Andy Baker is the new boss at Plusnet, Sheffield’s home-grown, national internet service provider ranked No1 for customer service and an employer of 1,000.
Q. You took over as CEO seven months ago. Why did you want the job?
A. I really wanted it from the moment I was made aware it might be available. It’s a fabulous opportunity to lead an already successful business on to even greater success. I was also really keen to move to a part of the country I didn’t know and work with a group of talented, passionate people.
Q. It’s your first time in the north – what do you make of it? Does it match with the perception you had of Yorkshire?
A. It’s gone really well, the children have settled into great local schools and we’ve just a bought a house in Sheffield. We couldn’t be enjoying the locality more. Visiting the Peak District is a real treat and we’re still discovering lots of new places. It’s definitely exceeded our expectations. There is just so much to see and do and so many friendly people to meet.
Q. How does the north-south divide look from this side of the fence?
A. The north is really starting to fire on all cylinders and create some tremendous opportunities. You only have to look at the massively successful Tour de France weekend to see the huge “buzz” around Yorkshire at the moment.
Q. Do you think London and the south need to re-evaluate their attitude to the north?
A. I can honestly say I’ve not experienced any negative attitudes. Colleagues and friends in the south are envious of the opportunity I’ve been given to live in the north. I’m recruiting heavily and candidates from across the UK are unanimous that coming to Sheffield would be exciting for them.
Q. Could Plusnet be based anywhere?
A. Plusnet is absolutely Yorkshire through and through. We have over 800 people working in Sheffield and over 150 in Leeds and we expect this to grow. Being in Yorkshire is key to our success. The Yorkshire personality of being straight-talking, going the extra mile and having a sense of fun underpins what we do and allows us to do it better than the competition. We are also clear that we have a responsibility to the community and are committed to working with local charities.
Q. Will it ever move south?
A. We have no plans to go anywhere! We hope to continue to be a Yorkshire success story and a key part of the community for a very long time.
Q. In what way does Plusnet think and act differently?
A. Unlike some of our nearest competitors, we believe you can have a great price and a great service at the same time. It really shouldn’t be a choice of one or the other (or in some cases, neither). As a smaller business competing against some massive players, we are focused on using our size to our advantage and being as agile as we can be.
Q. Are you pledging to keep customer services in the UK?
A. Yes. Our customers consistently tell us our 24/7 UK-based customer services is one of the reasons they chose Plusnet.
Q. You’ve got big shoes to fill. Under your predecessor, Plusnet won five Which? awards.
A. Absolutely! What attracted me to Plusnet was the opportunity to make it even more successful. We’ve recently been awarded our sixth Which? award as well as awards from Uswitch, Simplify Digital and Good Housekeeping. More important, however, is industry feedback that shows our customers are the most satisfied in the market.
Q. I hear you are an adrenaline junkie. How do you get your fixes?
A. Most of my sport is limited to watching these days. I used to play lots of rugby and football. I still ski; I’ve taken to skiing on blades (very short skis) which keeps the adrenaline flowing. And pushing yourself off a crane to do a bungee jump in Malaysia in 2000 takes some beating for thrills, but I wouldn’t go back for more.
Q. An y scary or life-threatening moments during those adventures?
A. Fortunately no, though the 26-mile Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge on the hottest day of the year a few years back definitely felt like life-threatening the morning after with crazy sunburn and sore legs.
Q. Being a techno geek must go with the job. Did that develop during the early part of your career at Dixons?
A. I’ve always been a techno geek with a love of new gadgets. I still struggle to walk past any electronics store without going in. What Dixons taught me however was how to sell by simplifying the products down to their basic elements.
Q. What new tech stuff that you saw on a recent visit to the Silicon Valley excited you?
A. I spent a week on the west coast of the US meeting big company peers and smaller innovative start-ups. I always come back from such trips buzzing with new ideas. I was given a fascinating insight into how some start-ups are looking to improve customer experience by offering contact to the call centre through the use of video and apps. It’s really eye-opening how technology can improve any interaction. Even when you think something is working, there are always opportunities to do more.
Q. What are the best three things the internet has given us?
A. Online technology shop browsing, 24/7 access to information and people on the move and the ability to really stretch and enhance your children’s learning.
Q. And the worst three things?
A. 24/7 access to information and people on the move, the constant battle to push your children away from the screen and into the garden, plus phishing and spam.