Man For All Seasons

March 24th, 2006 12:00am | Staff

Channel veteran David Rands talks to 'Comms Business Magazine' Editor Ian Hunter about the long and winding road that led to the Oak door.

1961, a landmark year for numerologists - turn 1961 upside down and it still reads the same. It was also the year the court at Camelot began with John Kennedy beating Richard Nixon to the White House and, significantly, the year that David Rands, managing director at Oak Telecom, began his career in the communications industry as a field engineer with pioneering telephone answering machine company Robophone.

"The units were very advanced for the time, designed and built in the UK, they were physically very large; we were renting them to customers from around £1.00 a week (In 2005 terms that equates to £15.00 a week or £750.00 a year!) They used reel to reel tapes – the cassette was still a few years away from being invented. I was a field engineer installing the machines but progressed to become their UK service manager."

Rands moved to audio visual company Bell & Howell in the late sixties, again as UK service manager but did not stay long before moving back in to communications with another US company, University Computing.

"Their core products at the time were punch tape systems and large graphical plotters but I was recruited as their European engineering manager to head up a team to support the launch of an innovative new desktop fax machine. This was the early 1970’s and I had the opportunity to go to New York with the company for training and observe how the fax machines were being sold there. The American customers immediately saw the business benefits and were prepared to invest in this new technology whereas back in the UK I listened to customers saying that unless they could use the fax for a minimum of eight hours a day they were not interested. Remember this was a time when there were few standards and customers wanting to use fax had to buy two at a time as they would only communicate with each other and not with competitive machines. I recall the price of our fax machine at the time was exactly the same as a Rover 2000 saloon – then quite a sought after car and £1450.00 in the showroom. (That equates to just over £12,000 per fax machine at 2005 values)."

Despite Rands appearing on BBC television for a high profile product demonstration the fax machines did not sell well. By this time he had a young growing family so made contact with people he knew at the Post Office to see who ‘was big in answerphones’. And so it came to pass that Rands joined Ansamatic as their operations manager. At the time Ansamatic was an aggressive market leader looking for new products to sell. Knowing that UK market liberalisation was around the corner they sourced an early analogue telephone call sequencer from the US.

"Amazingly we got the unit approved for connection to the network and began selling the unit. I remember one sale to an early call centre handling the sale of Sinclair ZX computers which transformed their business. As liberalisation came we decided that Ansamatic should sell telephone systems and we threw our lot in with Panasonic. Before liberalisation users could only rent systems from BT but now we were able to compete with them and the market was vast in terms of changing out all the old Post Office systems. I then became managing director of the company and increased our turnover to over £6.0 million a year. I believe at that time Ansamatic were the largest independent dealer for both Panasonic and Siemens systems. We were seeking to grow the business via acquisition but instead merged with Welcomm where I took on the role of Commercial Director. Shortly after this I took a call from James Emm, joint CEO at Oak Telecom, and accepted his offer to join his company as their operations director, later becoming managing director in 2002." " My principal role at Oak is to ensure that board policy is implemented, the structures are in place to do business effectively, and to make sure that all orders are turned in to sales revenue. One of the biggest operational challenges faced has been the relocation at the end of 2003 of our Chesham office to Poole in Dorset – a big logistical exercise which went really well due to the great team we have here. I like problem solving and derived great pleasure from seeing through to successful conclusion Oak Telecom’s implementation of ISO9001:2000."

David Rands has seen it, done it, read it, and even worn out the t-shirt when it comes to knowing what is going on in the market and how to run a tight ship. Married for thirty-nine years and with two grown up daughters, Rands is not a ‘pipe and slippers’ man in any way, shape or form. Indeed he’s a keen shot in his spare time and is a member of three gun clubs where he shoots a mix of 12 and 20-gauge. Gauging Oaks success in the market he’s clearly hitting the target.