Richard’s work history is impressive. As Stratix’s CXVP, he works on such large-scale projects that you might assume he’s too busy to be concerned with individual customer interactions. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Our discussion uncovered layer after layer of deep connection to the customers he has worked with through the projects he’s pursued. Three threads run through each role — customer obsession, technology, and leadership. Whether it’s by making someone’s trip to the grocery store easier, ensuring a person with a disability can get reliable transportation to their doctor’s appointment, or making sure a flight attendant has a working mobile device before they board a plane, Richard always looks for the “why” in his work.
Growing up in Luton, England, Richard was captivated by the America he saw on television shows like Miami Vice and sports like American Football. After he left high school, he focused on American government and politics in his sixth form studies. From there, he searched for a university that included an exchange program where he could complete part of his schooling in America. The University of Wales at Swansea turned out to be the perfect fit.
Richard studied business management, a four-year course with a year abroad at a school in America. At the same time, he was given a scholarship by U.K. food retailer Sainsbury’s. As part of the scholarship, he was required to go and work in a store during school breaks. The goal was to mold ideal candidates for their graduate management scheme.
“That’s where my passion for serving the customer started. As a young lad, I was shocked; I didn’t really realize that you could do things in a store that would make the experience for customers so much better. Whether that be helping an elderly person to their car or going into the back of the warehouse and finding something that wasn’t on the shelf…I saw the human reaction of what a good customer experience could be.”
Through this job, Richard also noticed how interlinked the customer experience and solid leadership are in a successful work environment. That became so important to him that he’s spent his career seeking out companies with the same high-quality management.
“We had a strong store manager; he was pretty well known. Just seeing his leadership and how he could motivate the teams around different areas. But also, when it came to things like Christmas or Easter, which are obviously huge in the U.K., how he would motivate the staff to be customer-focused. This was back in the late ’80s. Technology wasn’t where it is today, and so you had to rely potentially more on people to gain that big customer experience and that wow factor. He was big on that.”
Finally, it was time for Richard to study abroad in America for his third year of university. The selection process was informal, and names were drawn at random for each placement. He could have gone anywhere in the United States but found himself one of three lucky students chosen for the most-coveted placement at UNC Wilmington.
“The only thing we knew about these colleges came from some color pamphlets. There was no internet at that point to go and search. It looked fantastic in all of the brochures…various TV shows and movies were filmed there. I seem to remember them pushing that.”
That year abroad confirmed what Richard had always suspected — America felt like home.
“Going to Wilmington and having that real American college experience was pivotal for some of the rest of the decisions in my life.”
He was able to meet people from all over the U.S. and also had the chance to try different courses that kept him thinking beyond the rigid business-track he followed in the U.K.
While studying at UNC, Richard realized just how big a role technology would play in the future. Throughout his stay, he would write letters home. In response, his parents would send him letters and newspaper clippings with the results of long-finished sports matches. The process was slow, and the information quickly became outdated. Still, it was better than paying for expensive international calls.
Occasionally, he could email the one person in his hometown he knew who also had access to the budding technology. Richard would always include a few points for that person to pass off to his parents to save on long-distance phone charges. Advancements like that showed Richard how many things technology could improve.
The food retail industry was no different.
“I saw how it could help the customer experience. Giant Food Stores, owned by Sainsbury’s, were trialing an ordering system where they could stop having stock-outs on things like milk and cheese.”
Before that, if a store were out of something you wanted, you’d have to stop back later and hope it was restocked. Knowing what was in the store’s warehouse and inbound from distribution centers significantly improved the customer experience, and technology could create that certainty.
What did he leave his year abroad with?
“All of the aspirations of Americana. As soon as I left, I wanted to come back.”
After being home for a bit, Richard heard about the Mountbatten Internship Scheme. Based in New York, the program sponsored year-long visas for recent graduates to intern for U.S. companies. The program also paid for the participants’ accommodations. In return, Richard would need to intern for a company and study once a week for a business certificate. It sounded too good to be true, but he mailed in his application. When he was summoned to London for an interview, Richard learned the program was mostly for executive administrators, and chosen applicants were almost exclusively female. While they wanted to diversify the program, they weren’t sure where he would fit.
Richard came up with a plan. He visited the family of his closest friend from UNC, who lived on Long Island. During that trip, he went to the Mountbatten Program’s New York Office for a day to try and figure out new angles. While he didn’t come up with anything, the company did. They landed a contract with AT&T, which would sponsor several interns. With this position, Richard had another year-long visa and the ability to begin his career in the U.S.
Embarking on a new journey
Richard immediately left Long Island and went to the U.K. only to come right back. Yes, it would have been more economical to stay in America until the internship started, but he needed to get his brand-new visa stamped. After packing up his life, Richard boarded an American-bound jet with one other man and about 50 women who were also a part of the program.
Fun fact: his future wife, Helen, was on that plane — but let’s not skip ahead.
At AT&T, he worked for the Skills Match Center. AT&T had an agreement with their employees where if the person was let go, they could sign up to be matched with a new opportunity if it became available.
“We matched people across the entire country with different opportunities. It was a different kind of customer experience, people who were looking for employment or managers who were trying to find someone to help them.”
That role also reinforced the importance of picking up the phone and talking to customers. Despite his love of technology, he saw the value in creating those human networks. As a skills connector, Richard saved the day for managers who needed help and workers who needed employment. That was the part of the job he enjoyed the most because it impacted peoples’ lives.
As the internship came to a close, Richard once again returned to the U.K. with the mission of getting back to America. He was offered a position at Sainsbury’s learning how to code, but it wouldn’t start for a few months. In the interim, Richard joined Experian, where he would drive around the country manually installing their systems for businesses and occasionally training users on the software.
“I enjoyed the customer interaction. Going to meet somebody brand-new who you might have spoken to on the phone before. And you were trying to get them to understand that the software would change their experience.”
The travel also gave him the perfect opportunity to visit college friends he hadn’t seen in a while.
Unfortunately, Richard felt the job was lacking that key leadership component. He was his own boss in a way, but he wanted more. Eventually, he transitioned into the Sainsbury’s role working with the Supply Chain Technology Group at their London headquarters.
“I saw myself as kind of bridging the business and the technology people. At that time, they were siloed. There wasn’t much partnership.”
Learning new skills
When Richard heard internal rumblings that a project to replace the legacy Warehouse Management System was in the works, he volunteered to help. He worked with Andy Cooper from PWC, who had been hired to assist with the project. Richard credits Andy with mentoring him throughout the multi-year project.
“Andy showed me how you could use technology and link it to the business. Budgets, setting expectations at all different levels of the business, vendor selection, visiting sites, and more.”
He worked on the selection and implementation project of Manhattan Associates solution before deciding to try his hand at consulting. Unfortunately, he found consulting a bit hollow.
“Pretty quickly, I found that I struggled to understand the value sometimes. I knew what my bill out rate was; I just didn’t think the customer was garnering that kind of value.”
Again, Richard proves he’s working on adding substance, not fluff.
While he was trying to figure out his next move, Richard was invited to join a meeting at the first Manhattan European User Conference. Little did he know, that’s where he’d re-meet his next mentor.
“Within twenty minutes Eddie Capel and I realized that as I was growing up in Luton and starting to go to a pub, he was in the same pub playing for the darts team. He’s now the CEO of Manhattan Associates and still my mentor to this day.”
Eddie offered Richard a role as EMEA Operations Manager, Professional Services for Manhattan Associates in the U.K., with the understanding that he’d have the opportunity to come to the head office in Atlanta one day.
Around this point, Richard married Helen, who was similarly enthusiastic about going to America. Her grandparents had moved to Florida when she was young, so it didn’t take much convincing when Manhattan Associates offered them two-year visas to live and work in Atlanta.
“Manhattan Associates linked those three key elements right off the bat. I was allowed to lead a team at an amazing technology company in the supply chain world and also got to improve customer experience.”
At Manhattan Associates, Richard had so much confidence in the solutions they offered that he could reach new heights and attack problems with innovative solutions bringing a high degree of customer satisfaction.
He also worked on a wide range of projects. After a while, his mentor recommended he take on a new challenge.
“Eddie said I should be involved in an operational project for this government entity called FEMA. It was just one warehouse in western Atlanta.”
The project expanded quickly, as you could probably guess.
“We were partnered with another company here in town called Stratix. They were providing the hardware and some consultancy around the solution. Their VP, Barry Smith, and I tag teamed. Barry is a fantastic guy, a Vietnam vet, a fantastic leader, and a mentor for me. And we grew the project into a multi-million-dollar business for both companies by just listening to the customer and trying to be entrepreneurial as much as we could.”
Barry and Richard built relationships and became trusted advisors. So much so that they were called on when hurricane Katrina hit:
“I was in some debriefs with the president. Here’s that kid from Luton that dreamed about Crockett and Tubbs, sat in a room with President Bush debriefing him about the national response to Katrina.”
(That’s a Miami Vice reference for those who now need to start binge-watching.)
After working with such large organizations, Richard wanted to experience a smaller company. He was connected with a public transportation software firm called RouteMatch. Richard worked as their VP of Client Services for nearly seven years, providing software and technology for transportation solutions for people with disabilities. Anyone with a disability in the service areas could use their local transportation to get customized point-to-point service.
“I got to see how software and technology could help individuals and make their life better. Whether it’s getting to a dialysis appointment on a regular timing or allowing a service animal onboard.”
One of their most life-changing clients ended up being the Department of Veterans Affairs in the U.S., where Richard was able to honor those who served our country.
When one Australian client turned into many, Richard found himself doing a lot of traveling. He has two sons and wanted to be at home more, so it was time to focus on opportunities in Atlanta. He’d kept in touch with the Stratix team from his days working with them and FEMA, and that’s where he found his next role.
From Miami Vice to Vice President
Richard has now been at Stratix for three years, where he is currently the Vice President of Customer Experience (CXVP). Pre-COVID, he was involved in efforts at their Peachtree Corners location and at customers’ sites to continuously increase quality and scalability around the customer experience. Now, things have switched to remote.
“If you’d have asked me in February if we could do this and be so successful, I’d have been apprehensive because it’s such a relationship business. We’ve lived up to our company’s core values, especially Choosing to Drive Change and Customer Obsession, which allowed us to make a swift response and have positive attitudes as together we face a rapidly changing work environment. We have been very adaptable and able to look at new problems that mobility solutions can solve. In education, it’s estimated as many as 16 million American kids lack internet access or laptops for online learning; there’s a huge digital divide where, for many students, remote learning isn’t feasible. We’ve partnered with a number of school districts — about 200 now, and we are providing them not only with the devices but also ongoing services to support. So if I’m a child at home and something is happening to my Chromebook, my parents and I can call a mobility expert and get back online to keep learning.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of his profile, Richard truly values making an impact. When he was summing up his career, everything he’d seen and done from his first internship to becoming CXVP, he shared:
“Whether it be somebody buying yogurt in a food retailer, to somebody receiving an MRE in emergency management, to somebody with a disability getting on a bus and making sure they feel safe and secure and getting to where they need to be, to a student logging on to a Chromebook to learn, I think I’ve been very fortunate to be able to be involved in things that have a positive impact on peoples’ lives across a wide spectrum of industries.”
I’d tweak that a bit if I could be so bold. It’s less that Richard is fortunate enough, more that he seeks out work that adds value. He’s a connector and a facilitator. But at heart, he just wants to make peoples’ lives better, and that’s what he’s built his career doing.
Which is what makes him such a great CXVP.
Interested in asking this CXVP how he stays focused on adding value even while tackling large-scale projects? Ask in the comments below or reach out to him here.
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