Making the cut - Gareth Jones Chief operating officer, 3

There aren't many top marketers who played professional golf for eight years before earning their crust in the commercial world.

But Gareth Jones, chief operating officer of 3, is not here to talk golf for once. In fact, his sole topic of conversation is the massive ambitions he has for 3, the UK's first - and currently only - 3G mobile phone operator.

Dressed in smart but casual clothes, Jones may look the part of a golfer, but he talks a good business game, perhaps because he has been selling mobile phones since 'they were the size of briefcases'.

3 has had a rocky 16 months since its launch last year. Problems have ranged from handset supply to consumer apathy over its offering. Until recently, stories regularly appeared in the national press predicting the brand's demise.

Last May, Jones, 46, who helped launch Orange in the mid-90s, was parachuted in by his former Orange colleague Bob Fuller, now 3 chief executive, to tackle the problems and set 3 on the path to growth.

One of Jones' first tasks was to conduct a root-and-branch review of 3's business. This included its marketing team, which last month he split into two divisions. Marketing director Graeme Oxby was shifted sideways to the new role of products and propositions chief, a move that Jones stresses is 'critical to the business'.

It soon became clear to his colleagues that Jones was unafraid to take tough decisions. Amid claims that 3's advertising had become lacklustre, he switched the £30m creative account out of TBWA\ London into WCRS, the agency he had worked with at Orange.

Jones now believes that 3 is starting to establish itself as a significant player. He has a very matter-of-fact approach to business and his professional style has led to him count mobile luminaries - including Canning Fok and Hans Snook - as close friends. He talks like a salesman, though one senses that behind the public face there is a real desire to prove 3G can become mass market in the UK.

Even though 3 had just over 450,000 customers when it announced its figures last year, compared with Vodafone and Orange's 13m apiece, it refuses to behave like the underdog.

3 is currently running a press campaign comparing its prices against the competition. Last week it took the campaign onto TV - a move that displeased Jones' industry peers. Several are threatening to complain to the ASA about what they claim to be 'unfair' comparisons between their tariffs and 3's.

'We are not deliberately trying to antagonise the competition,' says Jones, 'but we do want to show customers that there is something more attractive out there for them, which is why we are putting their prices under pressure.'

The campaign seems to be working, with mobile phone dealers across the country reporting impressive sales and naming 3 as the top-selling operator of the moment. In addition, analysts are predicting an impressive next set of customer figures following the launch of pay-as-you-go service 3Pay.

Now Jones is turning his attention to the 3 brand. In typically candid fashion, he has already admitted that it has been seen as 'too techy', so he has instigated another review - this time of the brand and what it stands for.

Whatever the review shows up, Jones is adamant that he won't sign up a brand ambassador, as rival Vodafone did with England football captain David Beckham. 'We want customers to come to us because we are different, not because of someone like Beckham,' he explains.

'If anyone has the fight and determination to pull this off, it's Gareth,' says former Orange colleague Lance Stevens, chief executive of mobile video provider Mobix Interactive. But Stevens warns that, with other mobile firms poised to launch 3G services, time is critical for 3.

Under Jones, there is no doubt that the brand is finally making waves in the market - and possibly a few enemies too. But he admits that if 3 enjoys half the success that he experienced launching Orange, he will be able to return to the golf course knowing it's a job well done.

CAREER HISTORY

1989-1993: UK sales director, Hutchison Telecom

1993-2001: Part of Orange launch team. Group sales director, rising to

group sales and distribution director, Orange

2001: Quits Orange to set up Golflogix Europe, a golf technology company

2003-present: Chief operating officer, 3

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