Mobile: Where do you think you’ve taken Samsung since you joined the company, and where do you think you have left it?
Mark Mitchinson: I have always felt that the first few months at Samsung were invaluable. Albeit different in a multitude of ways from the companies I have worked for in the past, Samsung clearly had the drive and a genuine desire to succeed back then but was seriously lacking in leadership and strategic direction.
You have an influence and freedom that exceeds many of your opposite numbers at other manufacturers. How did that come about and what impact has that had on what you have been able to achieve with Samsung?
In 2000 Samsung (UK) was languishing around fourth or fifth when compared to other Samsung Telecommunications subsidiaries across Europe, but I take enormous pride and a genuine sense of achievement having led Samsung through ten years of continuous growth in terms of sales, market share and profit. I certainly leave behind a well-run company with huge potential for growth.
I rejected Samsung’s first offer to take up the general manager position, but reconsidered and obviously accepted when I was told that I would have the full autonomy going forward. The Samsung management were extremely supportive and quite entrepreneurial for such a large corporation. I said I would need between six months to a year to rebuild and restructure, but within five months the tables had completely turned and Samsung was on the ascendancy.
You’ve never been afraid to take people on (e.g 20:20, Data Select, Carphone Warehouse) – how important has that been in establishing and furthering Samsung’s presence in the UK?
I’ve always done what’s right for Samsung and the wider business as a whole, but sometimes you have to make decisions that aren’t very popular with a minority. I never have regrets in life and I have certainly never lost sleep over any of the business decisions I have had to make through the years. I’ve always said business can be incredibly easy if you have open, honest and direct dialogue with your customers and your employer. It’s a guiding principle I have always followed and will continue to follow for many years to come.
You have a reputation for relying on your instinct – how important has that been to the way you work and consolidating Samsung’s presence in the UK?
You can analyse until you’re blue in the face but I believe that strong leadership and instinct come from the gut and the heart as much as the head. How often do you see a 100 metre sprinter look anywhere other than the finishing line when he walks onto the track? He doesn’t focus on his competitors’ running shoes, the starting blocks or what colour vest they’re wearing. He fears no one and knows exactly what he needs to do to win. That’s not to say that he doesn’t respect his opposition; know their strengths and weaknesses and what they’re capable of doing. He just believes.
The UK mobile industry has consolidated and become much more corporate since the ‘wild west’ growth years – people say that a lot of the big characters have gone, along with the ‘fun’ and entrepreneurial spirit – do you agree?
I tend not to look back, preferring instead to look forward and shape the future. I guess it’s nice for some people to look back through rose tinted glasses and reminisce about the good old days but that ‘rocking chair’ mentality is negative and can be counterproductive in my view.
I still love this business and feel passionately about the technological advances the industry is making in the pursuit of converged technology, to give you just one example.
Sure, the vast majority of the ‘cowboys’ have since departed. But they have been replaced by professionals, seasoned entrepreneurs, visionaries and enthusiasts for change and opportunity.
Of course there are personalities in the industry and I believe there always will be. You have to have fun at work and I can’t remember a single day when we didn’t have something to laugh about at Samsung. Let’s face it, you spend most of your waking hours at work so it’s a prerequisite to enjoy one’s self and still have a sense of purpose and achievement at the end of each and every day.
What do you think were your most significant achievements during your time with Samsung?
I enjoy building businesses and having been part of Samsung’s growth and success over the past 10 years gives you that sense of achievement.
I named a number of products in recent years, Tocco (range), Genio (range), and Portal, being amongst the most successful, but as I’ve said, it’s the future that really excites me most.
You’ve mentioned that you will be studying for an MBA now you’ve left Samsung. What are you looking to do with that?
I’m of the opinion that if you’re not learning, you’re dying. The MBA will do no more than hone my management experiences but I still feel it’s worth doing nonetheless; it’s now or never.
Can we expect to see you return to the mobile industry at some point in the future? If not, do you have any other ambitions you are looking to fulfil?
I can tell you one thing: I won’t ever retire and I certainly won’t be resting on my past achievements either.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s probably fair to say that we’re only here once and for a relatively short period of time too so it’s important to live life to the full. I’ve seen many comfortable corporate junkies quite content to take the money but for me you have to believe, you have to have that fire in your belly or else you just exist and do more harm than good.
Another cliché, but I really want to spend more time with my children (Louise, Callum and Chloe) and my grandson Toby. I plan to spend a few weeks during the summer travelling with my son Callum who has just finished college and is taking a gap year before attending Bristol University.
I have just bought a new set of golf clubs (not from Toys R Us) and spend most mornings in the gym. I have also enrolled for the London to Paris charity bike ride later in the year. My decision to return to the business depends on a number of factors, but I never rule anything out.