Tapping into new opportunities

Adrian Sunderland, CEO, Jola, talks to Comms Business about moving into the CEO role and his plans moving forward.

In August, Adrian Sunderland, Jola’s longtime CTO, was appointed CEO of the company. Andrew Dickinson, the company’s founder and former CEO, has transitioned to an advisory role within Wireless Logic.

Sunderland explained he worked closely with Dickinson for nine years in Jola and a decade before that at Griffin Internet, so this is not a big change for Jola, its employees or its partners.

He said, “A lot of what I know about management I learned from Andrew. So, to certain extent, it’s not like a scenario where the CEO gets parachuted in to the business, and they feel the need to make dramatic changes so their presence is felt.

“In my case, the whole team knows what’s expected of them, so I don’t have to make any changes there. I constantly have to look forward and keep everybody excited. What the team has always been driven by is hitting the year end goal, and whether we’re going to hit next year’s goal.

“Particularly in a company that’s been acquired, as we have, those targets are probably even more important because we’ve got some very steep targets to hit. I’m focused on keeping everybody excited and planting the flags in the future that we can all aim for.”

Spotting potential

Sunderland explained that he and Dickinson grew up in the channel together, so he can “understand the landscape of the channel and the interaction between resellers, the suppliers and the aggregators”.

He expanded on how his management style has been shaped by Dickinson, with the two sharing the same belief that it is important to be able to separate whether the business is doing a good job from whether it is making lots of money.

This was more relevant in Jola’s startup days when doing a fantastic job didn’t immediately generate financial returns but the same mindset, Sunderland explained, ensures the business focuses on metrics that deliver customer satisfaction alongside financial results.

Both leaders also value a careful recruitment strategy that ensures the team dynamic and company culture is retained as Jola grows. Sunderland said Jola has “a very particular” idea of how to structure the interview process through to recruiting people and then onboarding them and making them successful.

The company uses a behavioural recruitment approach which “allows us to spot the potential in somebody” even if their experience does not exactly match the role.

He added, “The thing I am most grateful for is our team. In the early years, we made some bad hiring decisions, and there’s nothing more painful than hiring the wrong person. It’s painful for us, and terribly painful for them.

“Andrew has instilled in us all the importance of getting recruitment right and, when we have a new line manager, we train them so they understand our recruitment process, which is proven now to find the right people for the different roles that we have.”

Moving into the CEO role has also demonstrated Jola’s commitment to “seeing people come through the ranks” with Sunderland’s own career trajectory mirroring the broader Jola team where “progression is really important” with “line managers that were apprentices four or five years ago”.

Sunderland reflected on a recent Jola partner day which was the first event he led without Dickinson. He explained, “It felt like that was the day it happened. It was the first time I was out there as the CEO performing a different role.

“Andrew always kicks off these things with a joke, which I didn’t do because I’m not trying to become a clone of Andrew. So I did it in my own way and the feedback was good.”

Resources and capabilities

Wireless Logic acquired Jola in July 2022 with plans for the Jola team to continue to manage its partners. At the time, Jola said that, with the financial backing of Wireless Logic, it would be in the strongest position to continue its growth trajectory and deliver on new opportunities. Sunderland said joining forces with Wireless Logic has opened up access to more resources and more capability.

He said, “At the time that we were sold to Wireless Logic we had around 150,000 SIMs. Wireless Logic had 11 million SIMs. So, in terms of the capability, they had a much broader product portfolio than we had. We had a set of products that were designed for the channel and easy for the channel to sell, and many of the products that Wireless Logic had were not so focused on the channel.

“We’ve now had a handful of big wins where our resellers have come to us with an end-user’s problem and there wasn’t a perfect Jola solution, but we’ve been able to present a Wireless Logic product and then gone ahead and won that business. That has been tremendous news for the partner, of course, but tremendous news for us as well.”

Sunderland is optimistic about the continued successes Jola, its partners and Wireless Logic can have. He added that joint partner wins have “demonstrated to the whole of Jola that two plus two could equal five here, because we have these synergistic benefits from their capability”.

This interview appeared in our November 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.