Leaders’ Insights: Mark Hopkins, BT Ireland

12 Dec 2016

Mark Hopkins, BT Ireland. Image: BT Ireland

Mark Hopkins was recently appointed the director of sales for BT Ireland.

Hopkins started working in BT in 2010, first as a healthcare sales manager, then as an ICT and data centre general manager. He took up his current post as director of sales in September 2016.

Before BT, he worked at Microsoft as a business manager for the UK and Ireland health solutions group.

Describe your role and what you do.

I lead the sales function at BT Ireland, with revenues of approximately €500m in 2016/2017. In Ireland, most of our business comes from large domestic enterprises, both indigenous and foreign multinational corporations, as well as public sector organisations. We don’t directly serve consumers or SMEs, but we reach those indirectly through our wholesale channel customers, like Vodafone, Three and Sky.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

In management training, we were taught to think about filling a jar with rocks and sand – put the big rocks in first, then the smaller pieces fit in around that. For me, the customer is that big rock. I start by looking at the key contracts or opportunities at play in that particular fiscal period – whether it’s that quarter or for year-end. With the customer taken care of, my next priority is the team, followed by all the ancillary business management functions that go around that.

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

For BT, it’s probably the pace of change in technology. Adding value to our customers and their technology infrastructure is at the heart of what we do, so we need to be able to move quickly to meet their ever-evolving needs. Right now, the greatest demand is around cloud technologies. Our hybrid cloud strategy begins and ends with our network, with data, voice, security and other associated IT services built around that, so it’s really about helping our customers move towards that model.

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

As a leading global communications provider with a strong presence here in Ireland, a major opportunity lies in serving foreign direct investment customers, Irish multinationals and domestic organisations; helping them to connect their people and their data, wherever they are located. With a global network in 198 countries and territories, we can help connect those international businesses with the rest of the world, both from a network and from an IT infrastructure perspective. And we’re able to offer that on the domestic front as well, enabling local communications providers to expand their reach through our network.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

I’ve always worked in the tech industry, though not always in telecoms. I started out in an indigenous IT services company, Cara (actually later bought by BT). I went on to start an IT security firm, which was ultimately sold, and then worked for Microsoft for seven years, primarily in the public sector business. I’ve been with BT for seven years in three different roles, and now as sales director.

I’ve always been interested in the ways in which technology can drive businesses forward. My degree was in business IT, which was all about mapping technology and business benefits. While the technologies may have advanced, that is still essentially what I do today – working with customers to figure out how BT services and solutions will help them get the greatest benefit possible from technology.

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

I think my biggest mistake was jumping too quickly from one role to another in my early career. I was so eager to move on and progress, without fully realising the benefits of the role I was already in. It’s good to push yourself, but the older you get, the more you see the benefits of patience and sticking with something to get the very most out of it.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Openness and honesty are so important – making time for regular, open dialogue on our priorities as a team. In the past, I found myself running away with a plan in my head, without necessarily sharing it with anyone else, so that’s something I’m always working on and encouraging the team to challenge me on. And trust is key. As a leader, I’m always there for the team as a sounding board, but ultimately I trust them to make the right decision for the business.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

I recently took part in MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) training and there’s no doubt that it’s a challenge in our industry. Having said that, 45pc of BT Ireland’s leadership is female, so it’s good to see the diversity mix improving. But there are a couple of dynamics at play.

On the one hand, look at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition – every year, the project applications are weighted towards female applicants (for 2017, the ratio was 61pc female compared to 39pc male entrants). But for some reason, this trend is not translating to the industry. I think the first step is about awareness and understanding the issue and the biases. For example, simple things like the way we interview: if you ensure that you have diversity on the interview panel, you’re much more likely to have diversity in your hires. And that all starts with awareness.

Who is your business hero and why?

Anyone who has had the courage to start their own company – that takes bravery.

Richard Branson would be one of my favourite leaders for a couple of reasons. He had to overcome learning difficulties to get started; the diversity of his businesses and not being afraid to take on the likes of British Airways and American Airlines is hugely impressive. He has also managed to combine his business passion with his personal passions, pushing boundaries with his transatlantic crossings, hot air ballooning records etc.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

From a leadership point of view, I’d really recommend Legacy by James Kerr. It offers powerful lessons in leadership, based on a study of the All Blacks rugby team. A story at the beginning of the book really struck me, where Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are sweeping out the changing room after a game. In spite of their success and status, they set a strong standard and demonstrate a level of discipline that defines the culture of the All Blacks. And that applies equally to business and leadership.

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

It starts and ends with my calendar. If it’s not in there – whether work or home-related – the chances are, it won’t get done. I try to keep a regular date night with my wife but sending her diary invites for that is not very romantic – so I’m told!

Salesforce is an important tool for us, from contacts and opportunity profiling to finance and reporting etc. Also, I’m a growing user of LinkedIn, from a networking perspective and as a source of business news.