I had when writing contracts with mobile phone manufacturers, but too much would simply have been boring.

After a short break, at home with my family, I started to cast around different contacts in a relaxed way, addressing the head guys with a ‘I recently did this, and I’ve experience in that, and I’m looking for a project. Do you have anything you’d like me to do?’ Very laid back. I had a few meetings, one of which was with the head of USWEST International (sorry, they spelled it in capitals) in London. USWEST were  Telco based in Colorado (one of the ‘baby bells’ split off when AT&T were broken up). In his office, I spotted a note on his desk. I can read upside down, which has proved very useful (but nearly gets me killed on pedestrian crossings!). The note said ‘Is this the guy who beat us out of the licence in Petersburg?’ They had been one of the unsuccessful bidders. Of course, winning wasn’t really down to me, but hey, at least it got me noticed. As a result I was offered a project in Russia to evaluate ten Russian cities where they had potential cellular interest with local partners. A very interesting project indeed. I had to work out a methodology and an operational plan, and put together the necessary people to make it work. I asked USWEST for an engineer and a financial modeller (the latter in particular to give them confidence) and found others myself. US Companies were very suspicious, and checked on non-Americans very thoroughly. They also put in a ‘ghost’ who stuck with me on trips and reported back every day. I didn’t mind, I had nothing to hide. My team included Russian speakers/translators of course, and went collecting data in the ten cities. I joined them for the first visit and a couple of others, and it was very, very interesting. From the third city of Russia, Samara/Kubychev where seven levels of Stalin’s bunker lie under the town as an emergency seat of government and Ladas were made, to the Russian Far East: Khabarovsk and out to Kamchatka where 18 snow-capped live volcanoes march into the distance as you come off the plane.   

My problem was I had no established means of using the data we gathered. There was no market, no history, no comparable experience. My breakthrough came at 2 o’clock one morning. A foreigner had been murdered in his hotel room in Moscow, and in my hotel there were people going up and down the fire escape outside my window. I could not sleep. To keep myself busy, for an hour or so I puzzled and scribbled, and eventually said ‘that’s it!’ (I kid you not). I then slept soundly. The next day I consulted one of my team, a market analyst I had subcontracted and went through it with him. We agreed a few tweaks and he eventually nodded. ‘That’s fine, John, can’t see anything wrong with that.’

So I managed to produce a very comprehensive nicely-bound report which more than justified the money it had cost, and was the basis of their ongoing plan in Russia. They later offered me a job as Strategic Advisor. I didn’t want to live in Moscow, so I proposed a contract with very favourable (for me) terms. If they had accepted it, I would have gladly done six months or so for the rewards it would have brought, including regular flights home. But they didn’t, rather to my relief if I’m honest.

In 1995 I was again hired by USWEST, this time as Bid Director in their consortium with Deutsch Telekom Mobile for Poland. I knew several of the Germans at Telekom, and they were quite happy to accept me. To cut a long story short, we won, founding Era GSM, one of the top two operators in Poland. So I got my own back on France Telecom. By the way, the Petersburg operator was called ‘North-West GSM’ an imaginative title (:-)) proposed by me. It rolled out over the whole of Russia and is one of the top two operators there. They only changed the name in 2002 when they were taken over - I’m often quite amused by my little legacies.


A History of the Mobile Phone part 10

This time: I become a financial whizz, a business evaluator and tell two start-ups they are dead in the water.

Bids for cellular and overall, mobile business, were drying up - besides which I’d done that and wanted something new. I found myself more and more in demand for business evaluation - strategy and viability. I’d learnt enough about financial modelling to be able to draw up accurate models to predict business results and confirm the accuracy of investment prospectuses. I had to state I was not financially qualified in any report for legal reasons, but frankly I often had to correct errors qualified people had made, as essentially, although some were bright high-flyers from the best business schools, they often lacked experience so didn’t spot anomalies obvious to anyone who knew the business.

I did a supplementary report for a small consultancy about Peterstar, a Petersburg telephone company. In the course of the visit I had lunch with a senior guy from the bank who had commissioned the work. A little while later I was asked to go and see Gordon Owen, then Chairman of Energis, the telco of the national grid. We got on very well personally, he was a nice chap. He offered me a job. I certainly did not wish to be MD of Peterstar as the business was tangled up with too much, shall we say, ‘local interest’, of a not too salubrious kind. So I suggested they hire me for 10 days a month (I didn’t like to work too hard) for 6 months while we got Peterstar on its feet and then we’d see. He agreed. Part way through the time, Cable and Wireless bought out his interest so I only did 3-4 months of the contract. But as a consultant, you can’t insist on contractual terms, you just have to bite the bullet and reduce the bill. It was enough to pay for the caviar, and some other projects were floating about.

Lockheed Martin Aerospace had a project to run a satellite mobile phone service over Russia. It was a clever idea. Rather than terrestrial base stations creating ‘cells’ of coverage around them, the satellite antenna was designed to project a network of cells onto the land below. Through a buddy in New York who belonged to a small consultancy, I was called in to advise as they didn’t have the firepower to handle it. I took a colleague, Peter, who had his own successful consultancy, as a subcontractor to handle the marketing forecasts. The US arm of KPMG, a global consultancy, had produced quite an optimistic business plan and we were simply asked to double check independently. They were confident they were going ahead. I began to become suspicious when, talking to some of the people on the phone, they told me they had estimated market size by looking at the population size of the Russian cities and equating them with cellular penetration in US cities of the same size. Errrr ..... a lot of Americans really had no idea about other countries and wealth (or otherwise). Anyway, after working with Peter and producing a preliminary business plan, but I told the principals to look in KPMG’s model (I wasn’t allowed to see it) for a line that said ‘terrestrial cellular’ or somesuch (I knew the US guys had got a model from the UK arm and simply applied it, maybe without understanding). ‘I bet it says zero throughout,’ I said. ‘It’s the only thing that would account for the major difference in our results’. They came back and said, ‘You were right.’ The business was a bust. I’d been round Russia and seen the growth of terrestrial cellular everywhere. But more to the point, 70% of the population live in cities, those that don’t probably couldn’t afford a phone anyway. And Russia is mostly cold. The satellite phone was not only bigger than a conventional one, but (of course) wouldn’t work indoors. No Russian with wealth would get up and stand outside in the snow with a big lumpy phone while his pals happily conversed on small phones sitting in restaurants etc. It was that simple. Of course, the rich had dachas in the countryside, which could be out of coverage for terrestrial cellular but they already had radio links for telephones there. I told them that I thought the best bet would be India, which has rich middle class people scattered all over the country in their estates and a lousy telephone service. They looked depressed. ‘We’re putting a satellite up for a consortium that’s doing just that.’ Ah well, at least I stopped their project before they committed too much money to it.

The second big bust was a Dutch/US joint venture in Amsterdam. They already had offices and had hired nearly 100 people. The MD was doing a good job operationally, but I had qualms about the viability. I asked for their financial/business model. ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘I’ll mail it to you.’ He did. It wasn’t a model - there was no model, no one had shown the business to be viable. What happened (and why there was a crash in telecoms in 2000) was US analysts proclaimed ‘It’s great to invest in this sector!’ Of course it had been, for wisely invested money. But there was then a flood of people just throwing money into any project. This one had got $50m to start up, and I had figures showing the ‘burn rate’, how much was being spent. I built a model, just a simple one, using inputs supplied by their marketing and technical departments. I assumed an aggressive 50% share of the market (even though there were at least 8 serious competitors) but it didn’t fly, it lost money. Even when I doubled sales and halved engineering costs, it still didn’t. When I showed it to the MD and he said ‘I can’t show this to the Board’ I decided to get out quick, I wasn’t going to be a party to that, so I cleaned up a final report and stuck my bill in. You see, from the burn rate I knew they would run out of funds in 3 months (and the business would not have even started by then) and not even rich Americans would be daft enough to throw good money after bad. They were good payers fortunately and I got my fee. A couple of months later, I read they had gone belly-up. I found it all disgusting and irresponsible. Sure, the investors were gambling, but these folk just threw the money away (after taking generous commissions for themselves, of course - that’s the game).

Some’ll rob you with a six gun and some with a fountain pen.’ - Woody Guthrie.


A History of the Mobile Phone part 11

This time: all good things must .... , I get my highest daily fee ever, I cash in some shares

Things were changing. The crash in telecoms business in 2000 meant that companies were less keen to hire consultants as they were reluctant to start projects for expansion or new markets because of  uncertainty, and the happy days of post-deregulation were fading . They were pulling their horns in a riding out the crisis. Also, I found myself giving advice to young managers, and seeing in their faces that they probably would not take it. This was fair enough, I probably wouldn’t let some old fart tell me what to do when I was starting out, it’s natural. I always did projects for the satisfaction of challenging myself and doing something useful for the client. There were many consultants who would just put their heads down and take the money, regardless, who wouldn’t have told a business a project would not fly, as I did, just to keep on taking the fee. I couldn’t do that. Many of my peers had worked into comfortable niches, Chairmen of international committees, etc etc, doing the rounds of conferences and speaking. But that wasn’t for me - too boring.

So I decided, finally, to retire. My last project was for NTL (taken over by Virgin cable later) . I was subcontracted by Peter, the guy who assisted me with Lockheed Martin. As an established consultancy, with half a dozen staff and a central London office , his rates were much higher, so I went out on a daily rate significantly higher than my usual. Nice.

In the years running up to this, I had been working with an old pal from BT Germany, who set up and grew a company which partnered city administrations (very independent in Germany) and utilised their private telephone networks (which were usually overprovided) for paying customers. He also had a sideline in Telehouses, server farms in high-security, high reliability locations to rent out space for customers own equipment etc which were increasingly in demand because of internet growth. He couldn’t afford to pay me, but I was happy to work for free because of the experience, and to become a director of an associated UK company. They paid expenses, flights, hotels etc, so I wasn’t out of pocket. When he raised the subject and apologised, I just said if they were successful, I was sure he would pay me back in some way. He did. We all worked very hard with presentations to investors. I saved them from a US guy who I found from my New York investment banker contact was a bit of a wide boy. A new company was formed, collecting the various city operations and telehouses, and I was allocated shares in it. Worth nothing of course unless someone invested in the company. Happily, they were bought for $20m, and I received my pay, a lump of money for my shares. Another nice (second) retirement present.

In my first job, I travelled the length of the British Isles, Land’s end to Unst, organising aerials for coastal radio stations - all seaside towns. It was all expenses paid, and our honeymoon was a tour of northern Scotland, dropping in for a day’s work every so often to justify the trip - Stonehaven, Wick, Oban, Skye, Portpatrick.  But when I was working on System 4, we visited the manufacturer in  Nuremberg and spent a week in the Black Forest, with BT paying all transport and some hotel costs.  My best ‘paid-for’ trip was taking our campervan through Denmark, Sweden to Finland. If it rained we found a hotel, and BT paid for it. I had seven meetings on the way, which if I’d attended separately would have cost BT more in airfare and hotels, so they thought it was worth it. For the trip, Nokia lent me an NMT transportable which worked in all the countries. I remember calling the office to check on things and deal with any issues, and my PA said, ‘Where are you?’. ‘Halfway across the Gulf of Bothnia,’ I said, ‘on a ferry’. I signed the first cellular contract with Nokia in Helsinki. Coming back, we took the kids to Legoland.

I learned a lot about myself after quitting marketing and joining a small group. I read a book by a guy called Belbin, in which (my own interpretation) I found that people’s personalities are like metal discs with bumps on. For every positive trait (a bump), if you turn over the disc, there is a negative one (a hollow), and that is unavoidable. He described, in general terms, eight types of people and how they worked in groups in exercises he set. If you take eight highly critical people, the group fails (as they spend their time criticising each other). But if you have eight luvvy people, deliriously happy together, they fail too (because they don’t get the job done). The best teams proved to be a mixture of different characters. It was an eye-opener for me. I realised that the guy I thought was just a loser was fulfilling a useful purpose, albeit low profile, in the group, and began to value him.  I once held a small seminar for my staff and my colleagues’ staff. I read out a nutshell description: ‘Can sometimes appear abrasive and arrogant, but gets things done.’ Most of them pointed and said, ‘That’s you!’ After that, they were much easier with me and nicer, strangely enough. I didn’t quote anyone other types in case the people concerned didn’t like it, but they all went through the list themselves and clearly identified their colleagues. I hoped that this would bring them the same realisation as I had had.

If you want to read about some of my adventures (Japan, Russia) - less about me and more about places and events: Life/

















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