CLOSE-UP: CLIENT OF THE WEEK; Ionica asks much of new star

Ionica is banking on Steve Ashman to apply pressure on BT, Emma Hall explains

Ionica is banking on Steve Ashman to apply pressure on BT, Emma Hall


A lot of soul-searching went on before Steve Ashman took up his job as

head of sales and marketing at Ionica - the new national telephone

network. When Ionica rolls out next month (Campaign, 9 February), Ashman

will be expected to repeat the huge success he achieved at Direct Line


It was hard for him to leave Direct Line. He was lured by the cash, the

challenge and a stake in the company. Ashman knew he would live to

regret it if Ionica proved successful and he had turned down the job. So

he took the plunge.

He already knows he has made the right choice: ‘The risks recede as the

days go by and we get closer to the launch. However, it is important not

to get complacent. With BT, we are up against a substantial brand, and

we must convince people that we can take on the market leader.’

Ashman sees many parallels between Direct Line and Ionica - they are

both remote operators that focus on customer service.

He is also a true believer in the power of advertising and marketing,

although this is not the career he planned when he left college.

Ashman grew up in Dudley in the West Midlands and went to Wolverhampton

College, where he studied art and design. When he finished in 1970, he

started out as a graphic designer with a job at Granada TV Rental in


His role expanded until he was running an in-house advertising studio,

which gave him the experience he needed to move over to Direct Line,

which back in 1988 was still relatively unknown. The company now has 96

per cent awareness - a level of success Ashman is under pressure to

repeat at Ionica.

Ashman has now settled in Bedford with his wife and their four children.

He admits: ‘The town is small but cosmopolitan. It still fascinates me,

and I love being so near the countryside, especially after growing up in

a Midlands conurbation.’

He makes the most of his surroundings, and craftily combines his love of

cycling with a penchant for country pubs. ‘The bike is just a means to

an end,’ he jokes.