Pure Telecom’s Paul Connell discusses fixed lines, fibre and the fast pace of the telecoms sector.
Paul Connell is the co-founder and CEO of Pure Telecom.
Starting out in his career as an accountant, he worked at BDO Simpson Xavier and Iretex Packaging before making the move to telecoms.
Connell took up the role of financial director at Global Telesystems (now Ventelo) and also worked at Hutchison Whampoa before co-founding Pure Telecom in 2002.
2017 was a year of significant growth for Pure Telecom as it announced a €1.8m investment and 32 new jobs. Last September, it agreed a €35m deal with Eir in a bid to extend its reach and offer high-speed broadband to a potential 2m customers.
Describe your role and what you do.
I founded Pure Telecom in 2002 with my business partner, Alan McGonnell. I qualified as a chartered accountant but, when we started off, like with any new business, my role incorporated all areas, including sales, finance and operations. Today, my role is that of a CEO, which means I am responsible for the overall running of the company and ensuring that we deliver on our core value proposition of providing the best customer service in the industry.
I am very lucky in that we have a great management team – they make my job a lot easier. On a day-to-day basis, the team gets together and goes through a detailed list of key performance indicators (KPIs) for the business, which allows us to keep track of our progress and drill down into any issues that arise. It also means that I can stand back and look at the company from the top down in terms of results and growth.
Apart from these daily meetings, my role involves evaluating the development of the business and looking at new avenues to increase profitability. It’s up to me to look to the future and make sure that we are always moving forward. Dealing with external stakeholders and making corporate decisions are also a huge part of my remit.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
Micromanagement is not my style. Like I said previously, I believe in the management team around me and am confident in their abilities, which means that I can focus on the bigger picture.
At the end of the day, getting results is what matters, so this is something that I always keep a close eye on. As well as the daily review of KPIs, I sit down with the management team on a weekly basis for several hours and go through business matters and performance in greater detail.
If there is an area that requires attention, it is discussed, addressed and resolved as efficiently and effectively as possible. I like to tackle things head-on, and this is an approach that we instil within the team. It means that anything urgent or timely is dealt with there and then.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
Telecoms is one of the fastest-moving and most competitive sectors at the moment. People have become reliant on their mobile devices, with online streaming and WiFi calling commonplace, so broadband has become a necessity.
Today, the residential customer is looking for a quick, reliable broadband service at an affordable price. Unfortunately, in Ireland, obtaining a fast, dependable broadband service is not always that easy due to location and accessibility. That is why the implementation of the National Broadband Plan is vital to Pure Telecom as it will enable us to secure new customers in other parts of the country – particularly those in rural areas – and deliver the high-quality service that they require.
In order to meet the varying requirements of customers in the meantime, we provide a wide range of options depending on need, accessibility and location. From next-generation broadband to fibre broadband, we pride ourselves on giving each and every customer a solution that works for them. Being flexible in this way is the only way to adapt to the changing nature of the industry.
‘Telecoms is such a dynamic sector that it did not take me long to see the opportunity to establish a business myself’
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
The regions are very important to us. The National Broadband Plan, and continuing roll-out of high-speed broadband, is fuelling the overall market for broadband products even further. It allows us to expand our customer base on both the residential and business fronts, and we have already taken steps to ensure that we can meet this demand without impacting on existing customers.
In addition to this, we have found that people want flexibility, and what you might find surprising is that an increasing amount of people are requesting the installation of a fixed line, something we thought would fall out of favour completely with the rise of the smartphone. Again, the National Broadband Plan will only increase this as more homes and businesses become connected to broadband.
Another opportunity lies in the consumption of content online and the popularity of streaming sites such as Netflix. As people move away from the traditional means of watching shows via the television set, their dependence on the internet will only grow.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
From an early age, I have had an entrepreneurial instinct and I have worked for as long as I can remember. These two things have stood me in good stead over the years. Like I said, I entered telecoms as a chartered accountant, so my journey has taken a bit of a detour, but I think it is good to follow your instincts.
It is such a dynamic sector that it did not take me long to see the opportunity to establish a business myself. It was about taking the chances when they arose and not letting fear get in the way.
In terms of Pure Telecom, the company has gone from strength to strength since it was established 15 years ago. We are now looking to double our revenues over the next three years and increase our customer base to 100,000 by the end of 2019.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
In any business or start-up, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made on both a business and individual level. The most important thing is to learn from those mistakes and let the experience shape you as a business person.
For example, I have always had a deep resolve and a core set of principles. However, I have discovered during my career that it is sometimes financially beneficial to have flexibility in your resolve and learn to fight another day.
Only experience will teach you certain things. Mistakes might break you at the time but they will make you in the long run, and they should never prevent you from taking advantage of future opportunities or fulfilling your objectives.
How do you get the best out of your team?
The phrase ‘Do unto others and you would have them do unto you’ comes to mind. People like to be treated fairly, respected and valued. It is important that if someone does a good job, they are rewarded. It is equally important that if someone makes a mistake, it is explained to them and they can learn from it.
We encourage and operate a flat-structured, open-door policy at Pure Telecom, with the aim of enabling and empowering our employees. We like to hear what they have to say and encourage them to communicate their opinions about the business. For us, hard work and loyalty is key, which is why we always aim to promote from within the company.
Last but not least, I believe that it is important that everyone can have a laugh at work, so, creating a personable, open and friendly atmosphere is essential. I also think that people excel when they enjoy what they do, and that is good for business because it comes across in our customer service and the great interactions our people have with their customers.
‘I admire people who have built up an organisation from nothing and have demonstrated a strong entrepreneurial trait’
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?
Nowadays, tech companies are under pressure to diversify their workforce, which is predominantly white and male. To be completely honest, I look for individuals who can work with each other and are the best people for the job.
I believe that, in order to bring about change in this area, role models and industry leaders need to be seen to set the standards and encourage equality, diversity and inclusion. When you have 50,000 customers, they are a diverse bunch, so it makes sense to have diversity in the people serving them, too. Other businesses will follow this example and will quickly realise the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce in terms of ideas and productivity.
Who is your role model and why?
I find it hard to pick out a single role model; however, I do admire people who have built up an organisation from nothing and have demonstrated a strong entrepreneurial trait. Deciding to start your own business takes a great deal of courage and then making a success of that business requires a lot of determination and hard work. These are characteristics that I value in others.
I also admire people who dedicate their lives to helping those less fortunate in one way or another, be it getting involved in a charity or volunteering for a specific event. I believe that it is so important to be charitable and give back if you can.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
I am a fiction addict. My favourite genre is crime and I love a good thriller. I have read a lot of Jo Nesbø and most of Nelson DeMille’s book – any of those are worth picking up. I would also seriously recommend I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes to anyone who has not read it yet.
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
It might sound clichéd but I have a fantastic family and love nothing more than spending time with them. My wife is absolutely amazing; with five children, it is certainly a team effort, but she makes my personal life easy and uncomplicated, which allows me to concentrate on the business.
Speaking of which, we have built up a great team at Pure Telecom who make my work life more manageable and incredibly rewarding. Everyone gets on really well together and focuses on the task at hand – that is all I could ever ask for. It is an absolute pleasure to work alongside them and I am looking forward to the next step in the Pure Telecom journey.
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