In this month’s Executive Connection, Direct Selling News Publisher and Editor in Chief John Fleming speaks with Andrew Lindsay, MBE, CEO of Telecom Plus, about leading his company with trust, appreciation of self-starters, and simplicity in a complex business.
DSN: What is the one thing you enjoy most about being the top executive at Telecom Plus/Utility Warehouse?
AL: What I enjoy particularly—and didn’t think I would when I joined—is the people. You have a self-selecting group of self-starters who join for an opportunity to change their lives. For those who do, they’ve come in with eyes wide open. They’re all fantastic people. When one looks at society today, there are a lot of people who aren’t determined to make their way in life. They’re happy to trudge along. Our distributors are not happy with that. I truly enjoy spending time with them.
DSN: What has been your greatest challenge?
AL: We run five businesses under one roof. Our job is to create simplicity out of chaos. That’s something of a brand pillar. But our business is bloody complicated! We have a lot of relationships in multiple corporate worlds that we have to translate into a singe bill for our members. Managing those five different businesses under one roof, if I change pricing on a home phone tariff, it will influence the number of gas customers we sign up. It’s a juggling act. It’s hugely challenging, but rewarding. Also, from a distributor perspective, I’m not someone who naturally wants to stand up and make speeches to 5,000 or 6,000 people. At least initially, my biggest hurdle was public speaking. Now I enjoy speaking to them.
DSN: You were an Olympic gold medal-winning rower. What did you learn from your athletic endeavors that helped prepare you to be the CEO of Telecom Plus?
AL: An achievement like that, which I was lucky to have at an early age, gives you lots of confidence. I’m not the kind of crazy entrepreneur who comes up with Google or Facebook, but I’m not daunted by things. My attitude is: Let’s face this problem. Running a business this size, there are endless challenges. Effectively, you’re a giant fire fighter. That’s something both Charles [Wigoder, Telecom Plus Founder] and I are blessed with—we’re cool under fire. You get the challenge; you don’t panic; you just see your way through it. With the carryovers from the psychology of sports to the psychology of being a distributor, I learned a lot about self motivation. What got me going and the reasons I was willing to make the sacrifices that let me be a successful athlete do transfer to what our distributors go through to be successful.
DSN: How would you describe the ideal Utility Warehouse Business Partner?
AL: He or she—genders are evenly split for us—is a brand ambassador for us. The way they behave reflects the values we aspire to. They need to be open, honest, transparent, and ethical. I don’t want some sharp-talking used-car salesman being our distributor. I want them to describe honestly what we do and how we do it. They’re totally aware of why they’re joining, and they understand what we’re trying to achieve. The ideal distributor doesn’t really exist. He or she comes in all shapes and sizes. But the best are self-starters who are trustworthy, ethical, and have a sense of humor. Life’s too short not to have fun.
DSN: What is your vision for Telecom Plus?
AL: Our vision is our mission: To be the nation’s most trusted utility provider. The words that come to mind are trustworthy, reliable, fair. Our brand reputation must clearly be synonymous with them. If we get those values and principles right, commercial success will follow.
DSN: Is there one basic principle that governs your leadership at Telecom Plus?
AL: You have to behave in a certain way to earn trust. The outcome is trust, but there isn’t a single way in which one builds that trust. I know that I’m making our principles clear as a leader when everyone understands what our objective is and pulls together toward that objective.
DSN: What do you tell Telecom Plus Business Partners to lead and inspire them?
AL: There is a vast opportunity that Charles and I see ahead for everyone enrolled as a partner. There are many opportunities in life, but few that are as meritocratic as this one. I try to make it crystal clear that this isn’t a walk in the park; it’s hard work. But you get the results when you put the work in. Our top distributor is an ex-brick layer. Our company is filled with real people who have changed their lives through the business. I lean on them and look at them as role models that allow others to aspire to do what they’ve done.
DSN: What’s a piece of advice that you’ve found especially useful?
AL: I’m not sure whether it’s advice or learning. There are very few challenges and problems that are insurmountable. You just have to sit in front of it and think about it. Take time out, shut the door, sit there, and just confront the challenge that’s ahead of you. Normally, you can work it out.
DSN: What do you see as our industry’s greatest challenge in the U.K.?
AL: Acceptance. It’s less challenging than it used to be. There have been too many failed network marketing businesses which undermined the belief in the industry. But inherently because we are a service-based business, we don’t view ourselves in that category. It’s also becoming less of a challenge because we’re now 17 years old. That helps us address the skepticism pretty well.
DSN: What do you like to do for fun?
AL: Get away from the office, turn off the phone, and play with my four sons and wife. We have four boys, ages 6, 5, 3 and 1. They keep me pretty busy. Scotland is also a passion. I love to take the boys to the west coast where we’re without a mobile phone signal.