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Getting To Know You: Bob Sweetlove

Mobile News
July 4, 2014

In a Mobile News first, we decided to leave out the more familiar hard hitting questions around performance and financials to take time to get to know the real Bob Sweetlove

Carphone Warehouse Business head of B2B Bob Sweetlove has spent almost two decades in the telecoms industry and was recently voted personality of the year by his peers at the 2014 Mobile News Awards.

Hi Bob. You are now considered a bit of an industry veteran in the telecoms space, but what did you want to be when you were growing up?

Everyone wants to be a professional footballer don’t they? Or an Army officer. I’m not sure I’ve ever really known what I truly wanted to be. For a time I was thinking about going into the police; another time I was thinking about going into the army. I still don’t really know.

What was your first job?

When I was a kid I had a paper round if that counts? My first proper job was in insurance, working for Wimborne Insurance Brokers in the town where I was brought up. That was back in 1987 and I was earning something like £40 a week.

What made you seek a career in telecoms and where did it all begin?

After leaving Wimborne I spent five years at AA insurance and then eventually got into mobile with Hugh Symons (1994) after seeing a small ad in the local paper. It was working in telesales. That was a time when there were three Orange distributors and Hugh Symons was one of them. I was ringing dealers every day trying to sell them either the Motorola MR1 and the Nokia 2140. Motorola was massive back then.

What was your first-ever mobile handset; favourite all-time device, and what do you choose to use now?

The Nokia 2140 (pictured) was the first handset I ever owned, which came out in about 1995. I now use the BlackBerry Q10. I know I’m in a current niche but it’s probably the best phone I’ve ever used as it does everything I want and need.

My favourite of all time is a difficult one, but the one that stands out is the Nokia 6310, which was a really solid handset with the full car kit.

Proudest and lowest moments in your career?

Proudest, other than winning Mobile News Personality of the Year you mean? Proudest has to be when Carphone Warehouse chose to buy us.

They could have bought anyone at the time – but after looking at us, they wanted us and I was particularly proud because I was running that business.

Lowest was losing Vodafone in 2006 – so probably best not to go any deeper than that or I may have a breakdown.

Biggest wow/innovative moment you’ve experienced?

I remember when we all thought we were doomed in 1998 when the first prepay handsets went on the shelves in Asda.

I’d only been in mobile three or four years at that point and then I was suddenly thinking “who’s gonna want to buy from an independent again?” That was a shock moment.

In terms of wow moments, the launch of Orange back in 1993 is still hard to beat.

They got everything right, the branding and the advertising – baby in the water – as well as new-to-market offerings such as per-second billing. It was all well executed across both business and consumer. From a technology point of view you can’t ignore the launch of the iPhone.

Favourite and most used apps/games on your current phone?

When I’m in London, I use the London Underground Tube map so I know where I’m going.

Twitter is a big one for me, and I’ve just downloaded the World Cup app but that’s about it. I’m clearly not a big app user.

When you’re not hard at work, what do you like to do? Hobbies, passions etc.

I’ve got a six-berth motor-home which me and my family (wife and two kids aged 10 and 12) spend a lot of time in. My family takes up a lot of my energy and time – but when I’m able I like to go running, cycling, down the gym. I like to challenge myself physically – and have competed in various Ironman triathlon events. I managed to do the London Marathon in three hours 10 minutes last year. I’ve recently got into tennis – but that’s a work in progress.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

It’s the variation really. There are never two days the same and you simply never know how your day is going to pan out. It could be a new handset and new initiative, tariff, who knows? It helps that I work with a really good bunch of people.

Funniest and most entertaining moment/experienced during your career?

There have a been a few interesting moments over the years. One of the most memorable was during a One2One partner conference back in the John Barton days, probably late 1990s/early 2000s. One of the dealers was a bit drunk and started arguing with a ventriloquist’s dummy which was on a chair.

The dummy then started to have a pop at this guy’s wife to the point where he had to be restrained from attacking it.

Who’s been your biggest inspiration/ role model during your career?

There’s no one I’ve really looked to emulate. I look at good business leaders, the  most obvious being Sir Richard Branson. He’s someone you’d like to work for.

If you hadn’t taken a career in mobile, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

It would almost certainly be something to do with sport – which is my passion. In an ideal world I would have a job doing something in the commercial sports world.

If you’d like to be included in our next ‘Getting To Know You’ feature please contact the Mobile News editorial team on: 020 7278 0795 or via email.

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