Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Kevin Price, Head of Home Office and Customer Sales at Virgin Media shares his experiences of applying his professional skills in a charity setting.
I’ve been at Virgin Media, through its various incarnations, for most of my working life and I’ll be celebrating 20 years in the telecoms sector next year. This has been a period of real upheaval; we’ve all had to learn fast and work hard, but it’s certainly been an exciting time. I’ve been very privileged to have a varied and rewarding career and I certainly can’t imagine working in any other industry. However, working in this sector does sometimes feel like being in a bubble and it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture – not everyone is so fortunate.
Perhaps this is a bit of a cliché, but I’d reached a point in my professional life where I felt settled and fulfilled; I felt it was a time to give something back. The professional development team at work suggested some voluntary work might help me to scratch that itch and pointed me towards Pilotlight.
Pilotlight matches senior business people with charities and social enterprises to offer consultancy to help charities become more strategic and impactful. I was placed in a small team of execs from a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from technology to sales. Our first project is with the Anne Frank Trust, a charity that offers educational programmes to schools to equip young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to challenge all forms of prejudice and discrimination.
The consultancy model doesn’t require you to have any prior knowledge of the charity world or of the specifics of the organisation’s core focus. Rather, by bringing to bear the collective experience gained in the commercial world we are able to offer a fresh and objective perspective. This can be all it takes to push strategic changes that will have positive outcomes in the longer term.
We were initially a little nervous that there could be some natural resistance at our being parachuted in as ‘experts’ from outside the third sector. The team at the Anne Frank Trust was extremely generous in terms of both the welcome and the access they extended to us. After meeting with stakeholders from across the organisation, including the CEO and the trustees, we were able to appreciate the challenges it faced.
We were also invited to the charity’s annual conference, which helped to reinforce what it is hoping to achieve. Most valuable of all was the opportunity to meet with representatives of a school taking part in the programme. This really helped us to understand how the charity works in practice and the real impact it can have on young peoples’ lives.
Working in a different market was a real eye opener; telecoms is a dynamic and fast-paced environment but it soon became clear that’s not the case in the charity sector. Every penny really does count, so they literally can’t afford to take any risks. However, the slower pace worked in terms of giving us sufficient time to get to know the Trust and formulate a strategy even though the group was only meeting once per month.
Given the demands of my day job, I only have a finite amount of time to reserve for extracurricular pursuits and this is something that Pilotlight understands. Even though you’re only dedicating, at most, one day of your time per month, the combination of input from senior leadership from across multiple sectors can be invaluable in exposing the charity to new ways of approaching any given problem.
I found working with a diverse group of people from across different disciplines and sectors incredibly useful in terms of my own development. I’m learning a lot and I’m sure there’s a lot I’ll be applying in my own professional life.
It’s also reassuring to see just how transferable my own skills are – even to the context of the third sector! I was able to translate my experience of how to how to approach different sets of people to grow particular audience segments.
This has got me thinking about CSR within the telecoms sector more broadly. It’s all very well rattling buckets at charity ‘fun days’, but actually there’s so much more we could be doing as an industry. I think many of us think that what we do is incredibly technical and specialist, but the underlying business acumen, understanding of audiences and communication skills are all qualities charities and social enterprises value. After all, only the largest ones can afford to invest in consultants – and ironically these are probably the ones that need them the least.
Equally, looking beyond your own niche, or indeed comfort zone, is a great way to challenge yourself. It’s probably not healthy to get too wrapped up in the day-to-day workings of the business without an outlet. Helping those who are most vulnerable, or simply may not have had the breaks you’ve had, is a great way to retain your sense of humility and be grateful for what you do have.
There’s nothing more personally rewarding than helping others. Moreover, it may well be pleasantly surprising to learn how the professional skills you take for granted can actually help change lives and the experience may even change your own.
Kevin joined NTL in 1999 as an IT and Project Manager. In 2007, NTL went through a period of transition and renamed itself to Virgin Media, during which Kevin progressed to head of telesales planning and performance for the company. Over the years, his remit has evolved, spanning systems/business analysis and sales operations. In 2016, Kevin became Virgin Media’s head of home office and customer sales and now leads all sales activity within Virgin Media’s existing customer base. Kevin lives in Brighton with his wife and two children (aged nine & six). In his spare time, Kevin spends as much time as possible outdoors, either running in the hills, cycling through the south downs, or swimming in the sea.