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Business Growth and Getting the Basics Right

From a telecommunications business that started from humble beginnings, to one that was ranked amongst the best in this country for customer satisfaction in 2016, NOW CEO Hamish White says the company’s success comes down to “a customer-led business model and getting the basics right”.

Photo of Hamish White

NOW is a Hawkes Bay-Based  phone and broadband provider that has really made its mark in the last five years. The company services 12,000 customers and employs just over 70 staff, with offices in Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua and Wellington.

“For us, it has been about getting the basics right and providing good old fashioned customer service. Small things like answering the phone within 60 seconds, and speaking to someone in New Zealand, goes a long way,” says Hamish.

NOW’s unique service-centric business model boasts its own field technicians and an in-home techspert service, which is part of what sets this company apart from its competitors – NOW is New Zealand’s only telco that will come to your home (for a small fee, which customers are happy to pay, says Hamish). This, coupled with unrivaled accessibility and responsiveness to customers’ phone and broadband requirements, is a unique proposition the big players can’t compete with.

From day one Hamish felt the opportunity to add value and carve out a real point of difference in the industry started with its service and support going beyond customers’ routers/modems. That is the traditional demar-cation point for telco’s, who typically tell customers to speak to an IT company, “or someone who cares,” Hamish cheekily points out.

“We believe customers deserve more than that. At NOW we continue to base our model on our customers. The pace of innovation as it relates to Wi-Fi, IT, home entertainment, security, surveillance, and home automation is only exacerbating customers’ frustration with the growing complexity of a typical home’s digital capability.”

Hamish says because of that, NOW is driving to become the opposite of NZ’s conventional telco, and sees its future as a DSP  (Digital Services Provider) and no longer just an ISP (Internet Service Provider).

“We are aspiring to help customers digitally enable their homes – it’s a bonus that  we just happen to offer one of New Zealand’s most reliable and high performing internet services,” Hamish says.

NOW has also been very successful in the business market, with a commanding presence in the professional services sector. Most recently the company has partnered with inter-national giant Mitel, to bring business customers cloud hosted PBX, Unified Communication and Video Conferencing services. Hamish says the company’s market share with accountants, real estate agencies, law firms and medical practices is dominant.

Achieving significant growth across multiple markets has been a focused drive since 2011 when Hamish became CEO and a shareholder of the company. The company was originally founded in 2002 by Hawke’s Bay local Sam Deller, as a rural wireless internet provider, and Hamish became CEO at a time when the industry was going through substantial structural and regulatory transformation. The government also announced the nationwide roll-out of next generation fibre technology, which represented a natural ‘switching’ wave the company could ride as businesses and homes migrated to fibre.

“I saw the opportunity to add real value in this space, and it has been a constant focus ever since,” he says. Hamish describes the last five years as a roller-coaster of highs, lows, growing pains and learning what not to do, rather than what to do. While there was an existing business when he took over as CEO, he says it was stressed on every front with a poorly structured balance sheet and technical and operational debt. The company was re-branded to NOW in April 2012 and has been growing steadily, starting from 600 customers, ever since. Hamish recapitalised the business at the time of takeover and formed a board that he also chaired for the first four years.

Growth has always been beyond what the company could self-fund so a significant part of Hamish’s role has been dedicated to raising private equity and debt.

NOW in-sourced its accounting function three years ago, and at the same time appointed Staples Rodway as its external auditor. This was a necessary business decision to strengthen the company’s credibility with banks and for external capital raising. Hamish says the auditing process also brings with it tremendous business value and he believes NOW is a better company for doing this.

In an interesting twist, NZX listed and New Zealand’s largest telco, Spark, took a minority stake in NOW 18 months ago. Hamish says that Spark has no operational involvement with NOW and is a very supportive shareholder.

“Spark’s shareholding has also brought wider strategic benefits for our business, as it relates to procurement clout for example. Spark is very much invested in who we are, our people and our culture.”

Asked how NOW plans to continue such success, Hamish says it comes down to the team – who are driven by a core purpose and vision.

“At NOW, our purpose unites us. We believe in pushing the boundaries because customers deserve more. Our vision gives us direction. We will bring the possibilities of your digital world to life.”

He says because the digital world is changing so fast it can be tough for the team to stay on track.

“As a result, we know we need to adapt quickly, be agile, and keep it energetic and fun.

“With growth, culture gets challenged every day and I take personal responsibility for being the guardian of this because that is ultimately what sets us apart.”

In asking Hamish how he has led his team to success, he says two key words are at the cornerstone of his leadership – empowerment and accountability.

“I ask ‘why’, not ‘how’. Because the moment you do that you disempower your team, stifle their innovation and fresh perspective, and absolve accountability.

“The team at NOW deeply believes in what we are trying to do, and that is because they are always looking for the answer to ‘why’.

“And the answer always comes back to our customers.”Image of Now Phone & Broadband logo