11/25/2008 10:43:00 AM
Sony Ericsson’s UK MD tells Mobile why he is leaving
John Harber, Sony Ericsson’s UK managing director, is leaving the business. He tells Mobile why he has chosen to move on and discusses his biggest triumphs at the company. He will join headset manufacturer Jawbone as vice president across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Mobile: Why are you leaving? Does it have anything to do with broader problems in the group?
John Harber: Absolutely not. That’s the question I was predicting. I genuinely wasn’t looking for a new job, and my CV wasn’t out there. I just had this really cool opportunity to join a fantastic start-up. And if I wasn’t going there, I’d still be relishing fighting for Sony Ericsson.
Mobile: But do you think your old employer is in a tough position?
No. There have been a few tough [financial] quarters, but it is very far from a fundamental collapse. It’s a super brand with great people and I have every confidence Sony Ericsson will be back.
Mobile: Why have you taken a job at a far less well-known accessories manufacturer?
It’s absolutely a big gamble, but it’s one of those opportunities that is difficult to pass up.
Mobile: Can you tell us a bit more about Jawbone
The company behind Jawbone is called Aliph. They’ve got a really cool brand, and fantastic technology that separates them from the rest of the market. Although they’re already selling in Carphone Warehouse, they’ve asked me to effectively come in and start a business from scratch. It is backed by venture capitalists, one of which is the same company that funded Google and Apple.
Mobile: How did you get the job?
A headhunter approached me, and I went out to San Francisco. I met the founders and was really excited by them and the product roadmap. I did some more research, gave it more thought and it was just a fantastic opportunity. The job is about building and protecting the brand and to start building momentum in the UK, Germany and France.
Mobile: Back to Sony Ericsson, what would you say were the highlights during your leadership of the UK business?
This recent achievement of us hitting number one in the UK [by market share] is fantastic. But a bigger success has been the work done on supply chain over the last three years.
Mobile: Yes, I remember ‘Sony Ericsson runs out of stock’ was a recurring story for us a while ago, but hasn’t cropped up over the last couple of years. What has been done?
We do things completely differently now in terms of supply chain. We’ve rewritten our computer systems for forecasts and replenishment. We have become more consistent with our supply, and [network and retail buyers] know we can be more flexible. We’ve become much more accurate with forecasting, and joined it up with our campaigns.
Mobile: What about a specific product that performed the best?
The K800i was the biggest. We had its whole life cycle, from launching it at the top end on contract and eroded it and kept it going in different price segments for a year and a half.
Mobile: This year seems to have been poor in terms of endless handsets that are the same.
We undoubtedly dug a hole by having too many similar phones. Rationalising the range would be fantastic. It simplifies things, and don’t forget it costs a fortune to launch a new phone. I think we, as an industry, are close to boring customers, so it’s important to deliver things that customers want.
Mobile: I suppose having a 28% share in the UK, while globally Sony Ericsson has 8%, gives you a bit of kudos within head office?
The UK definitely now has a big voice in the group. We are indicating volumes that will take us to number one, and that has sometimes been met with scepticism at head office. We have to convince them to order components and make marketing resources available. We’ve spent two and a half years delivering on our promises.
We are now participating two years in advance of launch, compared with other countries which have nine months.
Mobile: What do you attribute the recent share gains in the UK to?
The C905 has started really well but there is also a lot of momentum from prepay. [The] days of dominating a market with one or two phones are long gone.
Mobile: Have you got an example of where you’ve been able to make your voice count in group strategy?
The C905 is a phone where we had a great influence internally. We had a big debate on megapixels. When I was at Sony, if you were more than a month short from the latest megapixel advance, your sales fell off a cliff.
Mobile: What about the risks of hurting your margins and profits down at the low-end of prepay?
Forget the low-end, below £50. No-one is making money there except maybe Nokia because of its scale. It takes mild things for things to turn disastrous below £50. If we get it right, between £50 and £129 is a critical sector for us. What we do there is very important.
Mobile: What will you miss most about your job?
I’ve had an absolute ball here, and the people I work with are great at what they do, passionate and fun.
Mobile: What won’t you miss?
The bureaucracy associated with being in a big company can be frustrating. It’s the same with any corporation. It’s part of the attraction of joining a start-up, where my boss is the chairman.