When Huw Jones became Openreach’s Director of Service Delivery for Wales & The Midlands, it was the latest step on an astonishing journey that began one autumn morning in 1997, when as a fresh-faced Apprentice Customer Service Engineer he walked into the main Openreach depot in Swansea for his first day of work.
Much has changed in the world since then, but Huw’s belief in the team around him – and the importance of the Openreach service to customers and communities – shines as brightly as ever.
Business News Wales caught up with the man responsible for the connectivity of 1.7 million customers across Wales – and asked him about both the demands of his role and a personal philosophy that’s helped him progress so far in a relatively short space of time …
“From day one it’s been all about people”
“From that very first day – 3rd September 1997 – Openreach has been all about its people. It still gives me goosebumps to think about that day, the team who took me under their wing and the years that have followed. I’ve had the privilege of working with so many different characters and personalities – all of them sharing my own commitment to giving Wales and the people of Wales the very best connectivity and interactivity. When I joined the company back in ‘97, after completing two years in Networking Systems & Information Technology at Margam College, it was the proudest day of my life, in an age when the internet was beginning to be part of what we do. Today, we couldn’t imagine a world without it. It’s been a complete revolution – and it couldn’t have happened without the team here at Openreach pushing the boundaries.
“The difference we make has really been shown during the pandemic, where the team has worked 24/7 in making sure that our customers have the connections they need to live and work and even be schooled. I’ve seen at first hand how my own two young daughters and my wife, who’s a school-teacher, could not have continued in full-time education without the connectivity to do it remotely over the past few school terms. So the work that my team undertakes everyday is vital to the future of all our children, in every sense – and I couldn’t be prouder of being part of that and working with the people who make it happen right across our operation.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of being part of this team that’s made it all happen”
“Those people believed in me from day one – perhaps more than I did myself. With the help of the team around me I won Apprentice of the Year – and by the age of 25 was offered the role as Acting Operations Manager for the Bridgend area, leading 25 engineers. They were a great team and I was then asked to take on the Cardiff area as Senior Operations Manager, which meant leading a multitude of teams and over 400 engineers across a much larger and diverse region. At every point in this journey I’ve been amazed at how willing Openreach people have been to push and support me. I’m still in contact with hundreds of colleagues who have helped me on my journey – and I still make sure that I’m out in the field on a regular basis, sharing my own thoughts and ideas with engineers who are in the front line in all weathers, day and night.
“It might sound a cliche, but we really are a family here at Openreach; we achieve everything together and that’s why we’ve remained such a successful company and a strong employer, treating everyone with respect, believing in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work; and giving everyone the support and encouragement they need to do an exceptional job and progress on a path that’s right for them. My own style of leadership has been all about people too – learning what all stakeholders want, be it customers, governments or trade unions. I’ve learnt that you succeed through everyone. We perform over 22,000 different jobs every week, migrating Wales from copper to fibre, creating an infrastructure that will leave a legacy for centuries to come. No two days are the same, no two customers are the same. Getting it ‘right first time’ means understanding what everyone needs and making that work.”
“Giving everyone the support and encouragement they need to do an exceptional job”
“We’re what I call a ‘socks and pants’ organisation. We provide the uniform, the training, the rewards, the van, the tools, the mobile ‘phone – the ‘everything’. All our people need to provide is their pants and socks. Plus commitment, desire and ability to continually learn of course! The other thing that continues to amaze is that we’re a company that refuses to stand still. We’re always looking to progress in every way we can, to bring new ideas and viewpoints into the operation – and I’m doing that right now, consciously looking for people with different perspectives, for two senior leadership roles that I’m currently recruiting for. We live and breathe inclusion and diversity from Clive and the top team downwards – and it’s this philosophy of continually improving and seeking to do things better that drives us. That’s why I was so delighted to see our new National Training Centre for Wales open in Newport: it’s brilliantly equipped with our unique ‘OpenStreet’ that will the very latest equipment and learning methodologies to increase the skills of over 165 engineers in the next financial year – a testimony to both the emphasis we place on our training and our commitment to the workforce of Wales.
“This mixture of training and support enables us to make sure that the next generation of Openreach engineers have a great competency journey and become the very best they can be. And by “the best” we mean being an ‘end-to-end exceptional engineer’, able to champion the customer, work brilliantly in a team and always look to become whatever it means to be ‘better’.
“This commitment to the future has been one of the reasons why I’ve been able to love my career, why I continue to give my heart to everything that we do – and enjoy the knowledge that the business will give back to me and my family. 23 years ago I wouldn’t have believed that I would reach a stage where I was managing a £160 million business and a 3,100-strong team. It’s happened because of the people I’ve worked with and learnt from – and I’m determined that everyone at Openreach can have the same opportunities as me.”