VERTU - a reflection / by Mark Izatt

It was in 1998, just as I was beginning a 10 year stint in New York that I first heard of Vertu, a stand-alone company wholly owned by Nokia.   It was a brand proposition that instantly caught the imagination and one which resulted in a mental note "I want to work for them one of these days" !

Fast forward to May 2009 and that wish came true as I embarked on a variety of global marketing and service delivery roles which I can honestly say were the most exciting and rewarding of my career to-date.    Every colleague believed in the extraordinary.  Passion fueled the company.   From factory floor to corner office there was a single-minded focus to deliver a product, a brand and a customer experience which could not be bettered.

This week, as Vertu Corporation, the UK manufacturing arm, is shuttered and declared insolvent it's to every employee who came before me, worked with me and was there until this week that I salute.

It needn't have been this way.

Sadly the demise of Vertu was all too predictable when the company was sold by Nokia in October 2012 to EQT VI, a Swedish private equity company.   You could see the look of "buyer's regret" on their faces before the ink was even dry on the contract and, with very little B to C experience, and none in the luxury sector, they made a number of senior personnel changes which sowed the seeds of decline and ultimate failure.

Vertu as conceived and managed for the first 14 years of existence was never envisaged as a technical product - it was an alchemy of craft, material, service and proven tech.   It created a category and it wrote the rules.  For the Ultra High Net Worth it was a second phone which appealed to their desire to be different - the crude analogy of a £50 Swatch and a £5000 IWC both telling the time but projecting a very different signal works.

However, Vertu was no 'dumb phone', it was backed with award winning concierge services, exclusive offers and, long before it became an everyday item, tailored and geo-specific content.    

In essence a credible, resilient and exclusive piece of handcrafted hardware, backed with relevant services and, most importantly positioned and marketed in a way which made it appealing to a global audience.

It sounds simple but it required drive and focus and careful stewardship but that vanished during 2013.   The leadership became obsessed with a tech race which Vertu was never going to win (nor did it have to - the consumer has, and will always have, multiple mobile devices) against the likes of Apple or Samsung.   I remember an early conversation with one of these new "leaders" who only wanted to focus on what a Vertu couldn't do and not what it could.  

That was my cue to leave.  I always want to work with optimists and realists not pessimists. With leaders not managers.

Before long the marketing strategy pivoted away from a mix that worked to one which extended to a meaning of luxury gleaned from only the most superficial of exchanges with a Louis Vuitton store manager.  

EQT VI finally offloaded Vertu to the Chinese, starved of investment the brand's fate was sealed and in recent weeks we've witnessed the sad spectacle of a tussle between the Chinese and a Paris based investor who now owns the brand name, patents and other parts beyond the now shuttered HQ and manufacturing capability in Hampshire.

The optimist in me still sees a future for Vertu, however I can certainly see a future for every one of those impacted by the closure - they represent the very best.