(Pt. 1) Chat with Sir Charles Dunstone


You may recall that a month or so back I had the great opportunity of a private introduction and chat with Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, and also Nigel Sullivan, Director of Human Resources at TalkTalk. Well during that meeting, they both suggested that I take some of my same questions along to Sir Charles Dunstone and have half an hour with him as soon as possible. A couple of weeks back that was arranged and Charles hosted me in his office one afternoon for a chat and talk about my interests, entrepreneurship and business in general.

Coming out of that talk I had a serious amount of notes to make and took some time to download my thoughts and key take aways from the experience. I’ve decided to split the write up across a handful of posts, to make it easier to tackle and read.

So, to take a step back and set the scene; Sir Charles Dunstone is the founder and now Chairman of TalkTalk. Back in 1989 he started selling mobiles phones out of his flat along with a friend. This quickly took off, much in the same way that Mobile Phone technology did around the same time, and thus The Carphone Warehouse was born. Charles is the original Entrepreneur and driving force behind both Carphone and TalkTalk. He co-founded both, and the latter spun out of The Carphone Warehouse back in 2006. At present Charles holds position as Chairman of both companies. As Chairman, Charles’ involvement with TalkTalk requires a very close relationship with his CEO, Dido Harding (read more on this in my previous blog here).

So, I got back in the elevator, notes in hand, up to the top floor again, this time a bit further along the bank of executive offices, say hi to the Personal Assistant, and in I went…

Hmmmm, I didn’t get off to the best start – tried to close the door behind me, only for Charles to come out from behind his desk, pass me and re-open it himself, saying he preferred to keep the door open. Ooops! Maybe he was scarred of being left alone in a room with this strange young man who had come to quiz him?! At any rate, all the walls of the office were made of glass and the office beyond full of people; you’d hope he felt safe?! Anyway, quickly moving on from that one!

I introduced myself; spoke a little about my current work within TalkTalk, the team I’m in and the projects I’m currently involved in. It was actually quite a good feeling to be able to name and quantify my involvement in some quite high profile projects and pieces of work already, having only been at TalkTalk for just over 2 months.

I gave Charles a quick tour through my background (see: About me…), where I come from and what I’m all about, and then we quickly started to talk about why I’m here, at TalkTalk, in London and on the New Entrepreneurs Foundation programme. Straight to the good stuff!

In his opinion and personal experience, Charles finds that a lot of Entrepreneurs have quite undisciplined minds, and they sort of jump all over the place. The stuff they’re interested in – they’ll be really interested in, and the stuff they’re not interested in – they’re just not interested in. Charles said of himself that in this way, he finds it hard to be helpful on things he’s not really interested in, like for example, certain aspects in the day to day running of a big business such as risk management, policy etc. This struck a chord with me straight away. I can often try hard to help out and get work done on a certain task or certain piece of work, but if it’s not something I’m really interested in or passionate about (typically something very bureaucratic, contractual, or standards/regulation for example) then I’ll tend to switch off and not be half as much use as I am elsewhere.

–          You’ve got to have a very open mind and be interested in things, and you’ve got to see connections between things that other people don’t necessarily see.

–          You’ve just got to be interested and constantly looking around you and questioning why people do things.

An early question I posed to Charles was “Where did your Entrepreneurial traits/tendencies come from? Were they nurtured by family upbringing, or by the environment you grew up in, or from somewhere else”.

As we explored this Charles told me a typical tale from his youth when he and his dad would whilst sitting in a restaurant, try to work out the numbers and figures behind that restaurants business. How much things cost, how many people/tables they’d serve in a night, and so on. Maybe these estimates and guesses at costs and revenues would be way out, but in his experience, this type of pastime was all good practice and a way to learn the ratios. Pretty quickly, through passing time like this, Charles was starting to identify what that business (a restaurant in this case) needed to operate and make profit etc.

>> Next: (Pt. 2) Chat with Sir Charles Dunstone