Hitting the break-even point this year was a major milestone for Three, with Russell’s stewardship winning grudging respect from rivals. Three’s size was particularly at risk as Orange and T-Mobile merged to form Everything Everywhere and the market was in a state of maturity. The constant question from outsiders is whether Three has a 'For Sale' sign up, and what the aims are in the absence of a buyer or merger partner. Russell’s major achievement has been to ensure that Three didn’t get squashed as rivals flexed their financial and political muscle. Russell has punched way above Three’s weight in the market, particularly in front of the regulator and the consumer, picking (and winning) the right fights such as termination rates, number portability, spectrum and positioning the business around data. Since Russell took the helm over three years ago, when the company was leaking cash and in disarray, he has pursued a concerted and disciplined strategy. He has gone about it with an unrelenting focus and continues to be a thorn in the side for the bigger operators.
2010 Agent Provocateur
Three brought something new to the UK mobile phone market to challenge the incumbent brands. Over the last year Kevin Russell has proved to be very effective at challenging the status quo over mobile termination rates. Russell has been the public face of the ‘Terminate the Rate’ campaign to persuade Ofcom that MTRs should be severely reduced or eliminated. Ofcom has heeded his word and the proposals it has put on the table will see MTRs cut to just 0.5p by 2015. Great news for Three if it happens, as a net loser under the current rates, but very bad news for Three’s rivals, which will see a huge chunk of revenue snatched away.
Last year’s Power50 ‘Person of the Year’ has continued with his mission to create what he sees as a more equitable regulatory environment, and has been talking to the Government to push his vision.Internally, Russell initiated the ‘Inspire Programme’, raising expectations on people in the organisation.Russell wants customer experience and margins to be the top priorities, and has taken the unusual step of linking senior finance directors with customer experience. The idea being that those who are responsible for customer service will be best placed to deal with investment in those areas.
When Russell was drafted in 18 months ago, Three was in crisis; the business was leaking customers and had no clear or compelling strategy. Since then Russell has brought new energy, direction and belief. He ditched talk of Three being a media company and defined it clearly as a mobile communications business. He has seized on regulation as an area where Three can make waves, and has shaped its impact in mobile broadband. Russell has managed to make Three a disrupter in the market. He has also pushed critical strategic changes around the deal with Skype and the network share agreement with T-Mobile.