Ian Gillespie - Fone Logistics

3 min read Networks & Network Services
Like so many of the industry’s high-flyers, Ian Gillespie has his roots in the motor trade. But go back a little further and you’ll find a landscape gardener ...
“My father headed a family motor dealership but wasn’t going to let me near the business until I had achieved something on my own”, says Ian. “So when I left school I went to Ascombe Bryan horticultural college in York to qualify as a landscape gardener. I worked professionally for a few years before joining the family firm in 1982.”
He caught the mobile bug at the 1985 motor show. His father reckoned that nobody in his right mind would want a phone in a car—but Gillespie persisted and launched a subdivision to test the market. It grew rapidly and became a service provider for Cellnet and Vodafone in 1988.
“We sold the business in 1996 to create Fone Logistics. I saw a clear need for a company that would supply handsets to SPs and networks. The logic was that airtime providers should concentrate on airtime and work with a specialist partner to supply hardware.
“Now we offer airtime from the mobile networks and have a direct distribution agreement with Nokia. The business model works – we now have 120 people, operating in autonomous divisions, who generate revenues of £100m.
At Fone Logistics Ian Gillespie sets “demanding but realistic” targets and rewards success. “People have to take responsibility, but goals must be shared rather then imposed. That way we all win.
“A new incentive to be a winner is an employee share option scheme. Cash is how you keep the score – and if we ever floated the company …”
Gillespie doesn’t shirk tough decisions. “I was brought up to be self reliant. I boarded at St Bee’s school in Cumbria, which I really enjoyed. As a tight-head prop, I am a paid-up member of the Front Row Club. And apart from the school XV I also made the Northumberland under-18 side.” To ring the changes, he was also a keen horseman and a competitive eventer.
“Contact games test your nerve but a bigger challenge is having to make 30 people redundant. Some time ago a major customer failed and we had to trade out of a massive loss. It meant having to shed staff who were blameless. When that happens you can’t hide – you have to face them.
“You also have to make the decision quickly because if you delay, you put the entire company at risk and threaten many other people’s livelihoods.”
They say that being a countryman is a state of mind. A successful career in a high-pressure industry might seem to attract an urban personality, but Gillespie is drawn to the rural life.
“Home is a farm at Corbridge shared with my wife, Lynne, three children and three Labradors. I’m honing my landscaping skills once again and risking my back with unaccustomed manual labour. I’m also about to get a horse – but it won’t be a high-spirited eventer. As age creeps up, common sense dictates a placid animal that’s up to my increasing weight and, as the Horse and Hound ads say, absolutely bomb-proof.” That said, he’s still up for excitement. “I’m no star, but I enjoy rallying. Speed over country roads concentrates the mind wonderfully.”
Typical of someone who has overcome major crises, he’s optimistic about the future. “Of course, dealers must accept that the networks increasingly set the ground rules. If they are able, however, to adapt to changing market conditions and raise their game to meet new challenges, they will be able to sustain profitable businesses.
“I believe that our Intranet solution, the Dealer Access Portal (DAP), is a prime example of how we can offer practical help and add value to our dealer relationships. It gives dealers a live window into their accounts and provides a wide range of active management tools that take a lot of drudgery out of management.”  
There is just one area in which he has to admit defeat. “I have tried to persuade Lynne that a boarding school would be ideal for our son. The idea met with a crushing defeat.”
1980 – 1982 Landscape gardener
1982 – 1988 Family motor dealership, launched mobile division in 1985
1988 - 1996 Service Provider
1996 – Fone Logistics
My sports Rugby – I’m a season ticket holder at Newcastle Falcons. My football loyalty goes to Blyth Spartans
My music  I let music pass me by. And books too
My cars I love them. I’ve had a DB9 but now go rallying in a BMW335
How I relax Landscaping my garden and being worshipped by my three Labradors
My holidays We borrow a friend’s villa in Portugal