Supporting the North East on the global tech stage

Q&A with James Hall, Executive Engagement Director
4 February 2022

Earlier this year, James Hall, Executive Engagement Director, sat down with the Monstarlab team and Invest Newcastle to talk about his ambitions for our new northern office, how digital and experience transformation has evolved over the years, and how we can continue to put the region on the global tech stage.

Who is Monstarlab and what do you do?

Monstarlab is a digital experience partner focused on accelerating growth for ambitious clients. We achieve this through our human-centred design and engineering expertise, our open partnership approach and our extensive network of global talent.

We have 30 offices and more than 1,200 people globally. At a high level, we are organised into 3 main markets: the Americas, EMEA and Asia Pacific. In each of these regions we have a number of revenue centres that create new business opportunities and oversee client engagement. We also have delivery centres that we utilise as these partnerships mature.

Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, Monstarlab has clear ambitions for growth. Can you tell us more?

Of course. So yes, the Monstarlab Group was established in 2006 in Tokyo, Japan. Since then, the company has gone through a number of acquisitions globally, including Nodes Agency in Europe in 2017 and Fuzz Productions in the US in 2019.

In March 2021, we integrated all our brands under the Monstarlab Group, and created the holding structure which enables us to operate in unity and transparency and stay on our growth trajectory. We’ve continued to grow rapidly since and we have an ambitious 2025 growth plan which will see us grow 30% YoY organically and through acquisition. Our vision is to become a global experience transformation partner, and we are extremely excited for what the future will bring.

Tell us more about your role here in the North East?

I lead the Growth team in the UK and also head up the Newcastle office. My role is therefore to grow the business across the UK, identifying key markets and customers and developing key propositions that will add value to them. We will use Newcastle as a base for new business in the north as well as supporting our European offices for bid and delivery work. We have a target of getting up to 100 new members of the team into Newcastle in the next 3 years and so I will also be spending my time ensuring that we get the best people into the business.

What do you hope to bring to the city to further its smart city agenda?

I have worked with cities and councils for the majority of my career and during my time at ENGIE, I was heading their Global Smart Cities programme. I have also worked with Newcastle in the past on bids for European Smart Cities funding, the Newcastle Helix site, and other city-wide digital challenges. It is an exciting time for Newcastle not only because of the IMD rating but also the investment and transformation of the city. I hope to be able to bring my knowledge and experience of city infrastructure and services to support the city in engaging with those that live, work, and visit through digital – and improve the experience they have of the city in general.

Can you talk about your experiences in developing digital departments and agencies?

Sure, well my career started more than twenty years ago as a consultant at IBM, focusing on understanding how digital, or IT as it was called then, could be used to add value to businesses mainly in the implementation of ERP and CRM systems. I then worked across a range of sectors before joining BT where I started focusing on cities and local authorities.

This led me to ENGIE who, at the time, were developing their digital capabilities to add value to their outsourced infrastructure and services businesses. They recognised how critical digital was in terms of efficiency for the services as well as the experiences of the users of the services and thus, invested heavily in their own digital teams. I led much of this work in the UK and that’s how I ended up leading their Global Smart Cities Programme. This programme focused on solutions that supported the development of more sustainable, attractive, and vibrant communities through the delivery of integrated infrastructure, services, and smart digital solutions.

I then had the opportunity to come back to Newcastle to work for Orangebus, initially as CCO and then CEO. In my three years there, we managed to grow the business from c80 FTE to c140FTE – achieving double digit growth in revenue and profit. The challenge is similar to this at Monstarlab in the UK but of course we have a global team to support us and so I am very confident we can be even more successful.

What would you say has changed in the sector since you started working in Digital?

In this time, the main thing that has changed for me, apart from the clear technological advances, is the focus on the end users of the services. When I started, the users of the systems were internal and so all of the focus was on the needs of those internal users. Now, it is a given that there is a need to engage with end users of services to understand their needs and ensure they get an exceptional experience. The vast increase in the data that can be captured and used now enables personalisation of those experiences to deliver increased value for clients and their customers.

What’s the culture like at Monstarlab and how will this support you to attract the best talent?

Brilliant and fantastically diverse! Even though we have more than 1,200 people globally we really do work as one team. There are many opportunities to drive meaningful work with different clients and teams across the globe. Our culture is focused on continuous learning and sharing which results in strong and strategic partnerships. I love the fact that not a day goes by without me being on a call with colleagues in Copenhagen, Dubai, New York, or Tokyo for example. Hopefully I will get to meet many of them in person when travel resumes.

We have seen significant growth in digital inward investment in the region, why do you think that is?

For a long time, there has been an exceptional talent pool and some fantastic digital businesses in the North East. As some of these businesses have grown, they have attracted larger organisations to bring their digital delivery centres here which in turn has led to more opportunities for local businesses. This seems to have reached a tipping point in the last couple of years which has resulted in the exponential growth we are now seeing, including more than 20,000 people working in tech across the North East with a turnover of £2 billion. The competition for talent has never been stronger, but that is great for the region as it demonstrates just how many opportunities there are in this sector.

How can we continue to grow the sector and work together to put Newcastle on a global stage?

Although it will increase competition for talent, I think it is key that we continue to attract international tech companies to set up in Newcastle as well as supporting the start-up and scale-up communities. This obviously needs to be aligned to talent attraction and retention to ensure we all have enough talent. The North East is a fantastic place to work and live and we now have a thriving digital community which means people can have an extremely successful career here. Need I mention, one of the huge global headlines of 2021 was the multi-million-pound takeover of NUFC. Not only has this brought major investment but has shone a spotlight on the city and further placed Newcastle on a global stage.

The opportunities in the region now, compared to when I was starting out, are great and we just need to make sure the rest of the country (and the world) know this. We would be delighted to support any initiatives focused on attracting new companies and talent to the region. We are also going to be hosting lots of events for the sector in our new offices so it would be great to hear from anyone looking to do the same, and of course, to see many from the digital sector at those events.

About Monstarlab
Monstarlab is a digital experience partner focused on accelerating growth for ambitious clients. We achieve this through our human-centred design and engineering expertise, our open partnership approach and our extensive network of global talent.