Derwyn Jones fell into telecoms sales by accident – but since then, helping companies communicate with their customers has defined a 40-year career.
His current role, as CEO of Portsmouth-based Ultracomms, sees him steer the firm as it continues to provide a leading PCI DSS compliant secure telephone payment system, PaySure, alongside its omni-channel customer contact platform.
Derwyn, 58, left school at 16 and was put through university on a BT apprenticeship scheme, training as a structural engineer, and then an architect. His first years at BT in the early 1980s, saw him involved in building and modernising the company’s vast exchanges, but as BT’s strategy changed, he moved into sales to support his young family.
It turned out to be a milestone in Derwyn’s career journey, at a time in the telecoms world that saw the introduction of innovations such as Freephone numbers and the first forays into contact centres.
By 1991, BT was beginning to practise what it preached, setting up its regional call centres to manage its 20 million customers, seven million of which were businesses – the majority SMEs. Derwyn led on the introduction of these Telephone Account Management Systems (TAMS), setting up teams to dial businesses and manage their accounts.
On the fast track, Derwyn moved up the BT chain to become a sales director. But after 18 years with the same company, he began to realise that there were aspects of the culture that didn’t suit his personality. A restructure at BT helped bring that into focus and set him on a new path.
By now, Derwyn had built up a strong network of allies in the contact centre world, among them a former Procter & Gamble executive who had set up a small contact centre in Kingston-Upon-Thames called The Decisions Group.
Decisions, one of the first outsourcing companies of its kind in the UK, grew rapidly over four years before being acquired by US-based SITEL Corporation. Following a two-year posting in the US, Derwyn received a call from a headhunter on behalf of Dell, and became Vice President of its European operations, leading around 3,500 people across six contact centres within the consumer division.
Dell had a rotation system, which meant senior staff had to move roles and regions every two years, and at that point, Derwyn decided it was time to move on, setting up a consultancy with a former colleague from Decisions Group.
Together, they worked with major clients including Microsoft, T-Mobile and AIG, to build their contact centre estates.
It was a model that worked so well it caught the eye of marketing agency Golley Slater, which bought the firm and kept Derwyn on as group MD, although he wasn’t comfortable in the position: “Again, I was working for somebody else and I’d got to the stage where just implementing somebody else’s ideas wasn’t for me.”
It was time for a new venture and, in 2006, Derwyn put a business plan together and raised £10m in capital to work on several fronts under the banner of The Panther Group. The first acquisition was Pell & Bales, a high-value fundraising company for not-for-profits. A separate contact centre followed, with clients including Virgin Atlantic, Nestle, and Hastings Insurance. Panther acquired a data company and a consultancy, with the group growing from turnover of £8m to £23m in three fast-moving years.
“Then,” Derwyn says simply, “the world fell apart.” The recession of 2010/11 left its mark on him as one of the most sobering moments of his long career.
“We had to retrench and take the business back – it was one of those moments in life you look back on. At Christmas 2010, I spent Christmas Eve putting letters in envelopes because on January 7th I was going to send about 500 letters to people saying they no longer had a job. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but you have to do what is right for the masses.”
Panther Group survived and grew again before it was acquired by Parseq in 2013. Derwyn was asked to stay on a “temporary basis” – which turned into two and half years before he moved on.
During a few months off, Derwyn was approached by another member of his personal network, Robert Bates, Chairman of Ultracomms, who was keen to discuss the cloud-based contact centre software that forms the core of his business.
Initially retained as a consultant, Derwyn became CEO, spotting opportunities for growth not just through the contact centre model but in its PCI DSS compliant payment solution.
“Ultracomms is the only omni-channel provider to be able to offer businesses a PCI DSS level 1 certified payment solution, so it made sense to build our payment handling portfolio out to be able to offer secure payments as a network proposition by integrating with network service providers. Today, we provide PaySure, not only direct to contact centre clients, but also as a standalone card anti-fraud solution via telephony partners so they can add value to their UC offerings.”
Instead of reading out numbers, the card-holder presses numbers on their keypad, which are received as flat tones, ensuring a no card data environment. The system is compliant with PCI DSS regulations, which govern telephone payments, enables continuous call recordings for compliance, and replaces out-dated and unsecure ‘pause and resume’ practices.
For Derwyn, Ultracomms, and PaySure in particular, represent the opportunities for innovation he relishes – allowing him to combine his decades of insight and experience with his love of growing businesses.
“For me, the future of this business is about being a leader within an area that still has huge potential for growth, and that’s around compliance and combatting fraudulent activity, not just cards but all non-card present transactions,” he says.
“Our omni-channel contact centre solution will continue to be the bread and butter of our business because the market is there – but the differentiator for us, what makes us unique, will be within secure payments. We will continue to build our reputation on what we do best, being a leader in PCI DSS compliant telephone payment processing.”
Ultracomms is a leading provider of PCI DSS level 1 certified secure phone payment technology and omni-channel customer contact management solutions.