Keith Curran – Yes Telecom

Keith Curran’s first real sale was himself, getting a job as an auctioneer’s assistant, but he soon moved on to bigger abnd better things. Now he’s running Yes Telecom, how does this graduate of John Caudwell University relax? High-speed racing, that’s how ….

Keith Curran once flew to Australia to present to Orange in Sydney. Four hours later he was on the plane back to attend a board meeting.

Yes Telecom’s MD admits to being an obsessive perfectionist. “If I’m told that something is impossible I always ask why – and then set about making it happen. Luckily I need only four hours’ sleep each night. If I live to be 80 I want to pack 160 years into the time.”

There’s a clue to his character in his childhood. “My parents died when I was very young and I had to take care of myself at an early age. I got my first job when I was 11. Going home from the library, I walked into a wardrobe being carried from an auctioneer’s van. Although it was my fault, the porters felt guilty and took me into the office for first aid, tea and biscuits.

“With the bleeding staunched, I asked for a job. It must have been an effective close because I was taken on to assist at home clearances in the evenings, hold up the lots at Saturday auctions and then help load dealers’ vans. The tips were good!”

In 1981 and aged 16, Curran joined a microelectronics firm. Two years later he moved to BT on the engineering side. “I recognised the opportunities in a liberalised industry but the launch of mobile in 1985 was the real trigger.

“I was involved in the Cellnet rollout but, while the launch was exciting, I wanted to move things along more quickly. It seemed that progress was determined by the mortality rate in the executive suite.”

So in 1986 he moved to Panasonic, as sales manager of a highly successful handset operation.

“It was interesting to see how a different national culture impacted on the business. A Japanese multinational is happier with a predictable annual growth rate of say four or five per cent than it is with a fluctuating one, even though there might be a higher overall return. I kept being urged to consolidate.”

"There we were selling bangers in the morning and installing car phones in the evening… "

That wasn’t in Keith Curran’s nature, and it led to a life-changing meeting in 1988 with John Caudwell. “John’s achievement must be one of the greatest business success stories ever. There we were in a used car lot, selling bangers in the morning and installing car phones in the evening. We made the seemingly impossible happen.

“From Sales Manager I became Product Development Director and then International Director.
“It worked, but it still felt strange for this little Manchester boy to rub shoulders with Michael Heseltine on trade missions to meet movers and shakers in India and Hong Kong.”

Curran left the Caudwell Group at noon one Thursday in 1995 and 30 minutes later got home – to take a call from the CEO of Cellstar, the USA’s leading distributor and a company quoted on NASDAQ.

“It shows what a small world mobile is. Somehow he had heard that I was available and he invited me to head Cellstar’s EMEA division. It was hugely successful and we made big inroads into Scandinavia, Poland and The Netherlands.

“It was there that I learned that what really counts is not the gross profit line but the Return on Capital Employed.”

In 1999 he became convinced that, while distribution was a great business in a growing market, it was something of a struggle in a saturated one. “I had also noticed that the technology we know as 3G was hugely successful in Japan. It was clear to me that if you offered subscribers a growing level of content that was accessible anywhere, at any time, you would be riding the crest of a long-term wave.

“Sadly, I couldn’t persuade my co-directors but I knew that I had to go for it. That was when I met Freddy Fazelynia who had just sold his SP business to Vodafone. That led to us creating Yes Telecom.

“We deliver B2B solutions to businesses and market exclusively through the dealer channel. We focus on value rich services rather than volume and are driven by the conviction that the future lies in the convergence of the PC and the mobile. It seems to work, because annual growth is always in the 50-100% range.

“Uniquely our books, contact details and processes are open to all partners. I think this transparency is central to our success, although people still tell me that I’m crazy. But the dealers like the way we work.”

He now lives in Staffordshire with his wife Wendy and six year old daughter Alysha. Here again his determination to beat the odds has led to a positive outcome. Alysha was born with a condition that led doctors to the grim prognosis that she would be permanently blind. “I refused to accept that and scoured the world for the most advanced treatments available. Happily, some vision has been restored and she can anticipate a more fulfilling future.”

PERSONAL FILE
My sport I’m a Formula 1 fan
My car I have a race-pedigree Radical that I race all over the country. Imagine 3Gs in a bend…
My holidays Our second home on the North Wales coast
My books I soak up facts from encyclopaedias
My music Classical to jazz – there’s a sound system in every room at home
My gadgets I telephone to turn the lights on, draw the curtains and start the music

TRACK RECORD
1975-81    Auctioneer’s porter.
1981-83    Trainee microelectronics engineer.
1983-86    BT engineer, involved in Cellnet launch
1986-88    Sales Manager, Panasonic
1988-95    Caudwell Group – Sales Manager, Product Development Director, International Director
1995-99    Cellstar – CEO, EMEA
1999          Managing Director, Yes Telecom