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Impressions of a New Board Member

Published date: April 2016


By Simon Richards

I started my service as a board member of The Phone Co-op at the AGM in February 2016. I was impressed by the turnout of members, but also by the fact that several I spoke to were curious about my motivations for standing for election.

What did I tell them? For me it was the organisation's overlap of two things.

The first is telecommunications, an industry in which I spent about 15 years. It's always been a fast changing sector, and the UK market is acknowledged as being amongst the world's most competitive. I always worked for 'challenger' brands - those trying to attract customers of the former monopoly BT - and I knew that this experience could be put to good use at The Phone Co-op.

The second? Stakeholder-owned businesses. I'd always been curious about them as a business model, as two of my favourite brands John Lewis and Divine Chocolate are co-operatively run. I sought to spend a year inside one and so 2014 saw the start of my experience with The Phone Co-op, working on projects for the Chief Executive. A highlight was negotiating the supply contract for the first-generation Fairphone. Impressed by the people that I worked with, I went on to become a member and customer of several co-operatives, including, of course, The Phone Co-op.

I knew that this overlap, combined with my prior experience as a non-executive director in the sustainability field, would give me the perspective to help The Phone Co-op develop as a business, and empathise with the priorities of its members.

The truth, though, is that you need neither insider knowledge of telecoms, nor a broader experience of co-operatives, to be motivated to stand for election. After all, my case is hardly typical!

You just need to be an enthusiastic individual; not afraid to voice your concerns, opinions and experience; with a general awareness of the services available from The Phone Co-op and its competitors. I'd say having business experience makes it a lot easier, but again not a prerequisite.

What are first impressions of being on the board, then? I'd say that it's a good trusting atmosphere where board members support the management team, but also acts as a 'critical friend'. I hoped that board members wouldn't be afraid to ask tough questions where necessary, and I'm glad to say that they aren't. A good board should offer the management team an external perspective. I think that the board have a good breadth of experience and see themselves as responsible for representing the interests and concerns of other members. I'm certainly proud to sit alongside them and the great management team that they support.

My parting words to you, then, are that despite powerful competitors and challenging odds, I believe there's a very bright future for The Phone Co-op. It possesses such a unique and compelling recipe for success, and a great team. Few things are guaranteed, though, and so the ingredients it requires to retain its luster are 1) vocal board members from a variety of backgrounds and 2) an active membership. Before you go off and do something else, could you take this moment to consider how you individually could support the co-operative that you own?


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