We spoke to Richard Tang, Chairman and Founder at Zen Internet to find out about his entrepreneurial journey.
What values are central to your business?
Our most-fundamental long-term objectives, in priority order, are ‘happy staff, happy customers, happy suppliers’. These objectives shape everything we do, so we ensure we always put our people first, and money second. Money is of course critically important but is subservient to our people-centric “happiness” objectives.
I believe the human race is on an unsustainable path, both for the wellbeing of society and the sustainability of the environment. Businesses have a key role to play in getting us onto a sustainable path. My goal for Zen is that it sets the best possible example of a company that contributes to long-term sustainability for us all.
Back in August 2020, we became certified as a B Corporation which means we’re legally required to consider the impact of our decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Whilst becoming certified is voluntary, the entry requirements are demanding and it reaffirms our commitment to our people, our local community, and the environment.
As a B Corp, we provide an ongoing programme of health and wellbeing initiatives for our people and carry out fundraising and practical work to make our local area a great place to live and work. We reduce our environmental impact by cutting waste and considering our energy supplies – we are Carbon Neutral and are on a journey to Net Zero.
While we’ve made progress and must acknowledge that, we are acutely aware that there is more we need to do, and we have a steering group in place at Zen to ensure this happens. We have lots of projects underway and more in planning. As an example, we are launching our router recycling programme, so Zen customers will soon be able to return their old router to us for recycling helping us and our customers cut our carbon footprints.
What do you think the biggest challenges facing your industry today are? How is your business planning to overcome them?
Inflation is one of the biggest challenges on everyone’s minds right now, from businesses to consumers. As prices are rapidly rising, we’ve got to consider the impact this has on our people, as their cost of living is set to skyrocket with everything from clothes to household essentials and utilities increasing in price. For us as a business, costs across our supply chains will grow and as a B Corp, with a focus on balancing purpose and profit, we’ll do everything we can to mitigate the impact this has on our customers.
At Zen, our people believe in what we’re about, align to our purpose and care about customer excellence just as much as I do. We are seeing massive increases in internet use across the country, in some ways driven by Covid, but also the growing trend of having more connected devices in the home. Alongside this unprecedented level of demand, we are in a period of significant advancement, particularly when it comes to the shift to full fibre, the need to take action over climate change and the rise of the cloud and Artificial Intelligence (AI). This all means that homes and businesses need connection with no compromises. This is compounded by the current skills shortage we’re seeing in the UK telecoms sector so it’s absolutely paramount that we come together to upskill and reskill our workforce, and ensure we not only retain but grow our talent base.
At Zen, we invest heavily in our employees via our “Zenefits” scheme, which puts staff in control of the perks available to them. Our Zenefits are varied and are focused around making sure our people have a great work-life balance and see Zen there for them when they need us. They range from our generous pension and holiday schemes as standard; to an onsite nursery providing professional childcare for those who work from our offices; and our healthcare Cash Plan from Benenden Health Care – giving everyone the chance to spread the cost of healthcare bills, and pay-outs for unexpected issues. Of course, we also provide free fast and reliable home internet!
Finally, competition is often on our mind. The UK’s main internet service providers are on a race to give the lowest possible prices to consumers, but at what cost? If you look closely, and read the small print, you find that oftentimes customers have been lured in with great deals and find that later on, their prices are hiked in contract. It’s common practice for providers to bump prices off the back of sudden rises in inflation, meaning customers end up paying far more than what they anticipated when they first signed up. Plus, lower prices leave little room for investing in staff, and giving back to local communities and the environment.
How has your life experience helped you in your role today?
The birth of our most-fundamental long-term objectives, ‘happy staff, happy customers, happy suppliers’ happened in 2008 when I was on a paragliding holiday in Bhutan. Nestled between India and China, in the Himalayas, this little country has a refreshing take on priorities and how to measure success. Whilst I was there, I learnt about Bhutan and its culture and discovered that they are guided by Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined GNH in the 1970s and said that GDP, chased by the rest of the world, isn’t as interesting to him as happiness. Measuring GNH instead reflects that they care more about how happy their country is, rather than how much money they spend.
Bhutan’s guiding principles struck a chord with me and crystalised ideas I already had, enabling me to set our “happiness” objectives. These happiness objectives are the reason we exist as a business – creating a culture whereby people are first, and money, although still crucially important to us as a business, is second. We feel this differentiates ourselves from other businesses whose primary objectives tend to be financially motivated. We find that, by putting people and the planet first, it results in excellent customer experience and staff engagement levels.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I have a big focus on people and doing the right thing by our people. I like to trust and empower people, listen to their differing points of view, be respectful, and treat people as the valuable individuals they are. I also like to have some fun and a laugh – very important for wellbeing!
In the early days of Zen, my role was very hands-on. We were only a small team, so I tended to get involved in everything. These days, 27 years later and with over 500 staff, my role is very hands-off. I am much more of a guide for the business as a whole, focusing my efforts on the biggest strategic items and decisions.
Having Founded Zen Internet in 1995, I held the position of CEO until 2018 before changing role to founder and chairman, a big step back for me from the day to day. Paul Stobart became Zen’s CEO and has done an excellent job in my place.
What are the big projects for your business coming up in the next 5 years?
Over the next five years we’ve got massive ambitions to provide many more homes and businesses across the country with ultrafast broadband, and as part of this we’re making a multi-million pound investment into our network infrastructure. As well as working very closely with Openreach, we’re working with alternative network CityFibre. We’re currently in the midst of rolling out our gigabit-speed Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) service to customers up and down the country through both the Openreach and CityFibre networks. We remain committed to provide the very best full fibre broadband service to all our customers, building on the reputation for service quality that we have earned over many years.