Business challenger Q&A: Paul McCorquodale


Paul McCorquodale is COO at Volo, a multichannel ecommerce software and service that is building the world’s most successful community of online multichannel sellers.


How did you get to where you are today?

I joined Orange on its graduate scheme in 1999 when it was taking over the UK. I spent two years on the scheme doing all sorts, from climbing masts in the Highlands to marketing. I was later approached for a management role and I took to it quite well, building up a team that looked after UK call centre technology. It was after the success of this, that I was approached by the IT Director who asked me to take over a large team that hadn’t been performing for a while, that my career changed. I came in and set the team a target to turn things around in six months, and we did.

Success came from the focus on people, team and culture. In some people we identified that their ‘boosters’ lay in other parts of the business, so we transferred them to other areas to add more value. For the majority of the team though, we aligned what we were trying to achieve while coaching and developing them to excel as a team. It was a great result as we took a team that was failing and by the end of the six months, people trusted us to deliver, and people were enjoying their jobs – that’s still the thing I enjoy most.

The IT Director at the time, was a great mentor to me when I was a young manager. I once told him I was spending lots of time and energy on things that weren’t being recognised. He called it the ‘So what’ factor. His advice was to focus on tasks that matter to your customers, the business, and key stakeholders – if it doesn’t matter to them then put it in the bin. That advice stuck with me and now I do it unconsciously every day.

After a long stint at Orange, T-Mobile and EE I was approached by Michelle at Kommol for the COO role at Volo. They have a fantastic technology and I really liked that Volo was a challenger brand in a market that was growing as quickly as mobile was in the 90s. The people, technology and market was right and there was loads to potential to grow the business into lots of new markets. So I had to get involved and we are now on a really excited journey.


Are there any important lessons you’ve learned over the years?

I was recently chatting to a guy I worked with 14 years ago who reminded me of a mistake I made when I was younger and overly assumptive. I was working in technical operations and we were using DAT tape machines to back everything up remotely. I called and asked the only person in the building – the security guy – to eject the tape and put a new one in, instead he pressed the off button and the whole system went down. I’m not sure how he pressed the big red button instead of the small grey eject button but it took the team 12 hours overnight to recover the platform – I shouldn’t have assumed he knew what he was doing. Assumptions are the root of all disasters.

I also think many people don’t use their gut instinct enough. Yes, sometimes you have to really take your time understanding what you’re doing and learning new processes but when you have done something enough times, you have to go with your instinct otherwise you lose months in this fast-moving market.


What one piece of advice do you wish someone had given you over the years?

Don’t procrastinate, get on with things. If you think something is right, go with it. The world is running at immense speed. If you think something is right, go with it. When people say: ‘Oh I thought of that a few months ago,’ I think ‘Well why didn’t you do it?’ What is the worst that could have happened? In the past I’ve been too cautious, but as long as you try it and can fix it fast enough that nobody else notices it, you should go for it. To be a market leader, you need to take calculated risks.


What do you think are the key things to focus on to build a truly transformational team?

I have three main things: people, culture and vision. Process is then needed to allow you to grow – but not for process sake, process for consistency. Getting the people right is obviously number one, but it links very closely to creating a great ‘one-team’ culture. It is essential that you put a heavy weighting on behaviours when recruiting – if someone has the core skills, you can teach them new tricks but changing behaviour is very difficult. If you get the culture right and the people right, then it’s going to go much better. Give people an open culture where they can try stuff and get involved in a safe environment. If they get it wrong and get blamed for it, or if they feel the risk is too high then they are never going to try. Creating a clear, simple vision with measurable goals ensures everyone is flying in the same direction. So many companies fail by not having a clear goal that everyone understands.


Why did you use Kommol?

Michelle and the team at Kommol took the time to understand my drivers and what I was looking for in my next role. At each stage they were always there to discuss things and ask questions. The Volo opportunity was a new era for me and they helped ensure I made a rounded decision for the next step in my career.