An Epic Journey

Virgin Run


What is your background and how did you get involved in the cell phone industry?
I’m an accountant by trade and started out working as an accountant for Cell C when they launched in 2001. I later became financial director of Cell C before my career shifted a little bit and I became Chief Customer Operational Officer. In 1998 I got an opportunity to work for Virgin Mobile, which at that stage was partly owned by Cell C. Since November 2008 I’ve been working as the CEO of Virgin Mobile in Fourways.

Why are you so passionate about your career?
If you are going to get up and go to work you might as well be passionate about what you are doing. Wherever I’ve worked in the past, I have applied that passion, but I have come to love working in the cell phone industry. It’s a high profile industry and things changes often. When you get to work in the morning, you don’t always know what you are going to find, which makes it an exciting career. At the same time it is also stressful – it’s not so much long working hours that are stressful, but rather the intensity and complexity of the environment.

What has been the highlight of your career?
I am proud of what we have been able to achieve since I have been here. We have grown the business quickly and doubled our size each year in the last two years.

What does a day in your life look like?
I’m not a morning person! I’m an Englishman who has lived in SA for some time. I’m lucky that I live close to work, so I don’t have a long commute. I get up at about 7am and have breakfast with my youngest daughter. My wife takes our two older girls to school. I start my workday with a cup of coffee, then follows a day of meetings, catching up on what’s happening in business, working out what our strategy should be, deciding where we need to move business going forward, and how we should operate business as it stands. Sometimes you need to make decisions quickly, without all the information you might want. There is a lot of competition in the industry and you need to keep fresh, concentrate and put the work in. Normally I leave work at about 6pm, get home and go for a run.

How did you get into running?
In April last year, I decided I am getting older (42) and need to start looking after myself better. I wanted to get fit and needed to lose weight. I wanted to find something that was pretty easy to do, so running was perfect. My first run was 800m long and I had to walk often. I thought I was going to lose a lung, and I could not walk for two day afterwards. It was terrible, but I was amazed how quickly I adapted. The second time around I ran twice around the block (1.6km) and then I was off to 3 and 4km! I managed to shed 12kg and realised running was a good stress release. Virgin sponsors the London Marathon and the opportunity came up to enter the race. At Virgin Mobile we are always trying to give back to the community, so part of entering the marathon was committing to fundraising. I have raised R150 000 up till now and that money will go to the SOS Children’s Villages around South Africa. Having the marathon as a goal has obviously helped me train better, otherwise I think I would have probably just kept on jogging 5-10km. After the marathon, I want to join a local running club, get a decent training schedule and run a couple of half marathons.

How do you fit running into your life?
Because I am not a morning person, I run at night. By the time I get back home the kids are usually ready to go to bed, so it is quite a sacrifice from that point of view. The long runs over weekends can be time-consuming, which means it takes away from family time.

What is the biggest obstacle to your running?
Definitely time! Sometimes I have meetings or dinners after work, which means I have to sacrifice a run. I know if I had more time, I would definitely run more often.

Where is your favourite place to run?
I love running on the promenade next to the beach in Umhlanga. The view is great and one feels so strong because you are running at sea level.

How has running influenced your work ethic?
Running has offered me an outlet through which I can relax and think about something else besides work. It takes away some work stress, so from that perspective it makes what I do at work more sustainable. I find I am less likely to become irritable or stressed.

Why do you enjoy running?
I enjoy the freedom of it and because it is so easy to do. You get those days where in the middle of a run you find yourself running without any effort, feeling wonderful, fit and healthy. I suppose that’s what they call a runner’s high!

What advice have you been given with regards to running?
The best advice is to constantly drink water to keep hydrated. One of the mistakes I have made in training is to only train long and slow. I am only now realising one needs to do quicker and shorter runs to improve.

What is the first thing you like to do after a run?
Drink ice cold water and then have a rest!

What is your greatest ambition in running?
I don’t have an ambition to run the Comrades; that would be too far for me. I feel I’m starting with the pinnacle – the Virgin London Marathon! I have never even contemplated running a marathon; now my first marathon is going to be in London, what a fantastic opportunity!

What piece of running equipment could you not do without?
My Iphone. While I run I listen to music, or overseas radio stations, and I often take work calls and read my e-mails. Also, it has a GPS which records my route, time, pace and calories burned, amongst other things.

Does your family play an important role in your sporting life?
I know my wife would like me to spend more time at home, but she is very supportive of my running because she knows how good it is for me.

What would you say to someone who says they don’t have time to exercise?
You might find if you don’t exercise, you will have less time in your life eventually!