Commercial Interview: Lyssa McGowan, Sky

February 2019

As part of our Insight Interview Series, The Up Group spoke with Lyssa McGowan (Chief Commercial Officer, UK at Sky) to discuss the current state of the Commercial landscape and future developments in the space.

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UP: We are seeing a lot of disruption across all areas of the commercial landscape, when you’re looking at your competitors, old and new, what makes them a threat?

LM: I’m going to answer this in a slightly roundabout way if that’s ok. Sky may be 30 years old, but has always been, and continues to be a disruptive and innovative company. Our maxim is “Believe in Better” and that is something which lies at the heart of everything we do.

Looking back on our history, this is really clear to see: we revolutionised the UK’s TV landscape, introducing satellite into a market that until then only had four channels; we developed the best set-top box; we’ve produced the best multi-device viewing platform, Sky Q; and now, we’re moving into areas of cutting edge technology like voice and AI.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the customer and how we can facilitate the best possible experience for them.


UP: To what degree do you as a business innovate as a result of fear of others, versus it being an intrinsic value?

LM: Whilst we have a lot of debates in the business regarding innovation, I would say that fear really doesn’t drive that; instead, it’s curiosity: a real commitment to understanding what it is that the consumer wants and needs.

Our business is structured in such a way that 80% of resources are focused on delivery with the other 20% given over to innovation, and this is the way it has to be in our industry: we can’t allow our services, TV or broadband to fail. I think it’s also important to mention that we have a very limited amount of bureaucracy here, there isn’t an endless stream of committees or processes, instead we rely on every level of the company knowing and educating themselves on what the customer wants. Having this brilliant delivery arm, coupled with an agile organisation allows us the freedom to innovate and push things forward.

Adding to this, innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum: it needs context. We want to stay ahead of the curve and avoid the incumbency trap; we “believe in better”. We drive this in two ways: firstly, we are constantly collating a mix of consumer and colleague feedback - every employee having access to free Sky - and carrying out intensive customer testing; Secondly, the strategy set by executives at the top is formulated by vast amounts of time learning, reviewing and debating the details of the business and the wider market, with each decision made in the most informed way possible.


UP: We’ve talked about the company as a whole, but what approach are you taking, specifically, to the transformation and innovation you’re leading?

LM: I was tasked with bringing three different areas of the business together: TV, Broadband and Trading. The reasoning behind this was the understanding that we had to switch our focus from new customers to existing ones.

In order to do this, we did a huge talent rotation, which meant no numbers changed but everyone’s roles did; something that got a lot of buy-in. Then we fundamentally altered the trading strategy from acquisition to retention. We focused on our customers and their needs, a strategy which has led us to launch the UK’s largest loyalty scheme and a massive increase in our net promoter score; not a bad result.


UP: You’ve mentioned talent, do think the environment at Sky breeds, or attracts, a specific type of talent? And what is it that you look for in great talent?

LM: Everyone here wants to make a difference, everyone wants to innovate. There are no gaps between roles, everyone wants to do as much as possible, and more. I would say then that Sky attracts, and allows to flourish, those who want to learn, people who are willing to adapt and people who are always willing to say “yes”.

As for me, what I look for is those who are not just going to survive at Sky, but thrive. I want employees who are going to add positively to our culture with self-confidence and intellectual horsepower but with no arrogance or aversion to getting their hands dirty. When hiring I often look for a step-up candidate as this person will value the opportunity more and will be willing to get in amongst the weeds to do what is needed to be done.

UP: Finally, what are the big developments that you see stirring in the market?

LM: Firstly, it’s obvious and has been said many times before, but data offers so many opportunities. Saying this however, I do think there is a disconnect between its potential and its present reality. In order to get the most from your data, it requires a huge amount of investment in infrastructure, software, people and processes, and then, only once this has been carried out can you then begin the journey to making these insights commercially successful.

Secondly, omni-channel has been talked about for years but it remains as much of an opportunity as it always has been. Figuring out how to make the most of the blend between offline and online environments is something that people are only now, after years of investment, beginning to crack in any meaningful way; just look at the banks and the glacial move from physical branches to online banking as an example. When this is solved, and remember that the blend will always be changing, the upside is huge.


James Burrows and Andrew Duncan co-lead the Commercial practice at The Up Group. In order to provide our clients with insight, we regularly meet with Commercial leaders across industries to uncover trends and themes that can help all leaders improve their own business. 

The Commercial interview series spans B2B and B2C businesses, uncovering common themes and shifts in how organisations build brand, acquire and maintain customers and grow revenue. 

InsightJames Burrows