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An interview with Moneypenny Chairman, Patrick Macdonald

Moneypenny’s new chairman, Patrick Macdonald, joined us in March 2020 just before the world went into lockdown.

Patrick has had an extensive career across many leading organisations from Unilever, Boston Consulting Group, working for Jack Welch at GE, and as the CEO of John Menzies plc leading them through a large scale period of change in the mid-2000s. For the last decade, Patrick has launched and run the School for CEOs alongside David Sole OBE, the former Scottish rugby captain, providing practical, peer to peer training and development for the next generation of CEOs.

We wanted Patrick’s first impressions of us and then to understand some business lessons he has learnt over the years running companies and chairing boards that are useful to the Moneypenny team as we navigate the global pandemic.

“I had visited Moneypenny before I officially joined in March 2020 and had met the senior leadership team. I was immediately interested in joining the company as Chairman as I saw an incredibly special business with a clear vision of how to add value to their customers.

From my experience, when times are bad and the outside world is rapidly changing, being incredibly clear about responsibilities and decisions is critical.  What impressed me most during those first few weeks was the clarity of the decision making around the COVID-19 situation.

Moneypenny is a business that prides itself on its culture and how the office environment helps build that culture. As such, they had never experimented with a home-working model for their PAs answering calls and live chats on behalf of thousands of UK and US customers.

Luckily, the Moneypenny management team had already made a decision to invest in their technology platform across 2019 and to move it from an on-premise model to the cloud. In hindsight, this investment in Twilio was the best preparation they could have made for a global pandemic.

The decision was made on 2nd March 2020  to move everyone to home working as the COVID situation was starting to accelerate. The clarity of this decision from the management team and then the responsiveness of the technical team and their inventiveness and creativity in getting all 1000 employees set up from office to home across the UK and US in three weeks was incredible. At the time procuring enough laptops was hard as many other businesses were making the same call but computers were duly bought from various IT depots across the country and the tech team painstakingly helped set up home terminals across the local area in a way that was safe for employees, whilst still maintaining a brilliant service to customers and keeping their data safe. Every Moneypenny team member was safely working from home by the 20th March – before the US and UK’s lockdown deadlines were imposed.”

How did you find chairing your first board meeting through Zoom?

“Maintaining relationships through video meetings is different from building relationships from scratch, and there were many of the Moneypenny board members that I had not yet built up a relationship with at the time of my first board meeting on Zoom. This can be difficult as boards are effectively collectives and understanding relationships, body language and gestures are part of the chairman’s art of generating collective decision making. This is harder remotely but I think the Moneypenny leadership team did a great job of making me feel welcome and delivering some clear decisions and actions to grow the business at this time.

One of the key decisions was how to integrate the VoiceNation business into the wider Moneypenny organisation. VoiceNation is a leading US answering service based in Atlanta, Georgia about 4 hours by road from Moneypenny’s US office in Charleston, South Carolina.  Moneypenny’s acquisition completed on 2nd March 2020 at exactly the same time as the decision to move the whole group to a remote working model.

Unfortunately, the pandemic effectively cancelled our planned face to face integration process so management teams had to build these crucial early relationships remotely.

Luckily, the Moneypenny team had chosen wisely. VoiceNation is a culturally similar business to the rest of the company with direct and open leadership models. This helped enormously. VoiceNation managed to move to full remote working by the time of the US lockdown and have successfully built new revenue streams through this turmoil achieving their best-ever revenue month in June 2020, with exciting plans being forged to build beneficial connections between the two US businesses.”

You have worked for blue-chip strategy consultancies and leading businesses in Germany, US and the UK. What lessons have you learned that can guide Moneypenny at this time? 

“From my time in management consulting, I learnt the imperative of having a clear strategy for companies that want to win and succeed. This can only be achieved by having a focused view of what value they can add for their customers and how this drives their business growth. This strategy then needs to be translated into effective processes to enable the company to deliver against the business strategy and plan. Moneypenny has a clear strategy and I have been impressed by the focused execution against this plan.

My time in business at GE and John Menzies taught me the value of understanding people dynamics to deliver against the business goals. Businesses are really all about people and I learnt how to spot talent, how to develop people so they succeed, and the critical importance of developing a winning culture for the business.

I have been really impressed by the Moneypenny team’s ability to both deliver the operational excellence they have promised their customers, alongside keeping employees safe through the home-working model, and also the agility to develop innovative new products and services to meet their customers’ changing needs through the pandemic. We made our digital switchboard free for 3 months at the start of the pandemic to help clients manage high call volumes and the shift of their employees to remote working. This uses AI voice technology to recognise employee names and route the call correctly through to mobiles or another landline number without distracting from the caller experience.

We have also launched new services such as outbound calling for estate agents to help them qualify home buyers and get their businesses back on their feet, just when they needed it. This is especially important as the property sector has experienced a mini-boom after the regulations on property buying were eased in May with call volumes for many estate agents going through the roof.

And to help all our retail customers to open up again after lockdown, we’ve launched new chatbots for their websites to help them with COVID symptom reporting and contact tracing. One of these bots helps estate agents confirm that property viewers don’t have symptoms and provides all their email and phone details for contact tracing should anything else COVID-related arise.

And this all completed by the Moneypenny employees remote working through MS Teams, Zoom, and Slack. Not bad for 4 months’ effort.”

When you were at GE you worked for Jack Welch, called the Manager of the Century by Forbes. What did you learn from him that can be applied to Moneypenny?

“Jack Welch was tough but I would have walked through walls for him. He had great judgment, knew the organisation inside out, and brought some amazing ideas to fruition such as ‘be #1 or #2’ and 6 sigma, which are now firmly in the business lexicon. He grew GE by a factor of 29x in 20 years to a business worth $410bn at its height. However, in this case, GE’s reliance on this exceptional leader turned into a weakness: the company became over-reliant on him and, when his successor turned out not to be as brilliant, GE stumbled badly. I think the success at Moneypenny is much more broadly spread.

Succession management is critical to achieving scale and long term success and I look forward to helping our senior team continue to succeed and grow.”

You run the School for CEOs: what advice have you got for the Moneypenny team from your time in coaching and developing senior business leaders?

“When times are tough be clear about responsibility. This is an organisation that has no shortage of ideas to help their customers succeed: be clear which hill you want to own, and do everything necessary to own that hill.

Build the team and help your people succeed.  Moneypenny is a fantastic company and I’m really looking forward to working together and helping build an even more brilliant organisation for the future.”

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