Staff Interviews – Steve Bell
Welcome to the fourth of our staff interviews! This week, we’re talking to Steve Bell, who recently joined the company as an Operations Manager in the UK. Steve’s lived all over the world during his professional career, and brings incredible experience to his role at Vital. Find out more about his travels, his love of sport, and how his truly unconventional interview convinced him to join Vital!
Hello Steve! How are you today?
I’m very well thank you.
Great to know. So, when did you start working at Vital?
I started on the 3rd of January 2017, so this is my third week at Vital now.
And how have you found your first few weeks here?
Very interesting! Obviously, there’s such a lot to learn. There’s much more to what this company does than what you could ever imagine before you join. But everyone’s been very welcoming and friendly, and I’ve learnt a lot and really enjoyed it so far. It’s been great.
That’s good to hear. And what were you doing before you got here?
My last job was as General Manager of Mecca Bingo in Wakefield. For those who don’t know, Mecca Bingo is a gaming establishment which encompasses bingo, slot machines, and has a food and beverage function as well. I was in charge of forty-five staff there, so it was quite a big job! I was responsible for the running of the building from top to bottom basically.
I see. So is that similar to what you’ve been brought here to do as well?
Possibly so, yeah. It’s interesting because it’s not a 100% specific set role as of yet. We’re still trying to establish what the job will be right now, and as we start to go down different avenues, my role will adapt accordingly. At the moment what I’ve been tasked to do is look at the business from a legislation and health and safety point of view and tie up any loose ends, just to make sure we’re abiding by all the rules and regulations that we need to be. I’m also taking an overview of the business and looking at the way we operate, and seeing if we can streamline any functions for the customer as well as internally. Ultimately this should all allow Matt (Managing Director) to think about the future of the business and what direction we’re planning to go in.
So as a fresh pair of eyes, what have you seen in your first few weeks here?
I’ve been very impressed. The staff are excellent – everyone cares about the company and is dedicated to helping the company to do well. Everyone seems to get on pretty well too, which is rare! The rapport that the staff try to build with the customers, the care they take with each order, the work that goes into making sure each document is ready to be sent out. All in all it’s been very, very good.
Let’s go back to your previous working experiences. What were you doing before working at Mecca Bingo?
So before I was at Mecca Bingo I used to work overseas. I was overseas for about twenty years actually! Back in 1992, I was working in construction, and I decided I wanted a change of pace. I needed to travel and see the world a bit more. So I took a job as a holiday rep, thinking I’d do it for a couple of years then go back home and get a ‘proper’ job as it were. But as it happened I ended up getting the travel bug! I loved living overseas, loved the lifestyle, loved the work. I ended up staying and developing myself up through the management structures, until eventually I became Overseas Operations Manager for a company called Hotels4U, which entailed looking after worldwide operations, from Mexico to the Far East.
That’s incredible! So which places were you living in at the time?
During that role I was actually living in London and managing everything from there. But I was travelling extensively, all over the world. Sometimes I’d do 100-150 flights a year. But in terms of the countries I’ve actually lived in, it’s mostly been in Spain, Greece and Turkey.
And which country was your favourite?
I have two. In Europe, Spain is really my favourite place. The island of Mallorca in particular. If we’re talking a little bit further afield, then I would have to say Mexico.
You must speak decent Spanish then!
Only a little bit honestly! Not as much as I should do probably, since I was moving around so much. When you’re working in the travel industry everyone speaks pretty good English as well, which makes you quite lazy to learn! So yeah, I don’t speak as much as I should but enough to hold a conversation and get by.
I see. So after all of that, what was it that made you want to start working at Vital?
Well, after I resigned from my position at Mecca Bingo I decided I need to start looking for another job. I went on the internet and was looking around to see what was available, and part of me was set on a job at Jet2, who were based in Leeds and were rapidly expanding their international operations. At that time it felt like a perfect fit – based at home but with opportunities for travel which I hadn’t had at Mecca Bingo. But I came across the Vital position and the job description immediately jumped out at me. Unlike most applications, it was simple, friendly, expertly worded, and didn’t drag on and on. It was less money than what I was looking for honestly, but I was just drawn to the position. I put my application through, and a little while later Matt got in touch with me and we had a fantastic chat on the phone. We got on really well. After that, Matt invited me for an interview, and everything went from there.
That interview process was quite different and interesting wasn’t it? Can you tell us a little bit about how that went?
Well the interview actually took place at a pub! We went for lunch with the entire management team and everything was quite relaxed. I really enjoyed it. When you do a normal interview everything is quite structured and it’s quite easy to answer the questions in that structured but guarded manner. In this situation it was nothing like that. We were eating lunch and chatting over a three-hour period, guards dropped, questions coming from different members of the team at different times. It was a great way for us all to get to know each other a little bit better in more relaxed surroundings. It was exactly what I wanted. I phoned my wife up after the interview to tell her how much I enjoyed it. Every other application I’d made stopped mattering at that point. I told her if they offered me the job I’d take it, and thankfully, a few days later, they did.
Fantastic. So, let’s talk a bit more about your role here. What is it you’re doing on a day to day basis, and do you expect that to change over time?
It will definitely change. Matt stressed during the interview process that he hasn’t got a specific role that he wants me to fulfil. He wanted whoever came in to take a look at the company and see where improvements could be made, while at the same time taking some of the burden off him so he could focus on moving us forwards. The main thing Matt wants at the moment is security and stability in the operation – we’re growing at quite a rapid pace and things can be missed or forgotten in the process.
The things I’m focused on right now are Health and Safety and the structure within the office, to make sure we’re complying with all the legal regulations we should be. That could be things like risk assessment, making sure we have the right notices up. Just making sure that staff know they’re coming into work in a safe environment. The other thing we’re looking at is staff training and appraisals, and making sure all staff have a career path to develop and grow at the company. There’s a fantastic atmosphere at the company across the offices, and Matt wants to make sure that even as we expand, we keep the same philosophy and vision that he started the company with.
We’re also looking at how best to expand and grow, with a number of new offices opening across the year, and moving our direct sales team over to a new office in the UK to give them more room to grow and make money while being as loud as they want!
Sounds like a big challenge, but one you’ll relish. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges you’ll face over the next few months?
The biggest challenge really for me is learning what the company does in a very specific manner, and how that all ties together. There are a number of excellent systems in place to make sure we’re getting the best from every interaction, but the systems are only as good as how well you know them! So I think that will be a big challenge for me, getting up to speed with the systems as quickly as possible. I’m more of a people manager than a systems manager to be honest, but Matt’s giving me plenty of time to get to grips with everything with the eventual goal of collating everything we do, whether it be financial, operational, marketing, into one central system which works across all our offices, whether it be in Batley or Dubai or one of the offices opening across the year (Qatar, Saudi, Kuwait).
There’s definitely a lot to do. Have you set yourself any goals in the short or long term, milestones you’re hoping to reach?
I’ve just got to get through my probationary period first! The first thing to do for me is to get integrated into the company as well as possible, and start to understand Matt’s vision for the company and how best I can drive that forward. It’s also important for me to start fitting in with the staff, because when you come in from the outside it can be a bit different, and people can be a bit hesitant towards since they don’t know what you’re like. Hopefully after the first few months I’ll feel like I’m part of the furniture and we can start moving forward as a team.
Yeah that can be tough, but I feel like you’ve done a good job integrating so far! What have these first few weeks looked like for you then? What’s the onboarding process been like?
Well since I’m the Operations Manager, practically everything we do is relevant to me in some way. I’ve had a full day or so with Matt to talk about all the systems that are in place and how we utilise them, then I’ve been having separate meetings with every staff member and team to get to know them a bit better and be shown how everything works on a more specific level. We’ve also had a lot of meetings with Matt so we can look at what milestones we’re trying to reach to push the company forward in each department, and what success looks like for one team or another. I’m steadily increasing my knowledge, day in and day out, so eventually I can put a few systems into place that’ll keep us moving forward.
That all sounds great. I’m sure having you on board will help us tremendously. But enough about work. Let’s talk about you! What do you like to do in your downtime?
Travelling is probably my biggest hobby, and my biggest vice! I’m not a big drinker or a smoker or anything, but I really do love travelling and couldn’t live with it. I’ll go camping a few times a year with my family within the UK, but I absolutely love going to a quality 5-star resort in Mexico as well. I’ve got two young children as well, one at 3 and one at 5, and they’re a bit of a handful! So that takes up a lot of my time as well.
Sport is the other thing I’m really into. I’m training to become a cricket coach at the moment, and I play quite a key role with my local cricket club, helping to keep it afloat. I try to keep fit, even though I let that go for about a year. I’m trying to lose two stone (13KG) and get fit enough so I can potentially play in the Yorkshire Over 50’s cricket tournament. And if it goes well, you never know, we might even get into the England Over 50’s in Sri Lanka! So I get to travel while I play cricket. Perfect! But I’ll watch any sport really. Football, cricket, rugby. Rugby Union, not League! I enjoy it all.
Fantastic. Good luck to you then! Final question now – do you have a favourite quote?
I’m not sure if there’s one specific quote, but the one thing I always say to people is, “Don’t worry about what you haven’t got, concentrate on and enjoy what you have got.” I believe if you just concentrate on yourself and making the most of what you have, you’ll be a lot happier than if you worried about what other people are doing.
Sage advice to live by! Well that about wraps it up. Thanks a lot for your time Steve!