Professor Sir Roland Smith CEO Lecture: An Audience with Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive BT Group Plc

Gavin Patterson

17 December 2015

Invest in R&D and very brilliant people. 

These were two strong messages from Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive of BT Plc when he gave Lancaster University's annual Sir Roland Smith CEO Lecture in London. In doing so, Gavin followed in the footsteps of a series of illustrious leaders of distinction in their fields.

During his lively and informative talk, attended by the University’s Chancellor the Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Management School Dean Professor Angus Laing and a number of university alumni,  Gavin highlighted three key consistent themes to the dynamic time in this industry: technology, regulation, and competition. He was extremely knowledgeable at all levels and aspects of the business and generous with his knowledge.

The BT Chief Executive stated that the biggest challenge faced by business today is the shortage of very brilliant people. The most talented are highly mobile, and the UK needs to do more to attract and retain them.

Responding to a question about the pace of change in technology, and the impact for BT, Gavin spoke proudly about the resilience of his company, which started in 1846. In that time, the communications giant has seen every major innovation in the sector. He placed the reason for this resilience in its philosophy and operating style. BT’s ability to reinvent itself is key, he explained, and this is delivered primarily through investment in research and development. The budget for BT’s research (conducted mainly at its centre in Suffolk) is third largest of any UK company. BT also partners with universities where there is benefit.

Gavin shared insights about the process behind BT’s decision to pursue television and sport as part of its portfolio, and how the team managed it through. He also talked about the company’s desire to re-enter the mobile market and the result was BT had been able to choose between two mobile operators and had chosen EE. 

Asked about diversity in the boardroom, Gavin stated the urgent need to address issues around gender balance in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects from an early stage in education. When asked what the core competencies are for great leadership, he emphasised having a vision, empowering and inspiring people.

Concluding, he suggested that perhaps the more outrageous the goal, the better.