‘Covid has resulted in businesses looking for certainty in uncertain times’

25 May 2021

Image: David Savage

Geotab’s David Savage discusses the business of telematics, the need for ‘positive friction’ in a team, and how he moved from marketing to the tech sector.

David Savage is associate vice-president for UK and Ireland at commercial telematics company Geotab. The Canada-headquartered company develops fleet management software and GPS vehicle tracking tools.

In his role, Savage leads operational, commercial and organisational activities in the region, helping support the company’s growth in Europe. He has more than 15 years’ experience in operations and transport management. Prior to joining Geotab, he was UK general manager at FreeNow – formerly MyTaxi and Hailo.

‘I’ll challenge my team but also expect them to challenge me’

Describe your role and what you do.

I was brought into the Geotab family in January 2020 to drive growth within the UK and Irish regions. While Geotab is a global leader in IoT and commercial telematics, it is fair to say we are still in start-up mode here. As such, my first priority was to establish and secure buy-in for my vision for the UK and Irish business.

At a strategic level, I ensure that all the departments – be it sales, engineering, R&D, operations, marketing and PR, or HR and training – are laser-focused on hitting the right markers that cumulatively enable us to realise the overall business vision.

One of the great things about my role is the broad spectrum of conversations and activities I’ll be engaged in on a daily basis. However, my primary function is to enable the best possible performance from the team I’m building, be that working to remove blockers and cutting through red tape, or simply sitting down with team members to catch up or discuss TV or sport over a (virtual) coffee.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

When it comes to fleet management, end customers are increasingly looking for bespoke and customised solutions to better manage their vehicles according to their unique needs. The transition to electric vehicles is the key development posing new challenges for our customers and partners.

Fortunately, we have built our business over the last few years around what we call our six pillars of innovation, with sustainability taking precedence as our most important pillar. We also invest 15pc of our profits back into research and development each year, which I see as critical to enabling us to consistently stay ahead of industry trends and meet the needs of the market.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Covid has resulted in businesses looking for certainty in uncertain times. Telematics can deliver this certainty. We offer a very data-driven and customised solution and have seen exponential growth over the last year.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

In a word, Ryanair. My degree is in marketing and the typical progression from my university at the time was to go into a graduate scheme, but this wasn’t for me as I found the structure too rigid.

While looking for a permanent role, I took a short-term contract at Ryanair. At the time the culture was very much ‘sink or swim’ and I enjoyed the autonomy I was afforded and the variety of areas within commercial and operational functions I got exposure to.

This working style of autonomy and getting things done, along with a focus on commercial and operational processes, very much set the tone for the businesses and roles I’ve been involved in throughout my career.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I didn’t challenge myself enough. I made the mistake of staying with a business too long and, despite being well paid and fairly compensated, I was living for the end of the working week.

I took a pay cut and joined ride-hailing company Hailo in 2016, and through my time at Hailo up to Geotab, I haven’t looked back. I love the industry I’m in and now look forward to the working week and feel privileged to be doing a role I enjoy alongside people I’m proud to work with.

How do you get the best out of your team?

We are growing rapidly and moving at pace so it’s vital we have a clear vision and purpose in place. I provide my team with clear direction and then trust them to execute. There are of course regular check-ins and dialogues, but I don’t subscribe to micromanagement. They are the experts in their areas and I believe in their ability and desire.

To be as successful as possible, I also believe in the need for ‘positive friction’. I’ll challenge my team but also expect them to challenge me, question the strategy and make suggestions. This is their business as much as it is mine to take pride in.

I also have quarterly one-to-ones with every team member, operate an open-door policy and believe in hotdesking – once we can get back to an office environment – so that I get to spend time with every department.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

There are many aspects to diversity, such as culture, race, gender, religion, age and disability. Within our sector globally, we are falling short in terms of gender diversity, in particular. This is improving but there is still a way to go. The greatest improvements I’ve seen have been within the more commercial functions, like finance and marketing, but on the engineering side, be it software or hardware, we are collectively lagging.

In my view, to improve this there needs to be greater promotion of engineering as a career at an earlier age and I’m seeing changes starting to happen with very strong female engineers starting to join the sector. It would be great to look back in a few years and see a strong diversity balance across all functions.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

My first boss at Hailo took a chance on me in early 2016 – he was certainly pivotal in changing the direction and trajectory of my career. At the time, I didn’t have a tech sector background nor did I have an MBA like the candidates I was up against. He later told me that he chose me for the role based on the desire and hunger he saw in me to change the direction of my career and push myself.

I’ll be forever grateful to him for taking that chance and this is an approach top of my mind when seeking to expand my own team.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

As someone with a keen interest in brand stories and a Nike trainer obsession that dates back to my early teens, I enjoyed Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike.

I also enjoy listening to and watching TED Talks or leadership insights by Simon Sinek. Always the sign of a good discussion, I can get a little caught up in these presentations and have found myself shouting at the screen in disagreement on occasion.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My laptop and Google function like an extension of my arms during the working week. Having spent over a year working from home as a result of Covid, things that I’d previously taken for granted have proven to be a true godsend in these times. Collaboration tools that enable multiple team members to work on a document at the same time and video calls have proven essential to the cohesion of our team, not only for work but also for social purposes.

Personally, I also shouldn’t forget the importance of a comfortable chair and a good coffee machine!

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.