16 Nov 2020
Just five minutes speaking with Martin Flick, CEO of Olive Communications, and his clear passion for people soon becomes apparent.
Named as one of LDC’s Top 50 Most Ambitious Business Leaders for 2020 and having tripled the turnover of cloud communications company Olive to £32m in just a few years, Flick is a firm believer that success comes from investing in people – your staff, your customers and the wider community.
It’s an ethos that works. Flick is a respected people person with a passion for leadership, loyally supported by his senior leadership team – many of whom have been with him for over a decade. “With the support of the team I feel we can achieve anything and overcome any challenge.”
Having come from what could be described as a disadvantaged background, growing up in a London inner-city area and with no formal education, Flick has faced his fair share of societal and discriminatory challenges.
At 16, he walked away from the chance of a scholarship in the RAF to work in retail, a sector that afforded him early exposure to the concept of commission. He quickly identified the opportunity in the burgeoning communications sector, in particular, fax machines and following a highly successful career in office equipment sales, he spotted – as an early adopter – the emerging opportunity for growth in the business-to-business mobile sector as a highly proliferate market. “At that time, as mobile was still very new, and most businesspeople would buy mobiles from the few retailers that were popping up, I and my soon-to-be business partner and lifelong friend, Paul Butler, knew how the market would boom and realised that mobile was going to change the way we live and work forever.
But getting from that point to where he is today, hasn’t been easy.
“I was brought up in a single parent family, on a Lambeth housing estate and left school at 15 without qualifications. I thought I had it tough. But for young people today it is much harder than back then to break out and overcome the societal barriers that exist in today’s world.”
A self-starter and now running a team of 130 people from incredibly varied backgrounds, Flick is driven by a passion for diversity and a desire to provide people with opportunities. “Like me, many of the Olive team have fought adversity of some kind to be successful in their own right. We pride ourselves in having such a diverse and ethnically balanced team all of whom are committed and highly talented.”
Since joining Olive as CEO in 2013, Flick has pivoted the business from a mobile phone company to one of the UK’s fastest growing and most progressive managed cloud communications providers, forging partnerships with world players including Vodafone, Mitel and soon, Google Cloud.
In his first three years, turnover tripled to £32m, followed by a seismic shift of product mix more recently. The workforce has grown from 40 to 150, and the company has expanded nationally and at a global level. Headquartered in the UK in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Olive now has offices in Glasgow in Scotland and Brisbane in Australia.
Cloud revenues have grown by 81% and its SaaS business has added hundreds of new customers in just three years, with the company boasting an enviable client list including Yorkshire Building Society, Laithwaite’s Wine, Countrywide, British Red Cross and Kennedy’s Law.
“The pandemic has affected and challenged nearly every business in some way but some more than others. Luckily at Olive, we’re not one dimensional, our cloud technology spans across telephony, mobile and contact centres for SMEs and Enterprise. That enabled us to pivot during the pandemic.
During the start of the pandemic, Olive released Connect4Teams, a suite of services to help organisations swiftly shift their workforce to remote working by offering direct routing, PBX integration, secure voice recording and contact centre capabilities – accessible from any location.
“We’ve seen how limited access to effective remote working tools and technology can bring on further stress and anxiety to employees trying to work from home against the backdrop of family and work commitments. Meanwhile companies were under enormous pressure to install months’ worth of technology in just days. So, through Connect4Teams we offered a fast and simple solution to an immediate problem.”
But with success comes social responsibility, says Flick. “Companies that have managed to pivot and do well during these challenging times have a responsibility to support and give back to the parts of society that are most affected.”
In November, Olive formed a long-term corporate partnership with XLP, a London based youth charity dedicated to creating positive futures for disadvantaged young people through education, mentoring, sport and the arts.
A cause close to Martin’s heart and aligned with his mission to ensure people are given opportunities, XLP help over 4500 young people a year living in inner-city areas of London who struggle daily with issues like family breakdown, unemployment, education failure or gang violence.
“Trying to get the break young people need to succeed today is tougher than ever, especially when you come from a deprived area. This hasn’t been helped by the pandemic which has had an even greater impact on those from underprivileged backgrounds, trying to deal with restricted movement, reduced social interaction in clubs and classes, and with “online” learning much harder to access for those already lacking resources and technology.”
As well as annual monetary donations, fundraising and donation of technology equipment, the Olive team will also be giving up their time to volunteer and train as mentors in support of the young people XLP work with.
“Throughout all the tragedy and uncertainty of COVID-19 there’s been significant moments of unity within society to combat this virus together, with ever greater acts of human kindness and appreciation for one another. I was really proud of the team’s enthusiasm to support XLP, many of who are coping with their own struggles with the pandemic. Without causes like XLP, the next generation of young people could so easily be overlooked without the right support.”
Flick’s ethos of putting people first has also been evident throughout the pandemic among his own workforce. “Leadership has been tested to the limit during the COVID-19 pandemic, with leaders having to make tough choices that they wouldn’t have foreseen at the start of the year. But companies that come out stronger will be those leaders that show empathy and emotional intelligence, who did what they could to take care of their workforce as much and for as long as possible.”
Virtual staff rooms, online personal training, financial advice line extended to wider family members, virtual cognitive behaviour therapy and bereavement counselling are just some of the employee services Olive offers for solidarity and support.
“Around 40 staff took advantage of the personal training and collectively lost 70kg. Those with children have access to an online kid’s club and a parents’ home schooling support group. We also run coffee mornings, lunch and learn sessions, and Friday cocktail happy hours to maintain our company togetherness.”
“The challenge for CEOs is balancing the need for sensitivity towards those that have been tragically affected by Covid such as the death of loved one or a partner’s losing their job, against maintaining a positive “digital” workplace that continues to motivate during these tricky times. This was especially the case for Olive with many of our staff working relentlessly during the pandemic to fast track projects to mobilise client workforces to ensure business continuity.”
“Giving back to society – whether that’s your employees or wider community – goes a long way. Your employees will not only truly appreciate the personal attention and support you’ve shown them during tough times, but you’ll come out the other side of the pandemic with a more united and loyal workforce that can grow your business when the time is right.”