An interview with the CEO as BT moves into new offices
In the campaign trail in June 2019, Boris Johnson stated in his usual way that he wants ultra-fast broadband to every UK home by 2025.
What happened next for BT’s viewers was shocking. New CEO Philip Jensen responded: “We’re up for it.”
Old BT would have grumbled about the cost, shareholder value and complained privately that it was being set up to fail. It was a defensive business with a good number of things to be defensive about.
Jensen wants to change all that and in some ways already is.
With the new headquarters just open, One Brahms in Aldgate, St. Paul has a very different feel to the old one.
The new building, like its surroundings, is diverse and unstable. The location is a sign of both the city’s eastward move and a vote of confidence in London.
Some stats: The 18-story One Brahms has 85 digital spaces and 200 meeting rooms; 450 bicycle bays, showers and changing facilities to encourage employees to cycle to and from work.
During the refit, 99% of the waste generated was recycled rather than sent to landfills. all good things.
Did Boris work, I ask Johnson,
“I have hope. Ideologically BT has been on the backfoot for centuries. We were declining for five or six years. When I came I decided to lean back a bit. We have to turn this into a market success.”
Jenson, 54, looks like a post-pandemic CEO, well-dressed, smart but casual. open collar. Like he was in charge of some kind of internet business.
The new HQ is great – great, but functional, with huge windows and great views, why wouldn’t you go to the office?
“There’s not a single desk in the whole place,” Jensen says. “It reflects the new way of doing things that is less formal, less command and control. BT had a hierarchical history. It shouldn’t be.”
BT is in the midst of an office change – 870 UK locations will be reduced to 30 super-sized offices.
Of the 80,000 employees in the UK, 4,000 are in London. “London is an important place for us in terms of skills, of which 4,000 are important. It’s a lot cheaper than St. Paul’s but it’s also good for our people.”
The lockdown has shown one thing how important BT is to everyone’s home and work life. If BT doesn’t work, nothing else will.
“What has happened over the last 18 months is that all of our customers look at connectivity in a different light, see how fundamental it is,” he says. “30 million customers depend on us. We worked under very difficult conditions, making people realize that they can use technology differently, get the most out of it.”
Perhaps this also means that BT may be doing away with the price hike, as most of us now want the best internet, rather than the cheapest?
Jenson Dimmers – That’s all I have to say.
He offers: “I think our original proposal is massively wrong, it’s exceptional value for money. We’re half the price compared to America.
“The only downside to COVID for us is people realizing how much they need us, they want higher speeds.” They’ll get them, he insists.
BT everything that falls under the wires isn’t work emails or kids homework, I take note. Some of it is worrying or an evil plan.
“Yes, and we have to take responsibility. The company’s mission is to connect for good, to keep billions of devices and people connected. We’re never going to be a police force, but we can help people make choices.” “
It’s an interesting question as to how much responsibility the big telcos can one day take for bad things. It’s not the publisher, it’s just the distribution mechanism, an argument that currently isn’t working so well for Facebook or Twitter.
But that is for another day.
How much do Johnson think his people should be using these fresh new offices for?
“My strong preference is for flexibility. But that doesn’t mean just working from home…I’m a 3-4 day person. Collaboration and teamwork are the most important sparks for anything. WFH for the time being It might be okay to have a company, then he’ll stutter. Life isn’t 9-5 and you can’t take work apart like you used to, so embrace it. We’re moving on, we say guys, You choose your choice.”
He bows down to make his point. “But if you’re never in the office, you’re not going to make it here.”