Philip Jansen tested positive with the coronavirus a month ago. As the Chief Executive at BT Group PLC — the largest provider of broadband and mobile services in the UK — he was the first FTSE 100 leader to share publicly he had the virus. Jansen was lucky, suffering only mild symptoms, and was able to stay fully engaged in work while self-isolating at home. Since then, he’s donated six months of his salary to COVID relief, guaranteeing all 100,000+ BT employees of no layoffs due to the pandemic for three months. He’s also partnered with the National Health Service to connect all of the Nightingale temporary hospitals so isolated patients can stay in touch with their loved ones and clinicians are fully connected.
In this week’s episode of our Leading Through Change virtual event series, I spoke with Jansen about his leadership through the past month, what he learned from that experience, and what his plans are for leading BT and its customers beyond the uncertainty of the moment. Here are my favorite quotes from today’s conversation:
On priorities: “Stay calm, think carefully, focus, and prioritize like fury — work out what is important … We are standing by our customers, standing by our country and standing by our people.”
On his illness: “It was a surprise for me for the test to come back positive. I headed home for isolation … By day nine, I was very tired for one or two days, but I was very lucky. I was working. I didn’t need to stay in bed, I didn’t have trouble getting up. I was very fortunate."
On his team: “The response of our frontline workers has been phenomenal … we are performing at extremely high levels. We wouldn’t have come through it without our employees really stepping up for our customers in these difficult circumstances. The power of people and the power of teams with a common cause is amazing. We’ve seen extremely high performing teams have a unifying effect.”
[Customers’] demands are going to change dramatically and people’s new demands will be built on what they’re experiencing today.” ” Gavin Patterson
On the future: “You can’t afford to be complacent. [Customers’] demands are going to change dramatically and people’s new demands will be built on what they’re experiencing today. My aim is to invest more heavily on the back of this crisis, to think long-term for all of our stakeholders to see [if] we can create new opportunities out of what has been a really, really difficult situation.”
On recovery: “We need economic activity to grow as fast as we can. That is a responsibility of the corporations and the individual leaders who are at the helm. No one knows where this is going to go. So you have to plan thoughtfully. [At BT] we have a range of planning assumptions: a three-month lockdown; a six-month lockdown, and three speeds for recovery — one is quick, one medium, one slow.”
Jansen has more to say about the “massive uncertainty” we’re facing and how his company has had to respond to a crisis within a crisis (namely: “people who believe coronavirus is caused by 5G.”) For that and more of his insights and vision, watch the full video below:
This conversation is part of our Leading Through Change series, providing thought leadership, tips, and resources to help business leaders manage through crisis. Prior video interviews include:
- Uniting to feed hope to the world, with Jose Andres and Dave Matthews
- Serving customers from home and the heart, with the founders of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee and Lionel Ritchie
- Giving people a chance to lead with Soledad O’Brien and Sheryl Crow