STC International’s ambition is to create value in every market where it operates rather than engage in basic competition
CEO – International Operations
Interview by Khalid Athar
Ghassan Hasbani is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Operations of Saudi Telecom Company (STC).
His responsibilities are primarily focused on supporting the group in creating value across the global community of partners and operating companies. The role includes the management of synergy creation activities, post merger integration, market monitoring, legal and strategic governance of board and executive management relationships across the group companies in addition to manging mergers and acquisitions activities.
Mr. Hasbani is the Chairman of the Board of Axis in Indonesia, and a board member in Maxis Communications Berhard in Malaysia, Turk Telecom, Viva Bahrain and Kuwait.
He joined STC from the global management consulting firm Booz & Company, where he led the firm’s Middle East Communications and Technology practice. Mr. Hasbani has more than 17 years of experience in the telecom industry in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Mr. Hasbani has also worked with leading organizations in the telecommunica-tion and technology industries, including Nortel Networks and Cable & Wireless and spent the past ten years operating within the Middle East Region. In addition to the Middle East, his global experience includes markets such as Europe, South East Asia, Africa and Latin America.
His experience covers all aspects of the telecommunications industry including investment strategies, mergers and acquisitions, post merger integration, marketing, product and service development, organizational restructuring and governance, technology plans, retail and distribution, channel strategy and management, customer care, business development and CFO and CEO agendas.
Mr. Hasbani is also a chartered engineer and a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in the U.K. He holds an MBA and a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering with first class honors from the U.K.
As globalization reaches a whole new level in an era of future technologies and global transformation, STC International keeps up with the pace, making its mark on many countries around the globe. The level of its global presence today, makes STC one of the biggest and most important players in the telecommunications world. Mr. Ghassan Hasbani, is the man leading international operators of STC towards having a wide, synergetic portfolio, availing every little opportunity for growth. Teletimes International very recently got the chance to exclusively interview Ghassan Hasbani in his office in Riyadh. The transcript of the interview is given following for the interest of our readers.
Khalid Athar – Could you please give us some details on the current situation of STC’s international operations?
Ghassan Hasbani – STC has now a well developed international operations arm. This is a radical shift from the pure investment mindset that we had at the time of our initial expansion to an operational mindset with deep involvement in the strategies of our international subsidiaries and sister companies. STC has now a complete operating model to manage its international operations, covering performance management, governance processes, talent management and the synergy programs.
In terms of performance, today we are gaining the benefits of structuring our portfolio in a way that provides us with immediate high revenues as well as high growth from our smaller operations
Our diverse portfolio contains well-established revenue generating operations such as Turk Telekom in Turkey and Maxis in Malaysia. In addition, companies such as Axis (Indonesia), Aircel (India), Viva Bahrain and Viva Kuwait are not as big in terms of revenues, however, they are forecasted to grow at much higher rates.
International revenues grew by 15% YoY and nearly all companies increased their market shares with both AXIS and VIVA Bahrain almost doubling their revenues.
KA – Have the recent political uprising in North Africa and other mid-east countries affected STC’s operations? If so, how much time would be required for complete recovery?
GH – Bahrain is the only country among our international markets to experience some uprising. Viva Bahrain continues to operate without any problems on the commercial front. Our only concern was the safety of our employees so we made sure that contingency phases were in place, but thank God we did not have to use them.
KA – What challenges are being faced by the international sector of STC? How do you plan to address those challenges?
GH – Each market has its own challenges. In markets with well-established presence, the challenge is to defend our leading position. Namely, we aim at maintaining and defending our dominant position in the Turkish fixed line market and Malaysia’s mobile market. This requires that we constantly reinvent the business and remain sharply focused on delivering best customer value and experience.
In markets where we are late entrants, the challenge is to bring novelty to the market. Our brands in these markets are designed to be fresh and young to position ourselves as innovative players. On the other hand we recognize that uncertainty comes along with growth and high prospect markets and so we try to actively manage the portfolio and apply tight governance. This is also part of the transition from stage 1 investment group to a company actively managing a portfolio and setting strategies for its subsidiaries.
KA – Do you have any plans for further expansion in the near future?
GH – We are hopeful we can secure the 3rd mobile license in Syria, we are also heavily investing today to provide a unique experience to our customers across several areas such as new services, sales and customer care. We will aggressively move into providing a differentiated and integrated broadband service proposition unparalleled in the region along with the innovative value-added services demanded by customers.
STC will keep on scanning inorganic growth opportunities that would fit within our portfolio of companies. Our aim is to ensure that our portfolio is synergetic and would provide customers a meaningful international service.
KA- Please talk about the level of competition STC is facing in international markets?
GH – From the beginning we recognized that competition will be fierce in some of the markets we entered, but we always were and still are confident that we can leverage the experience and the knowledge we gained in KSA to achieve success in the different foreign markets we entered. Viva Kuwait and Bahrain for example have already gained high and competitive market shares.
KA – How do you see the future of the international operations of STC?
GH – STC International has big ambitions to contribute to the global transformation in telecom. The global presence gives STC the scale and clout to play this role. STC can now be a catalyst for opening up the emerging markets to investments and innovation in telecom. Our presence in the most prominent emerging economies in the Middle East, Africa as in South East Asia gives STC the power to make a deep change on a multinational scale.
STC International’s ambition is to create value in every market where it operates rather than engage in basic competition. With our current international portfolio, STC has plenty of opportunities to achieve this, namely through Synergies between OpCo’s in different markets to best utilize every resource we have, Knowledge Sharing to cross fertilize ideas across multiple markets and opportunities for our people to develop world class expertise by exposure to different international markets.
KA – What is STC’s status regarding CSR when it comes to the countries it is operating in besides Saudi?
GH – In our view, the telecommunication industry can contribute to the economic development in countries and so for us CSR goes well beyond social activities. By having indefinite term investments and the hiring of local talents and above all bringing high quality telecom services to all, we can fulfill our role in the economic development process.
We are also active in supporting the local communities where we dedicate a portion of our revenues to supporting social responsibilities causes.
KA – What are your comments on TELETIMES International?
GH – I am impressed by the breadth of coverage of
TELETIMES, the quality of the material has certainly made it one of the key reference publications in the industry. TELETIMES’ unique tri-regional footprint matches what we believe is the optimal economic zone for telecom. Keep up the good work!