Graeme Hutchinson – Virgin Mobile

He has promoted the Conservatives in Middlesbrough, where Labour votes are weighed rather than counted, he’s a would-be pharmacist and Rock God who got stuck into telecoms strategy for Barclaycard, and he was in at the beginning of Virgin Mobile as sales and marketing director. Now he foresees an interesting future as part of NTL …

Anyone brave enough to canvass for the Conservatives in Middlesbrough is likely to surprise you in other ways.

Take Graeme Hutchinson, Trading Director of Virgin Mobile … but also marketing high-flier, five-handicap golfer, charity trustee – and heavy metal rock guitarist.

His roots are in the North East where, after a career with ICI, his father turned to politics and was a long serving Conservative councillor.

“In that part of the world they weigh the Labour vote rather than count it. But my father was a hard-working constituency representative and both widely liked and respected. He won votes for himself as much as for his party.

“I was nothing like Harry Enfield’s Tory Boy, but filial duty prevailed. I remember how my vocabulary was broadened when I went canvassing in a parliamentary election when I was 16. Youth and innocence found me knocking on doors where you would expect to find police patrolling in pairs.”

Hutchinson flirted with thoughts of a career in pharmacy when he left school but he played guitar in a rock band and had ambitions of becoming a rock star. “I had to get a job to fund myself and so joined Barclaycard in the North East in 1979.

“The band made some impression. Our gigs covered the North East and the Midlands and we made a couple of albums. In the first we were billed as Holland but for the second the record company wanted a harder edge so the cover boasted ‘Hammer – Contract with Hell’. It seems appropriate enough looking back as it recalls some early mobile contracts.”

He still plays. “You get great software and can create effects on a PC that not long ago would have needed a trip to a studio. It means that I can indulge myself with my collection of 17 guitars.

“I’m particularly proud of a Les Paul that’s signed by the great man and a Gibson SG Doubleneck as used by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. And yes, I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan.
My 13 year old son James prefers computer games but I also have a drum kit and 10-year-old Ellen shows signs that she could be a female Buddy Rich.”

Hutchinson moved rapidly through the ranks at Barclaycard. “I went to the Northampton HQ in 1984 and by the early nineties I was driving the company’s telecoms strategy. I launched relationships with Mercury One2One, BT Cellnet and the home phone service with Rocom.
“We also brought in a mobile ATM to deliver cash via a mobile phone, which was light years ahead of its time.”

He was, though, aware of a glass ceiling. “So when Tom Alexander, who was a long-time working partner from BT Cellnet, asked me to join him when he was setting up Virgin Mobile in 1999, I jumped at the chance.

“We’re at an exciting stage now that we are part of NTL. It’s early days but we are looking at propositions involving cable TV, broadband, home telephone and mobile. They will be valuable to the independent dealer – necessary too, because the old business model will need to change.”

He has few regrets. One is that time pressure has caused his golf handicap to rise from 5 to 15.

The other is tempered with joy because he saw his team – Middlesbrough – take centre stage in the UEFA Cup final (even though Sevilla put four past them).

No piece on him would be complete without a mention of the ABC Trust of which he is a trustee. “It was inspired by Jimena Page, the wife of Jimmy Page. It’s small, but growing: we raise several hundred thousands each year which we apply directly to helping the street children of Brazil.

“Their fate slips below the radar, probably because they’re in the Second rather than the Third World and don’t get high-profile coverage. They live in the direst poverty, facing a life of prostitution and fear – not least from the police. Our patrons include Pele, Julian Lloyd Webber and Brian May of Queen.

“We’re holding a MiniChill Festival in September so, just this once, before you log on to Virgin try www.abctrust.org.uk and  www.minichill.co.uk.”

Track Record
1979        Barclaycard Operations in North East
1984        Barclaycard HQ in Northampton. A series of senior sales and marketing roles  
                 culminating in heading the company’s telecoms business unit
1999        Joined Virgin Mobile, until July 2006 as Sales and Marketing Director. Now Trading
                 Director devising cable and mobile propositions for independent sector

2006        Left Virgin Mobile