Openreach CEO

Added by Chris Pateman | Wednesday 26th March 2014

Perhaps it’s just the time of year, but the industry doesn’t seem to have been abuzz with rumour and speculation about who will be taking over from Liv Garfield as CEO of Openreach. Anyway, we know now: it’s Joe Garner, former head of HSBC’s UK Bank operation. 

Interesting. Olivia, of course, is bringing all her experience in the highly competitive and regulated world of telecoms to her new role as CEO of Severn Trent – serving an industry where OFWAT, the regulator, has been in place for years, yet where competition still means taking what you get from your local incumbent monopoly and liking it. At least, unless you happen to be a business customer in Scotland. 

Joe Garner, on the other hand, is likely to recognize the world of regulated mobile networks and the world of regulated local loop unbundlers as not a million miles away from the world of regulated banks and building societies: large corporations with showpiece head offices, extensive political lobbying operations and plenty of shareholder cash to throw at corporate solicitors. And where the expression ‘customer service’ means, as Humpty Dumpty put it, “exactly what I wish it to mean”. 

Quite what he will make of that majority of Openreach customers who make up just 18% of his turnover – that long and querulous tail of business CPs for whom “customer service” is a matter of corporate life and death, remains to be seen. Still, credit where it’s due: the opening sound-bites sound encouraging. 

“I am thrilled to be joining Openreach at such a critical moment – a moment when technology is redefining how our society communicates. The massive investment that Openreach is making in the UK’s high speed internet infrastructure is something of a revolution that will greatly benefit people and businesses in this country. I am grateful to my predecessor and the engineers who have already delivered so much. It is my ambition to build on this work and I intend to focus on customer service, continued innovation and maintaining fair and equal access for all.” 

If only for form’s sake, I should just say something about Openreach’s investment in high speed internet. And also, perhaps, about the press release’s gentle little mention that Openreach is “is one of the most heavily regulated businesses in the UK, providing all communications providers with equal access to BT’s network and operating at arm’s length from the rest of the BT Group.” Look: in a free and competitive market place at the utility level, you would either invest in high speed infrastructure or lose market share. In the absence of a free and competitive market place at the utility level, you would naturally expect to have to be heavily regulated and required to provide all communications providers with equal access. 

But back to Joe Garner. According to BT’s press release, he drove some of the highest customer satisfaction levels in high street banking while he was at HSBC, including at the UK's No.1 bank for service, first direct. Under his leadership, HSBC in the UK achieved the best long-term record on customer complaints amongst the major banks as well as industry-beating levels of employee engagement. 

High street banks are great, aren’t they, at making customer service promises in their public pronouncements and corporate literature? It’s such a shame that most businesspeople I have spoken with over the years find those promises fall down once you get beyond the world of corporate aspirations and move into the less glamorous reality of regional or branch-level operations. Still, for all that, at least in the world of high street banking you can always switch to another provider if you feel you’re not being valued. One customer service problem, at least, about which Mr Garner will no longer have to worry.