|A commitment beyond telecommunication|
Osman Sultan is Chief Executive Officer of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company PJSC (du). His vision of creating a telecommunications company that would transform the UAE’s industry monopoly, while adhering to its values and delivering on its promise, has manifested to form one of the region’s most vibrant success stories.
Under his guidance, du’s starting team has expanded to a corporate family of more than 2000 colleagues, with a network of du shops and 5000 affiliated retailers across the UAE.
Recognized as one of the 30 most influential people in the GCC and one of the most powerful executives in the telecom industry, he has been invited to address several conferences on Telecommunications, Digital World, IPTV and Internet in the Middle East and beyond. He has also mentored a generation of key telecom sector players, who have gone on to occupy leadership roles across the world.
Adding life to life for the citizens of the UAE is the core objective of du. Besides being a telecommunication company, du’s commitment to the country goes beyond offering communication services. In an exclusive interview with Capital Business, Osman Sultan, CEO, du shares stages of his successful journey and talks about du’s contribution towards providing a positive environment for both locals and expats in the UAE.
Thriving to be different, you achieved your objectives speedily. Could you please share with us the phases of your journey?
I started my professional career in 1983 with the France Telecom Group, one of the largest telecom groups, and evolved into many executive positions. Most of those roles were focused on market interfacing positions, sales, marketing and customer support.
In the mid-nineties, I was in charge of ensuring a merge with a company in the US specialized in the online information business, and got appointed president of that company there. Thus, I have always been working in the telecom industry, at the frontier of the standard telecommunication service.
In 1997, I moved to the mobile sector to look at opportunities in the Middle East. I was responsible of the business development in this region. After winning a bid to acquire a license for a company in Egypt, the shareholder appointed me as CEO and President of the company in this country. Hence, I had the opportunity to become Founder CEO of the Egyptian Company for Mobile Services that operates under the name of MobiNil. That was the beginning of the story in this part of the world.
I stayed in Egypt for almost 7 years. In 2005, the founders of du contacted me for the Founder CEO of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company position, known better with the brand “du,” which was created in 2006. Since that time, we have been growing du and the company has been doing great. We have exceeded the expectations of many people, if not everyone. We are currently moving to a new stage, where the company has reached more maturity. However, we have to figure out what would the next phase be for the company evolution.
Could you elaborate more on this new phase?
The new phase has actually started a few years ago. It is related to moving from the phase which focuses on volume, and increasing the market share as well as the number of new customers, into a phase that focuses on the value that we create for our shareholders and customers. This is achievable by providing an entire experience to our customers, and not just a phone line. We can state that today, through the telecommunication means, we are achieving a great deal in our day-to-day life. It is not only about getting and receiving calls or sending SMS. Everything around us is being transformed through the mobility / internet combination that is becoming very powerful. Social media is on top of this at this time. It is affecting everything that we do. Therefore, this is the new phase, where du can project itself at the heart of the UAE’s environment especially that Dubai is transforming into a smart city. Thus, it is all related to the role that we will play and our position at the heart of this entire transformation.
Among all du services, which one has gained great momentum since your inception in 2006?
“Billing by the second” has and continues to be a big signature among our services. It offers real value for money for prepaid customers. Moreover, the flexibility of recharging prepaid lines is as well a very strong service. We have also a great reputation in our home services, although they aren’t available in the entire country. Additionally, we offer very innovative enterprise services for business communities. We are known as a very innovative brand that keeps on bringing new solutions. Some people who live in Europe and very advanced cities attested to me that what du is very sophisticated in terms of interaction and flexibility. I believe we have some unique signatures on all fronts.
How do you succeed in bringing innovative services to the country persistently?
This is mainly associated to understanding and developing what our customers want. Whether innovative or not, we always strive to bring new services and new ways of doing things. We are fortunate that we are in a world of continuous transformation. The main issue is not technology. Technology only enables new capabilities. These new capabilities endure customers’ new behaviors. Therefore, what we need is to look and listen to what our customers are telling us, and ask them more frequently about their opinion and try to anticipate their needs. I don’t think there is a recipe to apply. You have to look around you and figure out what is needed.
We know that du was in the process of refinancing some of its existing debt. Could you please give us more details about that?
We actually refinanced some of our debts. We have borrowed $1.17bn to refinance our existing debts and secure additional financing.
That included a 720 million US dollar package deal. We had to pay AED 3 billion bullet payment. Thus, we used the very favorable conditions. We borrowed and refinanced what we had to pay and restructured our debt in the company.
How do you empower the local community through your CSR initiatives?
CSR is part of our DNA. We started our CSR activities before du was launched as a brand. The first event we organized in early 2006 - although we weren’t an official company yet - was a CSR gathering related to thalassemia. Later on that year, before launching our services and having a corporate TV commercials, our brand appeared in a CSR activity as we sponsored the “Freej” animation, an Emirati three-dimensional, computer animated television series. We followed the same policy for three years.
These initiatives are in harmony with our commitment to encourage creative talents of UAE nationals. We believe that we are part of the Emirati society fabric and implicated in the social, educational, cultural, heritage and musical life of this community. We are undertaking many initiatives in this area. We currently have the strongest presence in the music front within the UAE through “du Live” and all the concerts we are organizing whether English, Indian, Filipino as well as Arabic and Emirati. This is also highlighted by our bonding with Hussein Al Jasmi, one of the most prominent Emirati artists.
We believe that our employees can positively impact local communities. Therefore, we encourage them to participate in the community work. This illustrates our emotional bond with the society as we are empowering the UAE community by investing optimal resources and expertise into education by collaborating with Zayed Univerity, INSEAD, the American University of Sharjah, the American University of Dubai and many other important educational and social institutions.
What is your opinion about Dubai transforming into a Smart City?
A smart city is a whole ecosystem. It is not only about some applications. Thus, we need to look at how this ecosystem works. People hear about smart homes, smart buildings, smart governments, so what does it really mean? Ultimately, it means that everything or most of the things that we do in our daily life whether at home, in the office or while travelling from a place to another will become more convenient and easier to do. Therefore, everything related to buying something, looking at something, influencing things around us or knowing what is going on will be simpler to do - this is from a citizen point of view. However, we need to know how it really works.
Today, we have telecommunication needs and we also have a layer of infrastructure. Imagine you have sensors on that layer capable of capturing a whole set of data. You will have sensors everywhere, in your car, home, building, workplace, and land post… Those sensors can capture a variety of information. You would only collect the data and ensure that you have the right governance over this information to protect the individual’s privacy and ensure who –and how- is getting access to the information.
This information will help building many smart applications, and we haven’t started imagining yet what kind of application the governmental entities like RTA, DEWA and even du or the other telecom operator will come out with. However, most importantly, a lot of young talented entrepreneurs will be able to access all that and invent applications in different sectors. Today, we have many smart applications in Dubai related to travelling, entering the country, moving from a place to another. All those are very smart applications. However, the smart city will be making the entire city and all those things interact together. This is then the ecosystem for the smart city, which will help us interact in a much easier way. It will allow us to gain time as well as efficiency and money especially for entities that are providing these services.
In your opinion, what is the impact of the new digital space on the world today?
The impact is huge, especially on the young generation. Social media and videos are everywhere. This is actually impacting everyone on all levels; whether individuals, groups, companies governments, cities or nations.
To illustrate this idea, we can refer to major changes in the political picture across the Arab world over the last three years. We all know the impact of these new ways of communicating. Everyone is becoming a broadcaster, movie maker or publisher. Everyone is being able to attract a great audience, and this is fundamentally changing the civilization model.
What do you foresee for this sector and how do you see the community adapting to the continuous improvements?
The industry will be growing significantly in terms of usage, as people will be using it more and more. However, it is still undefined how this is going to translate into revenues and distribution revenues among different players; since when you have new behaviors, you will normally have new industrial players. We all know that major global internet players in this arena like Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp are companies that have years of existence. They are driving usage, although they aren’t necessarily getting most of the revenues, -which is normal. Today, most of the investments - if not all of them- are made by the traditional telecom players. Thus, there is a readjustment of the equation between investment and revenues.
How do you plan to grow your business further and satisfy your customers?
There is no magical recipe for satisfying our customers. It is all about hard and methodological work as well as caring about what they need and improving it every day.
We intend to grow on the front of mobile, since the usage is increasing. We will be progressively expanding the value proposition that we have today in the home broadband as well as the office broadband and TV across the entire UAE.
These are mainly the two areas of development. One major drive of growth is the tremendous macroeconomic momentum that the country is witnessing, which is as well excellent for us. We are part of this country and we are only present in the UAE. Therefore, we are dedicated to this country and intending to service the UAE in the best way possible with the very best of our capabilities.
*By Jenny Kassis