Describe your role in brief
As CEO, I manage the relationship with our South African owners, The Digicall Group based in Johannesburg. South Africa is a fantastic place to visit although it does mean I can spend a little time away from the UK and my family. I also manage the relationships with a number of our key UK clients.
Our business has changed significantly: Service lines have changed and our growth has been significant. I started the business together with our COO Mike Harfield in 2011 with just 20 staff. We now have over 450 staff in the UK with offices in Redditch and Birmingham and we are expanding in Cape Town. I remain very much ‘hands on’ in the business which keeps me out of mischief.
What is it the company does?
Sigma is a business process outsourcer (BPO) specialising in credit management customer contact solutions. We work for several major UK businesses within the utilities, retail and financial services sector, providing our services on a ‘white label’ basis. Services include inbound and outbound telephony, Email, Webchat, SMS and IVR.
Our flexibility has been key to our growth and we have been able to grow and adapt with our clients as their businesses have developed and their needs have changed.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My background was initially in the debt servicing and portfolio purchasing industry where I had over 20 years’ experience. During this time I worked for a number of large debt purchase businesses, helping to set-up and manage large-scale contact centre operations both within the UK and in South Africa.
I always wanted to set up my own business Sigma was founded in 2011. I took on the role of CEO in February 2016 following Sigma’s acquisition by The Digicall Group in January of the same year.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Running your own business teaches you a great deal about managing people as ultimately, all important decisions land on your doorstep. First and foremost, the ability to be a good listener and to really understand your staff is key. This becomes increasingly difficult as the business gets larger and so it is important that you can build a good management team around you that reinforces the culture of the business and whom can be relied upon to relay feedback from the ground up which can be acted upon.
I am extremely approachable and undoubtedly an ‘ideas’ person. I’d like to think that my enthusiasm helps to engage and motivate our employees.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Setting up a business from scratch is never easy but in December 2015 we took the decision to change the direction in which the business was heading; focusing our services entirely on our ‘white label’ BPO offering. This necessitated not only the revision of the existing business plan but also a restructuring of the business to re-deploy staff and some difficult conversations with clients regarding service provision going forward. It has been absolutely the right decision for our business, our staff and our clients and almost 12 months further on, Sigma has added another 150 staff in its Birmingham Office, expanded in Cape Town and is financially much stronger.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
The hours are long and there is extensive travelling to visit our parent company in South Africa, so it is always relaxing to spend time with my family and friends.
Beyond spending time with family, I also enjoy a round of golf. Mark Twain once said that “Golf is good walk spoiled!” I couldn’t disagree more and there is no better way to relieve stress than to take out my frustrations on a golf ball whilst taking in some fresh air and fantastic scenery.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Like many young boys I suspect, I saw my future on the football field surrounded by thousands of adoring fans chanting my name. Not just any football field however but the hallowed turf of Anfield playing for my beloved Liverpool FC.
To be honest, I haven’t really grown up that much and would still love to play for them but the years have passed me by and I suspect that my dreams are now simply delusions of grandeur.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?
Casting aside supporters of Manchester Utd (of which there are a few), rudeness in any form is inexcusable. I like to remind people that we are all internal clients of each other and our business demands that we are courteous and polite to each other at all times. I know that people can get stressed from time-to-time and we have channels and methods through which our staff can vent any frustrations or talk to people in a sensible manner in order to work through any issues they may have.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Sigma has come so far in such a short space of time; experiencing exponential growth; consolidating its primary service line; and expanding its operation in three delivery centres – Redditch, Birmingham and Cape Town.
Over the next five years we expect to expand in all three of these locations and are also looking to penetrate a number of other overseas markets where there is a good appetite for our services. In the UK alone, there is huge interest in the services we are delivering. Sigma is an award winning business; we picked up Best Outsourcing Partnership of the Year and Best Customer Service Initiative of the Year at the 2016 Credit Strategy Utilities & Telecoms Awards and more recently (November 2016) were awarded Outsourcing Partnership of the Year at the UK Midlands and Yorkshire Contact Centre Forum Awards. We plan to continue in the same vein, expanding our footprint whilst delivering a fantastic service to our clients.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Pursue your dream and be flexible to adapt to change. Plans are designed to be altered!
Beyond this, build and develop a strong management team which can support and help deliver your vision.