British Gas commercial director Will Orr on doing good through business

Will Orr, commercial director, British Gas, on creating a brand, defining fresh challenges, doing good through business and having a baby.

British Gas commercial director Will Orr
British Gas commercial director Will Orr

This month my life has been dominated by the prospect of helping give birth to new things. By the time you're reading this, I hope to have a new baby boy and a new brand. The boy will have brothers eight and six years older than him. The brand comes from British Gas, so I guess its elder brother is more like 200 years old.

As the baby doesn't yet have a name, I'll talk about the brand. It's called "me". Last November a colleague and I had a conversation that started "I wonder if ..." and now we're about to find out. We wondered whether there was an opportunity to create a new kind of energy service for the people we once were: twentysomethings who work hard, play hard and share flats. There are lots of them and they don't have an energy service or brand built for them.

Last November a colleague and I had a conversation that started 'I wonder if ...' and now we're about to find out.

Whatever the outside world makes of our new venture, it's been a brilliant experience getting it this far. Mainly because we let a multifunctional group of people from inside and outside the business (many of them quite young) build the whole thing from scratch.

It's amazing what talented people can do when they're given space to get on with it. It's also great to see British Gas continuing to support people when they have ideas. The journey on "me" - which will, hopefully, end in the creation of a successful energy brand for 20- to 30-year-old customers - is just starting, but it's been great fun so far.

The connected home

The energy sector is an excellent place for people with ideas at the moment. The home is the last thing to become fully connected; with Smart Meters and "home hubs" that's changing fast. Turning down the heating via my phone feels normal to me now, and it will for you before you know it. So will managing your energy use in real time, your appliances telling you when they need a service and the development of a mass market for electric cars.

The way we sell energy is changing too. Ofgem recently made its final recommendations for the Retail Market Review, which is going to change the way tariffs and product bundles are designed and sold. It's going to be good news for the companies that really differentiate for customers by having clearly defined and well-positioned offerings.

We're also thinking about big changes to the way we live in the UK. For example, there are almost twice as many people privately renting now compared with in the year 2000. How can we better meet the needs of those renters and their landlords?

Talking of which, this month, I met the team from Rentify, an online platform for landlords, which aims to change the way properties are rented out. I also met Shelter, with which we're joining forces to mitigate some of the more negative aspects of the rental boom, helping to ensure everyone can rent a property that meets acceptable standards. The five-year partnership centres on a joint commitment to improve 1m private-sector homes, helping private landlords meet minimum standards for their properties and making policy recommendations that raise standards in this part of the housing sector.

Embracing change

All this change is refocusing us on the essential point - understanding different segments of customers, how they want to live and where British Gas best fits into that. This month and every month, the team and our agency partners are using data, insight, digital technology, productand brand-management skills to deliver for our customer segments. As a company, we're also embracing change by giving people the chance to be corporate entrepreneurs. That will be critical for big companies that want to succeed in this brave new world.

There's nothing like a wet suit and swimming hat to put everyone on the same level.

I also recently celebrated my wife's 40th birthday by going to The Marketing Society Awards. She was pumped, I can tell you. We lost out for long-term excellence to those sickeningly nice people at John Lewis. We'll be back.

Finally, I bonded with hundreds of colleagues for a good cause, swimming a mile in open water to raise funds for Great Ormond Street. Two reflections: first, there's nothing like a wet suit and swimming hat to put everyone on the same level, and second, there are children who don't have the good fortune mine do. I'm glad that companies like ours can help.