Mike Walsh, MD Interview

Posted 9 years ago

Mike Walsh first displayed a flair for business at the tender age of 11 – selling homemade ginger beer to his mates at Newsome County Secondary School.

“That was my first business venture,” recalls the managing director of Brighouse-based telecoms company Abzorb Solutions. “I sold it for sixpence a bottle and because I had to find a way to get the bottles back I told my customers that if they brought the bottle back to my mum, she would give them a penny. That way, I got to keep the sixpences!”

Mike was quickly into the world of work when his schooling finished. “I decided to get into a working environment as soon as possible,” he says. “On my last day at school, I took my last exam at Newsome in the morning and in the afternoon I got a job as a shelf-filler at Lodges Supermarket in Huddersfield, I got £17 a week.”

But Mike wasn’t interested in a career in food retailing – and took a pay cut when he became a trainee manager at electrical retailer Currys, earning just £10 a week! He also gained his ONC and HNC qualifications over a six-year period before becoming the company’s youngest manager, aged just 19, when he was put in charge of its Gateshead branch. A year later, he was appointed to lead one of its biggest branches at Bradford.

Says Mike: “I had been there four years when I decided that retail – as much as I enjoyed it – was not where I wanted to be in the medium to long term.”

Mike joined a Cambridge company called Solus Electronics, selling electronic components, before moving to Charles Hyde and Son. In 1983, a colleague, John Weatherall, asked Mike to join him in a new business, JWE, distributing electronic components, That led to the firm breaking into the burgeoning mobile phones sector – as the DTI awarded licences to Racal/Vodafone and BT Cellnet.

JWE began generating sales of brick-like mobile phones and the business proved hugely successful. “At its peak, we had 60 retail shops and a dealer network of more than 500,” says Mike. The company floated on the stock market in 1998 and Mike served on the plc board before coming out of the business in 2000.

After that, he teamed up with businessman Steve Beeby to secure a coveted Vodafone service provision licence and set up a new business, Vocall UK.

In 2008, Vocall and a number of other businesses established by Steve and Mike rebranded under the Abzorb name.

Now the two business partners head six businesses under the Abzorb brand, with Mike as managing director of Abzorb Solutions. Five trading companies each deal with specific product platforms, including mobiles, fixed line telephones, networks and broadband. Its core products were originally based around the Vodafone licence, but Abzorb now has relationships with every major carrier, including BT, Talk Talk Business, Virgin Media Business and Cable and Wireless.

Says Mike: “We deal with businesses of all sizes – from the local and regional levels up to major blue-chip companies. We offer a complete one stop shop for all telecoms products incorporating fixed and mobile technology .

“We have developed over the past four years to expand our reseller network. We have more than 300 partners in our Abzorb Plus programme and we have targets to increase that to 500 by the end of the year.”

The company has established a national reputation – twice being named Mobile Distributor of the Year at the CNN Comms National Awards as well as being shortlisted this year in three categories – Marketing Team of the Year, Sales Team of the Year; and Marketing Campaign of the Year. The awards night take place on May 8.

Abzorb has doubled its turnover in the past three or four years, expanding organically rather than through acquisition.

The Telecoms market is – unsurprisingly – fiercely competitive, but Mike says: “I believe competition is healthy and necessary to produce success. It keeps you on your toes and it helps to drive the business on. We are fortunate in that we have recurring revenue, which gives us financial strength – and did so throughout the recession. We have no borrowings and we have our own premises with the space to expand.”

Abzorb, which started out at Bailiff Bridge before a move to Armytage Road at Brighouse, also provides plenty of incentive for its resellers. Its Turn Up The Base programme encourages its partners to grow their revenue with a system awarding them points which they can cash in for prizes. The top 10 revenue earners get an all-expenses paid trip to somewhere exotic – Las Vegas and Miami have been among the destinations in previous years.

Despite its national ambitions, Mike says: “We are proud of our Huddersfield heritage. That was the big driver in us getting involved with Huddersfield Town, We obviously have a healthy port folio of customers  in our home town and but wanted to raise our profile .. Huddersfield Town has the ability to get local businesses together at every level.

“We have set up a programme to contribute to the Town Foundation, which Town chairman Dean Hoyle set up and is so passionate about. It is very humbling to see some of the work the foundation is doing for people who need support.”

Abzorb, which has about 50 employees, is also working with Kirklees College to offer apprenticeships. “We have set up a programme to get young people into the business,” says Mike. “We want to nurture young people who believe in what we are doing, who are committed to it and who have a smile in their voice when they answer the phone.”

Mike leads by example. His commitment to the business is almost matched by his support or Huddersfield Town! And he still regards himself as a Huddersfield lad, despite now living in Richmond, North Yorkshire. The firm’s annual golf day is staged at Outlane Golf Club.

“I was born and raised in the town.,” he says. I am very proud of all my family and our Hudderfield background  “Growing up as a kid, textiles and engineering were the big employers. “My mum was a weaver and  my dad was a lathe turner in the  engineering industry working  at David Brown tractors in meltham and Sellers in folly hall , latterly becoming a prison officer as engineering and textiles , sadly declined in the town . It is nice to think that as a company, we are contributing to the local economy.".

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