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'Faceless' Liberty Global has 'sucked the very soul' out of Virgin Media

'This is not the ISP of Richard Branson' insiders complain to El Reg

By Kat Hall, 23 Sep 2016

Exclusive Virgin Media staff have voiced widespread discontent over its gobble by Liberty Global, with one describing their new corporate daddy as "faceless change drivers with no concern for the Virgin values," according to a Q&A with senior management this week seen by The Register.

The questions, which were part of the company's quarterly feedback "grill," also reveal extensive staff anxiety over their future, with a major company-wide reorganisation under way and an outsourcing programme of long-serving employees to Ericsson.

Virgin Media was flogged to US cable giant Liberty Global for $23.3bn (£15bn) in 2013. However, given the size of both entities, the consolidation plans are only now being felt.

One employee suggested a "big engagement drive" with the people that "support and loved this business in the same way Virgin did," rather than "just pushing us for more and more – we are people not numbers."

They added that Liberty Global "seems to be ripping the very soul (and people) out of the company and everything that was good/Virgin about it. There's no excitement or engagement about what we are working to become, everyone at various levels talks of Liberty Global in a negative way.

"Morale is at an all-time low. Are you aware that people no longer get made redundant or re-deployed, they get 'LG'd'."

In response to the criticism, chief exec of Virgin Media Tom Mockridge acknowledged the business needs to improve communications. But he said "growth pains" would be inevitable as the company puts "massive investment into a growth venture to take on BT and Sky and transform the UK's [broadband] and telecoms infrastructure."

One staffer described not knowing if they will be affected by the re-organisation as "agony."

They said: "[To] be honest, it's really getting me down coming into work being anxious about who could be next. I have worked for VM for 17 years and have been through [three] re-orgs, but I must say this has been the worst one!"

Another added they were also disappointed at how the transformation had been handled. The staffer – who submitted their point under the ironic handle "just a number" – added, "We have worked really hard under the threat of redundancy for nine months with very little communication, only to find out yesterday that we are being TUPEd to another company."

They added: "A large portion of the team have [been] loyal to VM for many years and [have] no option of redundancy. We are being forced to work for an employer [not of our] choosing. It would've been nice to treat us with the same respect that we have given VM over many years."

One employee said: "Many of us are in the process of being TUPEd over to Ericsson and then our jobs will be offshore and we will be made redundant."

Outsourcing woes

Rob Evans, exec director of Technology & Transformation, acknowledged that the current re-organisation had been particularly complex, and spans many countries.

Of the outsourcing of UK staff, Evans said: "One of the key reasons for outsourcing to Ericsson is to enable headroom to allow us to focus less on managing the volume of issues in Operations and worry more about reducing the volume coming in by focusing on root cause and preventing more outages from happening."

Another employee said: "I feel that our original Virgin values are gradually being eroded away and this concerns me. What ever happened to ‘keep the staff happy and we shall inevitably have happy customers’? Does the company really feel that subcontracting many functions out of the company [is] good for staff moral, let alone our customers' services?"

Mockridge said subcontracting enabled the company to scale from a third party and focus resources on other things "like the much needed TV re-launch, for example."

He added: "We should focus on both internal and external people operating with Virgin Values – absolutely this is the way Richard envisages as his own direct employees are few, while many thousands around the world work with the Virgin brand name."

Several times during the grill the spectre of VM's beardy founder was raised. "Richard Branson says 'look after your staff and they'’ll look after your customers better, which will take care of your shareholders'," said one staffer.

"After [operating cash flow] restrictions on staff travel and entertainment, training budgets tight, recruitment freezes, 60 per cent bonus pots, minimal pay rises and three price rises in a year on our customers, have we abandoned this principle in favour of straight up looking after shareholders first?"

Mockridge responded: "Sorry, but the philosophy you've attributed to Richard is, may I say, a little selective and a maybe a little too inward-looking. Virgin Media is growing strongly for the first time in a decade because of the investments we've secured from Liberty Global and because we've kept our customer-focused attitude inspired by Richard."

Nevertheless, one employee felt the cost cutting was not being applied across the board.

"Could it seem disingenuous when sales directors and [heads of department] travel from around the country for an overnight stay in Windsor with an accompanying drinks party to discuss the need to reduce costs to meet the [operating cash flow] challenge?"

The chief customer, technology & networks officer responded: "Yes. We are tightening up travel and expenses across all levels and encouraging conference calls or Telepresence rather than face-to-face meetings and overnights. This does not mean though that they will stop altogether."

Virgin Media was not available for comment. ®

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