Meet the people behind O2: Caroline Southall
A series that looks at the people behind the technologies and solutions we support across Britain.
At O2 we employee thousands of talented individuals to support our diverse customer base. From front line staff working in store with the latest mobiles, accessories and consumer products, to technical specialists who can design your integrated mobile, Wifi and fixed networks, as well as identify the right managed services and digital solutions for your organisation. At O2 we believe that the solutions we provide are only as good as the people that help you make the most of them.
Caroline Southall, Head of SMB Direct Sales Channels
From clearing tearoom tables to managing the SMB sales channels at O2, Caroline’s career has combined a passion for good service, a penchant for sales and her love of technology. We look at her background, her objectives and interests, and how she manages to maintain a healthy balance between work and family life, and still find time for a daily run.
What do you do at O2?
I lead the SMB sales channels at O2 and recently covered the director of SMB role . I found the additional demands of a senior leadership role hugely rewarding, and it’s an experience I am hoping to build on. It gave me a different perspective and insight into the challenges and opportunities that exist in our organisation.
How did you end up doing what you do, and why O2?
I’d love to be able to say that it was all part of a calculated plan, but the reality is that all I knew when I was considering career options was that I enjoyed working with people and that I got a buzz from the rapid pace of change in technology.
I’ve worked since I was 13, starting out clearing tables in a tearoom on Saturday afternoons. I took a part time retail job at Sears Womenswear to pay my way through university, and secured a place on their graduate training programme afterwards. A couple of years later I got a job as a customer services advisor for a small telephony company. It wasn’t intentional but I joined the company at the perfect time because the business grew rapidly to become the biggest independent provider of voice and data services in the UK. I discovered a penchant for sales and sales management, and realised I had found my career.
For two years I managed the company’s partnership with O2, and so when presented with the opportunity to join O2, it was the easiest decision I had ever made.
What gets you energised in the morning for the day ahead?
About 20 years ago, I suffered from insomnia. In a bid to improve my sleeping habits, I took up running. My sleep improved almost immediately, and so did my mental and physical health. I went on to run half marathons and marathons, raising money for a charity close to my heart. Running has got me through some difficult times, both in my career and my personal life. Now it’s how I start every day.
Because I travel so much, it does mean early starts (it’s quite common to find me running the streets of my home town at 4am!) but that 45 minutes sets me up and makes me ready for the day ahead.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
This is going to sound weird but I absolutely loathe quizzes, in all their forms! Life is testing enough already, and I get absolutely no pleasure in making it more so, whether it’s a pub quiz in the local or a newspaper puzzler. I’m happy without the additional sense of competition, stress and pressure.
What’s been your proudest achievement so far in your career?
I’ve been fortunate to work in a sector that is evolving all the time, and where no two days are the same. But my proudest achievement came in my first year at O2. When I joined, the organisation had been through a programme of change and the team I inherited was wary that more was to come. I believe that building a focussed and motivated team is fundamental to the success of any sales force. It didn’t take radical changes to turn my own team around, but we did create a forum for people to be heard and then addressed the most prolific pain-points.
What’s the one small thing in life that always makes you smile?
I’ve always been a positive person and lots of things make me smile. This may sound a little predictable but it’s my family that makes me smile every single day. My gorgeous, unique and individual son, with his quirky ways (and complete absence of filters) would be top of my ‘smile’ list!
How do you see your role evolving in the future?
I’ve worked in the Telecoms industry for 20 years, and the pace of change is greater than ever. The imminent deployment of 5G will be the next big game-changer. I believe it will give small businesses a real advantage, because they will benefit significantly from the efficiencies that digital applications and services will offer. My team’s role will be to help them achieve those benefits so that they can grow quickly and effectively.
How do you switch off and wind-down?
I find that when you work hard and long hours, the simple things in life become much more important. I value meals together with my family, either out or at home. Even sharing breakfast can seem special because more often than not, I’m out before the rest of the family are even awake. I’m a big reader too – I find it’s a good way to wind down before sleep.
What does a healthy relationship with technology look like for you?
Technology has brought so many benefits to my personal and professional life. Whether it’s the app I use to book a train ticket and download it to my phone, or the doorbell that lets me see who is at the front door when I’m not at home, tech has made my life easier and more efficient. But it’s only really valuable if you use the time you’ve saved to do something worthwhile, like spending more quality time with the family.
I think there’s a balance to strike. I have a Kindle but I still love the smell and feel of a book in my hands. I use FaceTime to see and chat to my son when I’m away with work, but it will never replace our Friday night ‘movie’ night. I don’t always get the balance right but I’m conscious of it and always looking for ways to improve it.
How long would you survive a full digital detox for?
I know that if I had to do it, I could. If you feel a digital detox is necessary, then it might be because you realise you haven’t got the balance right between technology use and the other areas of your life. I wouldn’t necessarily choose to ‘detox’ because I know my life would be more difficult without technology. But in some ways I’m quite ‘old school’. For example I still prefer a pen and a pad to a tablet and a stylus.
What’s the one gig/show that changed your life?
It was Tina Turner, at the Bercy Arena in Paris, in 1992. It was a surprise trip my mum organised for me and my sisters. We had a day taking in the sights in Paris, followed by Tina Turner in her prime, rocking it from start to finish and completely owning the stage. The memories are still so vivid nearly 17 years later. That experience with my inspirational mum and sisters is, for me, the definition of 90’s ‘girl power’.
What are you most excited about that the future will bring?
As someone who works remotely, I’m looking forward to more effective and game changing ways to collaborate and communicate. As our roads and transport systems become ever more congested, we need to introduce more flexible home and remote working options in order to maintain productivity and deliver a better work life balance. I believe we will see new collaboration tools that are sophisticated enough to build and grow team cultures, just as real as if we were all in the office together.
The tech already exists, and continues to develop at pace, but I believe that it will need organisations of all sizes to make significant cultural changes to really embrace the collaboration opportunities technology presents.