Vince O’Donovan was Head of Intermediary Sales at Virgin One Account, then Royal Bank of Scotland. I worked for Vince – Vincenzo, as I called him – for about three years, from 2003.
Right from the start, you gave me a freedom to do my job that I’d never experienced before. First, I compiled a report on the strengths and shortcomings of the broker offering – you remember, the one that upset Mr Dean Robertson! Then, as a result, I designed and delivered a training programme called SFP – Success Focus Programme.
To research it, I accompanied each of your Business Development Managers on their visits to brokers and financial advisers. I identified their training needs, designed the programme, then you and I put them through a full-on, intense two-day training event. The thing I really remember is the role plays on the final day – where you played the ‘broker from hell’ and fired in curved balls, banana skins and red herrings, one after the other, to try to send the guys off track – just as real brokers do!
On our various trips to run the event across the nation, we would inevitably break our journey at a Little Chef at some stage. You were the only person I knew who could consume a full Olympic breakfast in five minutes flat and still talk the entire time. Your wife, Linda, was always on at you to watch your weight, but you really did pay lip-service to her. I recall that all-day meeting you held at your house one day with me, Dean and Jim Robinson. At lunchtime, Linda lovingly set out a healthy lunch of salads, fruits and juices. “Ooo, thank you Linda” I cooed, adding, in a loud voice as she walked away: “not like this when we stop at the Little Chef, is it Vincenzo!”. You waved me quiet and we said no more about it. Two days later, you arrived in the office, fuming.
“What’s the matter, darling?” I enquired.
“It’s your bloody fault” you spat.
“Stitching me up with Linda about Little Chefs.”
“Why, what’s occurred?”
“What’s occurred?!?!? I got home last night to find the fridge full of Marks and Spencer be-good-to-your-fucking self meals, that’s what’s occurred!”
My, how I laughed.
We enjoyed lots of funny moments, three more especially stick in my mind. The first was when we were running one of the SFP events at Dunston Hall, Norwich. I followed you in to the grounds and parked next to you. As you stepped out in to the warm morning sunshine, you stretched loudly and announced:
“Well, it’s my third anniversary with the company today, Simon”
“Yes” I replied, “and, even so, we’ve still managed to be successful.”
The second was when we arrived at the office one day to find a disgusting stink coming from the kitchen area. The maintenance staff had emailed everyone overnight to say that they were investigating the source. As soon as you read it, you hit ‘forward’ and I received an additional note saying: “And, before you say it, no it’s not me.”
I also recall that brilliant moment when we in a big strategy meeting, and you were being pressed to join some sort of senior working party which would mean you having to travel to London once a fortnight. Clearly eager to wriggle out of such a tiresome commitment, you stated that you would have to ‘check your diary’. I sat there knowing full well the desk diary you so religiously ferried to every meeting was purely for show and was completely blank. So I grabbed it, fanned through the empty pages and announced: “Well, I think that’s cleared that one up.” You’ve never forgiven me.
But, as I said, you always gave me an amazing freedom in which to ply my craft and I would often seek your advice over a coffee and a bacon butty in Morrisons. One day, I was on my way to be interviewed for the role of Training and Competence Manager. For some reason, I wasn’t feeling great about the job. Just as I was driving through Norwich City centre, you happened to call me on the car phone, just to touch base. I explained how I was feeling. You gave me a good talking to and told me to get on with it. So I did. And I got the job. Thank God you rang, because that role turned out to be pivotal in the development of my career.
I guess our best moment as a double act came at our 2005 sales conference which we held at the NEC in Birmingham, no less. You delivered the key note speech and, as it had been a year where the business as a whole had been far too reactive, you chose the heading of fire, aim, ready. As you began, I was sitting in the audience along with everyone else but, at a pre-agreed moment, I stood. Fully suited and booted, I removed my glasses and replaced them with a pair of wrap-around shades. I threaded my way slowly and deliberately around the tables and ascended the steps to the stage. From a concealed trunk, I extracted a purple plastic gun, a massive Men in Black thing which fired dayglow green foam bullets a quite astonishing distance. As your words reached the point where you mentioned ‘fire’, I sent a volley of the shots in to the audience. A standing ovation to close the conference.
So thank you, Vincenzo – for all the freedom, advice, support and challenge. And loads of laughs along the way.