Workair’s Stephen Mackarel discusses his career in telecoms, how digital transformation is changing the sector, and how his business is run in the cloud.
Stephen Mackarel is founder and managing director of Workair, a Dublin-based company that provides cloud-based phone systems for businesses. It was founded in 2016 and now helps companies across a number of sectors to combine voice, video, message and mobile channels into a single communications platform.
Mackarel has around 30 years’ experience in the comms industry. He brought Carphone Warehouse to Ireland in the late 1990s, and also held roles at Eircell and Best Buy Mobile.
‘Everyone is talking about digital transformation but voice is an area that is often overlooked in this journey’
– STEPHEN MACKAREL
Describe your role and what you do.
Workair is a relatively young company so my role is a mixture of day-to-day tactical tasks and strategic actions. The industry Workair operates in is constantly changing so we must continually learn and adapt our propositions and plans to those changing conditions.
In order to do that, we need the right people and the right resources to execute the proposition and to deliver against our business plans.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
In life and in business I always set myself long-term goals – typically a five-year horizon. I always use those goals as a compass for my priorities on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
I generally make a list every Monday of what I want to achieve that week and then prioritise what needs to be done. I often depress myself when this week’s list is exactly the same as last week’s list – only with more items added to it!
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
I am always amazed at how many companies are so far behind with the technology and security that runs their businesses. This is especially true when you hear phrases like, ‘We are not letting that out to the cloud’ or ‘Our servers and security are all on prem because cloud is not secure enough yet’. These views are about 10 years out of date, but it is hard to tell a prospective customer that they are living in the dark ages without offending them!
Meanwhile, everyone is talking about digital transformation but voice is an area that is often overlooked in this journey. Many customers still want to communicate with companies by phone. Companies can really improve their customers journey and internal processes by integrating voice into other systems, like CRMs, practice management tools, billing platforms, payment platforms, reporting tools, self-serve options etc.
As a result of the uncertain times we live in, many companies are very slow to commit spend to upgrade their phone and contact centre systems. We make the decision easier for customers because our solutions do not require capital expenditure and are sold as a service to make them accessible to companies of all sizes.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
- Companies need to upgrade phone systems and contact centre systems to secure, future-proofed and resilient solutions that are easy to manage and use
- Companies need to reduce costs while improving their customer service
- Companies need to enable effective remote and hybrid working by providing employees with access to all the tools they need to do their jobs from anywhere
- Financial services need to have records of and recordings of interactions they have with their customers
- The medical sector needs to have secure video consultations with patients
- Contact centres need to upgrade to omnichannel solutions without having to commit to a large capital expenditure
What set you on the road to where you are now?
I was very fortunate. In 1997 I got a job in Eircell (now Vodafone), back when only 90,000 people in Ireland had mobile phones. I quickly realised that I really enjoyed telecoms and technology. Since then, I have been involved in telecoms.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
I am not sure I can identify a ‘biggest mistake’, but I have made lots of big mistakes over the years. I think some of the ones that stand out include:
- Not making tough decisions on people soon enough – if someone is not working out, it is in everyone’s interest to deal with the issue promptly
- Not sticking to your guns – in some instances, I have been swayed by easier decisions rather that doing what I believe is the right thing
- Not being laser-focused on the customer journey – you need to put the customer at the heart of everything you do
- Not paying enough attention to the culture in the business – I hate politics in a business and try to eliminate it if possible
- Listening to too many bullshitters – I am still guilty of this!
How do you get the best out of your team?
Leave them at it! I think the key is to define your strategy, your values and the culture of the business. Then define the organisation chart and roles and responsibilities based on the strategy. You recruit based on these criteria.
After that, you need to ensure that the team have the tools, authority and support to do their jobs. Good people always react well to the trust you place in them.
Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?
I don’t think that diversity is as big a problem in ‘younger’ industries like technology, but it is still a major concern in the older, more traditional industries. The key issue that will drive more inclusivity is diversity at board level. This diversity then percolates throughout the business.
Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?
I was just 30 when I was appointed MD for Carphone Warehouse. Carphone appointed one of their main board members to mentor me. He was a retired accountant and senior banker in the city of London. He was fantastic, he never judged and always gave a mature and measured view on what I was doing. I think he thought I was mad most of the time!
What books have you read that you would recommend?
From a business point of view, there are a few that I have found very useful over the years:
- Tools and Techniques for Strategic Management by Patrick McNamee
- The Fish Rots from the Head by Bob Garratt
- Buyology by Martin Lindstrom
- Uncommon Practice by Interbrand and Forum
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
All our ecosystem at Workair is in the cloud and most of it is integrated. We operate Microsoft Office 365, Ability cloud for billing, Sage in the cloud, Zoho for customer relationship management and a cloud phone system.
As a result, the most important thing I need to work from anywhere is access to the internet. I also use a Microsoft Surface Pro, which has all my apps.
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