- Could you tell us a little about your early years growing up in Liverpool, your hobbies and you favourite subjects at school?
I went to a number of Catholic primary schools – yes I was an altar boy! – and then to a Catholic grammar school, fortunately just after the Jesuits left. I was always a bit of a ‘media junkie’ as my friends later called me so watched far too much TV, and was also into computers and gadgets. My Dad was a TV engineer so I remember well our first Teletext TV and VCR, and especially my first computer – a ZX Spectrum.
However, I also loved history at school and an early visit to the remains of a Roman villa on a family holiday in the Cotswolds got me into ancient history as well.
- You studied Classics at Exeter University. What were your intentions at that time and was information technology ever a consideration?
Although I started out loving the sciences at school, I soon found I was best at, and enjoyed most, History plus Latin and Ancient Greek, which were compulsory for me until O level at least. I never once thought of getting into tech, although I had got the Greek alphabet running on my Spectrum! I don’t remember considering doing anything other than Classics, although at that time a lot of Classicists were becoming computer programmers for firms like IBM and I did consider that option.
- You secured a place on the NatWest Graduate Management Trainee programme after graduating from Exeter, taking on a Marketing role in Commercial banking. What was it that made you change direction and how did this opportunity arise?
I considered staying in academia but finally decided to get into some sort of business career but didn’t know what. A friend’s Father advised me to join a blue chip company graduate scheme and accept any training opportunity offered to get a good general commercial grounding. I remember being offered the NatWest scheme on the same day as I got an offer from a major retailer, but I obviously wanted to have Saturdays off!
NatWest certainly gave me some amazing training and job opportunities over 7 ½ years, including kicking off a career in business development in tech when working on the Mondex electronic cash smartcard.
Everyone now realises that digital is not just a way of diversifying the economy into another sector but also about protecting our other industries.
- You held senior positions at Visa, National Grid Wireless and Digital Radio UK, delivered a number of projects in the digital space for both the UK Government and major private sector companies’ and were one of the founders of Weve, a joint venture between EE, O2 and Vodafone. What was it that made you leave your commercial challenges behind and head to Jersey?
After all those different roles in different industries using different technologies I was looking for something that ideally would let me use all of that experience rather than focus on just one sector. I remember well the call from the headhunter asking if I’d heard of ‘Digital Jersey’ and although my initial reply was “Is it a wearables start-up?” I quickly added “Or do you mean the island?”, having been to Jersey once on a business trip whilst at NatWest, funnily enough about Mondex.
The week before I came to Jersey for my final interview, on a wet day in August, I was actually in Berlin for the first time and was offered a job by a start-up there, but what I liked most about the DJ opportunity was the ability to use all my experience to date to shape the future of a whole country, albeit a small one.
- In September 2015, you became CEO of Digital Jersey and were tasked to develop Jersey as a recognised digital jurisdiction. Was this the most significant challenge you have faced and what was your vision for the Island?
I always thought Jersey would be a great ‘sandbox’ to test new technologies and adopt them, having run tech projects on University campuses, and a sophisticated island nation provided a ‘nice size train set’ to play with! I guess my biggest challenge was changing the perception of both digital in general and the organisation Digital Jersey in particular, by forging a strategy that was specific to Jersey rather than copying larger countries like the UK, and getting it to the point where everyone realised it was just as important as our other key industries of finance, tourism and agriculture.
- In 2017 you launched a Digital Start-up Scheme to encourage up to 20 highly skilled local entrepreneurs to establish a business in the Island. How important is it to you that Jersey embraces the digital workplace?
As one of the IoD Debates proved, everyone now realises that digital is not just a way of diversifying the economy into another sector but also about protecting our other industries. We need clever people and good ideas here not only to build the new businesses of the future but to help existing businesses survive and thrive through technology, especially when the alternative is to be left behind as the rest of the world advances. Digital isn’t a choice but a necessity and I think Jersey was already embracing it, even before 2020.
- Could you tell us how you felt when winning the Public Sector category in the Jersey IoD Director of the Year Awards in 2019 and then being shortlisted for the National Finals in that category?
Quite surprised - as video evidence proves! - not only at winning but also at how humbling it felt to be recognised and supported so much by the wider business community. It really was one of the best nights of my career, and I know it also had an impact on my team as it was genuinely acknowledging the organisation’s impact not just mine.
Develop an intellectual curiosity in the future of technology - try your best and if you fail and try again, you will be in good company!
- The Covid pandemic hit our island in March 2020 and threatened to change our lives forever. Digital Jersey initiated a Covid-19 Community Challenge, launched the record breaking Covid Alert App and was responsible for getting the States Assembly online. What lessons have you learnt from this pandemic?
When Covid hit I have to selfishly admit that my initial feeling was one of frustration, knowing that many of the initiatives we had kicked off in the previous few months would have to be put on hold. However, then I thought what would a tech company do when faced with this challenge? They would pivot and use their skills and resources to head in a different direction. Instead of facing outwardly to the world we would turn our attention inwards to see how we could help industry and the wider community use technology to cope with the impact of lockdown.
I’m so pleased that we were able to provide advice for so many people on the use of tech to carry on working, worked with telecoms companies to increase speeds, capacity and provide free broadband to children who needed it, and as you said even kept our government going by enabling the first parliament in the commonwealth to meet virtually.
I am particularly pleased that my team and I were able to help directly deal with Covid by getting testing and tracing up and running at scale as well as our own Covid app. I learned a lot in 2020, not just about the power of technology but more importantly how well Jersey plc can pull together in a crisis by combining our skills and resources.
- The Jersey Tech Awards celebrate the best of the Island’s digital talent. With 107 entries in 2021, have you been inspired by the calibre of entries in such a small island and in such a challenging year?
Absolutely – the wide range of high quality entries showcased not only the strengths of an established digital sector but how technology is now at the heart of our other industries, including finance and even agriculture. It also showed that there is local expertise for even Government level requirements and I hope that is increasingly realised in future IT procurements.
- What advice would you give to a young person who may like to follow in your footsteps?
Although I have no regrets about my career, I must admit my trips to the likes of Apple & Google in London, and Silicon Valley, made me wish I’d got into technology more quickly and directly.
I would therefore recommend anyone interested in tech to read widely on the subject, watch all the amazing video talks and get involved in local groups. Develop an intellectual curiosity in the future of technology and see what courses and job opportunities are available at home and abroad. Just try your best, and if you fail and try again you will be in good company!