On Sunday 10th September, my good friend and Degree 53’s Commercial Director, Rich Bannister, passed away peacefully with his family by his side. Rich had fought a five month battle against cancer which he unfortunately couldn't beat. He was 30 years old.
Since then, I’ve been inundated with messages of condolence from all over the world. Many of these people only met Rich briefly but all have the same opinion he was “such a nice guy” and “so good at his job”. I think those two things sum him up perfectly but with so many people getting in contact I feel like it’s only right to tell you a little bit more about him.
I first met Rich a few years ago when I went for a beer with Sam Jones from Tunafish Media. We instantly hit it off and after that we’d meet regularly for a beer or breakfast, usually in The Koffee Pot on Oldham Street. We used to talk about many things but business and football seemed to be the main topics of discussion.
Over one of these breakfasts, I was telling him of my troubles. The jist of it was that Degree 53 was excellent at creating new products and delivering them but I couldn’t seem to get the commercial part of the business right. As a former developer, I struggled managing sales people, I hadn’t got the marketing strategy right and we didn’t do any formal form of account management. Throughout this conversation, Rich had quite subtly pointed out that these were all the things he did and by the time I’d finished talking I was joking that maybe he should come and manage it all for me. Rich, the salesman, closed me quickly and said, “ok so let’s go away and come up with some ideas and I’ll come and see you in a couple of days time”.
Before meeting Rich again, I gave Sam a call to find out if he thought Rich would be right for me. Sam then told me that he was actually working on trying to bring Rich into Tunafish. Awkward but it showed me Rich was sought after. Rich, Sam and I joked that this was like United and City battling it out in the transfer market to sign a new star striker. I was United obviously but Rich preferred to think I was more like his beloved Arsenal.
After a few more chats with Rich, we agreed that him coming in as Degree 53’s Commercial Director would be the right thing to do. The only sticking point was I didn’t know if I could afford him. Rich’s answer to this was to make most of what he would earn performance based because he “backed himself”. Rich always backed himself.
Not long after Rich joined everything fell into place. Everything he came in to do he did. Rich brought in bigger deals than we ever had done, in fact our biggest deal today is treble the size of our biggest deal before he came in. He helped us get our marketing strategy right and off the back of that today we’re well known and are working all over the world in the online gambling industry. He set up an accounts team which has had a positive impact on both our clients and Degree 53. I went from the commercial part of the business being my biggest worry to barely having to think about it. It was what Rich did.
Not having to worry about this was a contributing factor in giving me the ability to set up a new division in the company earlier on in the year. This has so far been very successful and I can't help but think what a tragedy it is that so many people are working at Degree 53 today because of Rich and they'll never be fortunate enough to meet him.
Rich and I had a great friendship. Rich had an amazing sense of humour. We had great banter and used to make each other laugh every time we spoke. Sometimes I’d find myself just thinking of ways of getting one over on him. I’d joke with him that he was one of those annoying people who was good at everything and everybody liked but it was true.
Earlier on this year we started a company wide training programme. We first started with the senior management team. In our first session, Madeleine, who was running the programme asked us all to work round the table and tell us what we think we’ve done best at Degree 53. I went first and my answer was “hiring Rich”. When it got around to Rich he answered, “what Andy said about five minutes ago”. It had us all in stitches. When it was just the two of us later on I told him I meant it and told him he was like my Eric Cantona. Everything just came together when he arrived. I’m not sure if he liked that or not.
Rich really was good at pretty much everything. I say pretty much because the only thing he wasn’t good at was writing. We all had to spend time proof reading his documents and he would answer questions over e-mail, text, etc. with “Yer” which used to wind me up massively and I’d have to correct him every time. In the end, I think he just did it to annoy me. I’m really going to miss this.
Rich never looked stressed and never seemed to be too busy. I’d always see him playing FIFA in the office with Warren and I’d walk past and say, “haven’t you got something to sell?”. He’d always have something witty to say back.
At the start of April, a few of us took a client who was over in the UK with us to karaoke in Chinatown. It’s a running joke in the office about my love for karaoke and what a terrible singer I am. I’d never seen Rich do it before but when he did you guessed it, he was good and had a good voice. I remember saying “is there nothing you’re not good at?”. A week later he was diagnosed with cancer.
Thinking about it the only thing I can remember that annoyed Rich was when he thought someone in the office was making it harder for him to sell. He loved to sell. A little as a couple of months ago, whilst he was having chemo, he rang me up to rant about some issues with a prospected sale he had been working on before he left. At that time, all that he seemed to care about was the sale. After the call, we made the changes he suggested and won the work. It’s testament to Rich and his ability as a salesman that during the five months he was off he earned just as much commission, sometimes even more, than he did when he was in the office.
I went to see Rich on Friday evening. He was in St Ann’s Hospice with Gemma who he’d married at home the previous evening. During the conversation, I told him that we had talked to St Ann’s about their website. Gemma asked Rich if he had pitched for it and he replied, “no, I’d have won it”.
After I said goodbye and was leaving the room he called back to me, “tell Warren he’s still shit at FIFA”. This was Rich, funny to the last.
I've been asked if there's anywhere to make a donation on behalf of Rich so we've set up a Just Giving page to donate to St Ann's Hospice. Thanks in advance.