Rainbow, Northern Ireland’s largest independent supplier of telecommunications services, marks 20 years of success and growth in April 2018. We took time to sit down with Eric Carson, co-founder, owner and Chair of the company since its inception to talk about his career, his company and his vision.
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
It is sometimes hard to believe I recently “celebrated” 50 years in business. My first job was at Belfast-based Telephone Rentals where I worked for 30 years, progressing through the company from apprentice to chief engineer before being appointed the company’s General Manager in 1983, the first person from an engineering background to do so.
In 1988 the company was taken over by Mercury Communications, one of the first organisations to challenge BT’s monopoly of the market, and I stayed with them for a further seven years.
In 1995, I formed TSI (Ireland), and in 1996 was concurrently appointed the head of Orange in Northern Ireland. TSI became Rainbow Telecoms in 1998 after Martin Hamill and I jointly purchased the company, a former colleague at Telephone Rentals, and while the rest, as they say, is history, it is the future of the company that we are equally excited about.
How and why was Rainbow Communications founded?
Martin and I both felt that there was a valid gap in the market that we could utilise, namely being able to offer all our business customers a choice and provide cut-price calls by working with a variety of network suppliers.
We pioneered the local installation of the Smart Box which allowed us to offer those lower prices, and while this didn’t go down too well with the competition, it was a significant step as it was one of the first times business customers had a choice.
After two years as TSI (Ireland), together we rebranded the company to Rainbow Telecom and we worked with a team of five people out of the Dundonald Enterprise Centre on the outskirts of Belfast providing lines and call services
What competition existed in the marketplace 20 years ago?
Even though the telecoms industry had been deregulated in the 1980s, the sector suffered from a duopoly of power between BT & Mercury. This was subsequently abolished in 1991, and since then, competition has grown both locally and across the UK.
What hurdles did you face?
The possibility and opportunities for growth were not immediately apparent as BT and Mercury had a strangle hold on the market, so to establish a local brand and convince businesses to trust a new local telecoms business was challenging, but our business model proved successful.
The wholesale markets were not as mature and there weren’t a lot of options in the beginning. Not like today where there are multiple wholesale suppliers and complimentary technologies.
What does your typical day entail?
I’m up early to walk my dog, before having a healthy breakfast and catching up on emails and the day’s business news online, which is certainly different to when I started out.
Once in the office my day flies in, whether it be chairing a board meeting, or discussing business decisions with my managers and directors, I’m still very hands on. I also enjoy walking around the office saying hi to everyone and see how things are going. In the evening I enjoy spending time with my family and making sure the dog gets enough exercise.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
With Rainbow essentially being a family business, we have a friendly and close relationship with all our staff. When things go wrong, which they do, it can be difficult to have a tough conversation with an employee. It’s certainly not an aspect of the job I enjoy.
Another major challenge is evaluating new technologies that always promise the earth. At Rainbow we only add products and services that deliver value in terms of productivity and/or cost savings to our customers. It’s always a gamble bringing in a new technology to the business, but thankfully we haven’t got it wrong too often.
What are you most proud of (work-wise)?
- Reaching 50 years in the industry, as terrifying as that sounds!
- Growing a successful local business that supports 10,000 businesses and we continue to grow.
- Adding to the NI economy through the employment of over 100 employees, thereby supporting and championing successful business practices.
How do you get the best out of the people who work for you?
At Rainbow we operate in an environment of trust, so we like to let our employees get on with their jobs. This builds a relationship where they use their initiative to solve problems and issues without unnecessary escalation to crisis status.
List three main attributes or skills that help you do your job.
- A cool calm head – There’s no point in getting worked up, let’s just find a solution.
- Analytical thinking – When dealing with multiple, and often new technologies and a plethora of suppliers, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with information. Clear thinking will always help you reach the correct decision.
- Having a sense of humour – When everything is going wrong, a good sense of humour can always defuse the situation and bring things back on track. And when things are going right, a good laugh can break the day up, work isn’t always about being serious.
What piece of advice would you give a 20-year-old you?
Give it a go. You don’t have to take major risks to be successful. Be true to yourself and the business you want to run and work in.
What piece of advice would you give a 20-year-old considering a career in telecoms today?
- a) Get your training.
- b) Get hands on experience, nothing beats it. Get exposure to all aspects of the industry before deciding on which area to specialise in.
- c) Once you’re an engineer, do every manufacture/supplier training course you are offered or can find. There’s nothing like learning from the people who made it.
What’s next for Rainbow?
- a) Continued growth through the expansion of our service provision with new technologies and supplier offerings.
- b) Build the brand so that it’s even more recognisable
What industry or technology developments are you most excited for in the immediate future? Where do you see telecommunications in 20 years’ time?
With the end of ISDN in 2020 we have seen a stepped change in technology recently with the development of ‘Cloud’ and SIP trunk communication solutions. In the immediate future I expect to see virtual meetings and remote working become the norm and landline calls redirected to mobiles becoming an essential for the business person on the move.
With the development of 5G, virtual reality and the ‘Internet of Things’, I think the next 20 years will be very exciting for the communications industry. These technologies will make science fiction a reality, just imagine being a hologram in a meeting, when you’re really at home.
What’s your greatest passion outside work and family?
As a founding member of the Milford Everton Football Club – now Armagh City, I have always had a keen interest in football. These days I’m an avid follower of Chelsea FC and enjoy travelling to Stamford Bridge as often as I can.
Another love of mine is horse racing and I regularly attend Down Royal race meetings. Four years ago I took the plunge and bought a share in a racehorse which makes attending the races even more exciting when your own is running.
And finally, if you could have done anything else for a living, what would it be?
A successful racehorse trainer.