Meet the MD: David Blakey , Echo-U

Meet the MD: David Blakey , Echo-U

A large contact centre, headquartered in the North East of England, Echo-U is helping its clients grow. Co-founder and joint MD David Blakey fills us in on 16 years of growing a business.

What is it the company does?

Echo-U is an established owner-managed contact centre headquartered in Newcastle City Centre. A second site has recently been opened in Bournemouth, which is responsible for serving the business’ clients in London and the south.  

Echo-U provides customer contact solutions across inbound and outbound telephone, social media and webchat channels and is committed to creating growth for its clients, including many of the UK’s biggest brands such as DPD, Sage, Sky and National Careers Service.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

As co-founder and joint MD of Echo-U, my role is to drive the sales and marketing strategy of the business, oversee the finance function, and manage client relationships. The other MD and co-founder, Diana Bourke looks after the People and the Operation – the really important stuff.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I moved to the US in 1988 as an 18-year-old on a football scholarship. In 1995 I completed an MBA in California. From 1994 to 1996 I worked in San Francisco for Bank of America in its new digital sales and marketing division (internet was new and customer acquisition and retention strategies were being completely remodelled). In 1997 I moved back to the UK and started working for RBS Commercial Services (part of RBS Corporate Finance function). I left RBS in 2001 to set up Echo-U with business partner Diana Bourke.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

The ability to communicate a clear concise vision of what we want to deliver as a business. The ability to get everyone on board and buy in to what we are trying to achieve. Honesty and integrity when dealing with team members and clients. Empathy and a genuine understanding of what the team members at the coalface experience goes a long way too.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Recruiting and developing an internal management structure that keeps pace with the growth of the business. Making time to work strategically ‘on’ the business as opposed to ‘in’ the business. It’s been a hectic 12 months but I’m genuinely excited about the senior management team we now have in place to support Echo-U going forward.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I enjoy downtime with my family. I have two sons 11 and 9 who keep me busy and thoroughly entertained and I walk the dog for at least an hour a day. A regular round of golf with old school friends is great too – weather permitting.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A professional footballer (not good enough), fighter pilot (don’t like heights), John Lewis delivery driver (I liked the uniform and thought people would be happy to see you delivering their TVs and fridges).

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Negativity and a ‘can’t do’ attitude.

I dislike any meeting which starts off with someone saying ‘we can’t do that’.

No – let’s start from the other end of the spectrum, assume we can and overcome the hurdles if we all believe it’s something we should be doing.

When you start a business, you are pretty much responsible for everyone and everything taking on the responsibility to fix and resolve all problems. This culture can perpetuate even when your business grows to our size. It’s important to empower people to own the problem and give them the authority, resources and support to fix it – and accept that mistakes will be made.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We’ve recently opened our second site in Bournemouth which is a big step for us and is already filling up! We recently recruited a sales director, Dave Halford, who has about a thousand years of experience in our industry. He really knows his stuff and I fully expect us to have at least a third and possible fourth site within the next five years.

Our challenge will be to maintain the culture within a multi-site organisation. A client of ours summed it up quite nicely recently when they described us as ‘big enough to cope, small enough to care’. I quite like that.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Environment determines structure which determines behaviour.

Be brave. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Cut your cloth accordingly – don’t over borrow and overstretch yourself at the outset.

You don’t need to invent or reinvent anything – just provide a better product or service than anyone else.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

It’s really hard work but is worth it in the end – and if it doesn’t work out? At least you gave it your best shot and move on to something else.