CAMPAIGN DIRECT: PROFILE - SIMON WAUGH. Caring touch keeps Centrica on top. Simon Waugh has made a career from sticking his nose into many departments. By Eleanor Trickett

’I’m a bit of a tart, really,’ winks Simon Waugh, simultaneously furrowing his brow in an attempt to remember how many different jobs he’s had, elbows sliding off the desk as he struggles to keep to the point.

’I’m a bit of a tart, really,’ winks Simon Waugh, simultaneously

furrowing his brow in an attempt to remember how many different jobs

he’s had, elbows sliding off the desk as he struggles to keep to the


That he’s now the group marketing director of Centrica - which puts

British Gas, the AA and Goldfish under his wing - is more a

manifestation of the law of averages than any particular career plan. At

the rate he’s changed jobs he’ll have done everything from

microbiologist to waiter by the time he retires.

Not that he’s tarted around different companies. During his career, he’s

only worked at four: American Express, Lloyds Financial Services, Saga

Services and Centrica. And of his job now he says: ’It’s great looking

after great brands that were in deep trouble three years ago. Lots of

people thought I was nuts to come here.’

Why? Centrica was formed almost exactly three years ago out of the

customer-facing elements of the old British Gas, which was split into

two following deregulation. Since day one it has been scrutinised and

subject to huge swathes of negative PR.

That it’s as big as it is now will have come as a surprise to those

waiting for British Gas to crash and burn when every Tom, Dick and Harry

was allowed to sell the smelly stuff. (Waugh, however, is refreshingly

happy to admit that a major factor behind the retention of 70 per cent

of the customer base - as opposed to the predicted 50 per cent or less -

is largely down to customer inertia.)

But the growth continued when Goldfish launched, first as a loyalty

scheme and now as a whole raft of financial services. As a further step

towards completing the, by now apparent, aim of servicing all aspects of

the customer’s home life, the company bought the AA last year - in a

flurry of accusations of being greedy. Waugh tuts: ’All the tabloids

accused us of wanting to ’get our hands’ on the four-and-a-half million

people it had on its books.

Well, I can tell you, with 19 million customers already with us, the

last thing we needed was to buy another bloody mailing list.’

Now, each of the three divisions - home and road services, financial

services and the energy business - is expanding: the first is now

supplying plumbers to stricken washing-machine-explosion victims and the

third provides electricity as well as gas.

Further expansion is on the cards - most significantly, the company’s

planned entry into the telecoms market - and it is in discussions with a

number of potential suppliers.

The trouble is, Waugh hasn’t decided which bit of Centrica to shovel it

into. Might this be an opportunity to execute the much-rumoured plan to

market it as an umbrella brand? ’A lot of people ask this, but the

customer doesn’t give a shit who owns Goldfish, the AA, or whatever,’ he

says. ’What’s important is peace of mind. If you’ve got things that are

a pain in the arse when they go wrong, who could you call? You don’t

know what you’re going to get if you call someone straight out of Yellow


Waugh’s passion for his customers and staff as real people is reflected

in the marketing activity. BMP DDB’s most recent TV campaign for British

Gas, for example, showed real-life situations in which British Gas

people helped customers out. Another manifestation is in the company’s

heavy use of door-to-door selling, taking the product right under the

nose of the customers.

And the completion of the AA deal means the below-the-line stuff can

really come into its own: ’We now have a totally integrated view of

customers, so lots of customer relationship management activity is


Further testament to his almost pathological need to be involved with

every part of the organisation is the problem he faced on leaving the

cosy environment of Saga for the huge Centrica machine. ’It gets boring

sitting in the same office all the time. Back at Saga I could pop down

to the postroom, call centre, whatever. I could touch and feel the

business more. Because of my background, having so many different jobs,

there’s almost nothing in any company that I can’t stick my nose


When asked to come up with a couple of career highlights, Waugh squirms,

reluctant to take credit for any marketing campaign that he has overseen

and instead cites the expansion of the businesses in which he has been

involved. Saga was a particular success story and he had some of his

best years there. ’Saga was just a holiday company when I started.’

When pushed, he admits: ’My big highlight was coming into this unpopular

company, which people said was bound to lose 60-70 per cent of its gas

base, and making it a respected firm with a good reputation.’

Despite this, he didn’t mean to wind up in marketing. Waugh joined

Lloyds Financial Services as a temp for a summer job before resitting

his A-levels.

’But because I’m such a smartarse and good at telling people how to do

things I was asked to join as a customer services team leader.’ This he

did, intending to quit ahead of the autumn term, but 11 years later he

found himself as the sales and marketing director. ’I had 13 jobs in 12

years,’ he adds. ’The only two areas I haven’t worked in are IT and


So why did marketing float to the top? ’Marketing should drive what the

customer experience is about, not just the sales and promotions,’ he


’I’m very competitive. If I see a letter from someone who complains and

says they’re switching to PowerGen, I take it very personally.’

Indeed, Waugh appears to have a profound sense of responsibility for the

human race and, despite his candid joviality, has the weighty manner of

someone who carries an awful lot on his shoulders. But he lives for

this, and one item on his shelves gives the whole game away.

A framed, embroidered ’W’ stems from his Saga Health Insurance days and

it’s from an elderly woman for whom picky rules and obstacles were

surmounted - by the whole team, he’s keen to explain - to have an

operation allowing her to become mobile once more. As he explains his

feelings when the parcel arrived, with the accompanying letter telling

of how she had spent the morning sweeping leaves with her grandchildren,

his eyes go glassy and I have to look away and bite my lip. This man

gives a toss.