Zen founder Richard Tang reprised his role as CEO following the retirement of Paul Stobart in March. Here, Tang shares insights into why he’s back in the driving seat, and why it still holds ‘all the excitement of starting a new job’.
Why did you come back as CEO?
I was CEO for 23 years before Paul took over in December 2017 and I became Chairman. Paul’s appointment was one of my best decisions, but recruiting externally is always a gamble, none more so than for the CEO role and I wasn’t prepared to take that gamble with the entire business. No one externally knows the company and culture as well as I do and I am enjoying the renewed challenge. It feels right. But clear communication is vital as a returning CEO along with getting our executive committee quickly attuned with their new line manager so we keep things moving at pace.
What message does your return send to the channel?
A message of stability and continuity, highlighting a commitment to strong leadership that upholds Zen’s values and culture. With our renewed focus on innovation we aim to create new opportunities for channel partners. And last month we appointed our existing Non-Exec Phil Male as new Chairman.
Do you feel better placed to lead Zen having had a break?
I remained close to the business in my role as Chair and brand ambassador participating in industry events, conferences and panel discussions, staying informed of the latest trends and developments in the market. I enjoyed the time to step back and see the business develop. Learning different leadership approaches gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own leadership style. I am energised as I return, bringing with me new insights, ideas and strategies that will help guide Zen into its next success chapter.
What are your immediate priorities?
Our strategy was already robust in terms of the markets and products we’re pursuing so my main priority is ensuring a smooth handover and settling everyone down. As for longer-term objectives, an increased focus on innovation is definitely up there. We are a technology business with scope to innovate around new services for the channel, 4G back-up for broadband (which is already in development) and better automation.
Do you need to balance competing priorities?
There are so many great ideas around the business, but it’s about identifying the ones we can put the time, resource and effort into delivering. We will have to make brave decisions, selecting the ones that are the most important to us and accepting that we just can’t do everything.
To what extent do you expect Zen to grow this year?
I expect our growth for this financial year to be in line with last year, which is at circa eight per cent. In the channel specifically, broadband and Ethernet are our focus areas with the addition of complementary services such as 4G back-up.
What market trends interest you most?
The full fibre roll out and advent of altnets are two important market trends both of which are significant to Zen. We have always been a technology provider that invests heavily in its infrastructure and over the last number of years this investment has gone towards building our own exchanges and cable links. We are nearing completion of this massive project which will result in circa 80 per cent of our FTTP and SoGEA coverage being on-net, giving us, and in turn our channel partners, more control over our network. This elevates Zen to an infrastructure player on a par with the tier one players. Also, we welcome Ofcom’s decision to allow Openreach’s Equinox II proposals to go ahead. Its implementation will drive healthy competition which can only be a good thing for end users.
Cybersecurity and data privacy is another key area. As the reliance on digital services grows, so does the need for robust cybersecurity measures and data privacy policies. Again, this presents ample opportunity to those in the channel that can add relevant products to their portfolio.
Ultimately, what are your long-term objectives?
My biggest ambition is to create a business that puts people and the environment first with a model that is sustainable for the future of society and the planet. And as a technology company, continually improving our infrastructure will always be the primary area of investment, this will be closely followed by tech innovation and improving our self-serve and automation capabilities.
What should be top of mind for the channel right now?
We need to be mindful of the increased adoption of FTTP and how that might impact the leased lines side of business. The channel faces new opportunities from business customers that have access to first grade FTTP for the first time. If they can offer this with the same service wrap as traditional leased lines it can be just as good for businesses but significantly more cost-effective.
What are today’s primary leadership priorities?
Creating an environment where people and the planet are genuinely first, so employees can buy into something they believe in rather than a purpose to maximise return to shareholders that they don’t even know. I want Zen to be a catalyst for this change and for other businesses to follow our lead.