TIME, and technology, wait for no-one.
Almost two decades ago. Nikki Guest gained an insight into the brutal power of market forces. She had been hired to sell pagers on behalf of Vodapage, which was part of Vodafone’s empire.
Sadly for Ms Guest, and the rest of the Vodapage team, the tide of history was turning. In September 1996, Ms Guest was made redundant when Vodapage’s Leeds office closed down.
Pagers, like the mullet hair style and shoulder pads, were about to be consigned to the history books. The mobile phone had triumphed. Today, the 4G mobile is king. But for how long? As network services director for NGC Networks, Ms Guest knows that technology and consumer tastes can change rapidly.
The demise of Vodapage’s Leeds office proved to be just a blip for Ms Guest, who has now celebrated 20 years in the telecoms sector, and is overseeing a period of growth at NGC.
Wakefield-based NGC, which has Nigel Adams, the Tory MP for Selby and Ainsty, among its shareholders, is looking for acquisitions and may open more offices in Yorkshire as customer numbers rise. The company provides tailored business phone systems and network services for a portfolio of clients which include the West Yorkshire Playhouse and veterinary products firm Animalcare.
The company had been struggling, until Mr Adams and Dean Harrop bought the business in 2006. Since then the turnover has risen from £400,000 to £3.5m. Ms Guest, who had previously led IT and telecoms provider Alternative Networks’ Leeds office, came on board in 2007, just as the economy was about to go bust.
But the friendly, unflappable Ms Guest knows how to take reversals in her stride.
“I’ve always been very independent, so I wanted to control my own destiny,’’ said Ms Guest. “Over the last five years, we’ve grown by customer demand, organic growth and technology changes. There’s still a lot of growth for NGC within the Yorkshire area.”
She joined the telecoms sector after completing her A levels in the mid 1990s, when mobiles could hardly have been classed as fashion accessories.
“When I first became a trainee sales person it was shortly after the deregulation of the market,” she said. “In the early days, I was very much selling a concept to people that there was an alternative to BT. It was getting people’s heads around that. Once you had done that, they were quite open to the cost savings that were involved.
“Although the economy had been contracting (after the crash of 2008), the telecoms industry has grown a lot. We’ve got around 700 to 800 customers now and 24 staff, compared with 2007, when we had 300 or 400 customers with less than 10 staff.” NGC provides services that range from single-site telephone systems to voice and data services spread across several bases.
“We will continue to grow organically and by customer and technology demands,” said Ms Guest. “We are always interested in new technologies that will complement our customer requirements. We are also on the look-out for potential acquisitions that will add capability to our portfolio, while being cautious not to grow too quickly and damage the personal customer service. We feel there is still enormous growth potential within Yorkshire and the North of England, but will certainly be looking to expand our horizons within the next five years.”
NGC has nearly reached capacity at its current HQ, so more offices in Yorkshire are on the cards. “Being quite a niche sector, it can be extremely challenging to find good people with the relevant experience,’’ she said. “We’re currently recruiting for positions in all areas of the business and are also considering taking on more juniors. We need our people to be multi-taskers.”
As a life-long Bradford Bulls fan, Ms Guest was delighted when the club decided to work with NGC. NGC has audited the club’s phone lines, and made recommendations for streamlining the telephone system in order to save around £1,200 a year.
NGC has also sponsored Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s 150th anniversary Hawke blazers, which are an exact replica of the blazer worn by Lord Hawke, who captained Yorkshire from 1883 to 1910. In his lordship’s day, professional people sent messages via their butlers. It’s hard to imagine what Lord Hawke would have made of Skype or Facebook.
In recent years, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), or internet telephony, has been all the rage, but Ms Guest hasn’t written off the old-fashioned desk phone. “I chuckle to myself sometimes because I’ve been hearing over the last 10 years that the death of traditional telephony is just two years away,” she said.
“But the need to have a telephone on the desk will always be there for certain businesses. I don’t see a time in the next five years where I tell a customer to get rid of all their digital telephone lines.
“Your telephone line is your lifeline. If your telephone lines go down for any period, then potentially you could lose a lot of business. With the introduction of 4G in the last year or two, the mobile networks have lost a little focus on the voice calls element of their network, and concentrated more on the data networks.
“I certainly think it’s more difficult now to have a voice call on a mobile network than it was five or 10 years ago. Everybody is very complimentary about the (data) service you can get on 4G. You can download a movie in a couple of seconds.
“But some call quality is being compromised within that.”