Which telco group will be most successful by 2020?

Senior execs in the industry lament conservatism among boards and shareholders
John Curtis-Oliver, partner at Boyden
John Curtis-Oliver, partner at Boyden

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Etisalat and MTN seem to lead the way, (albeit the margin of their lead over Ooredoo is not significant), in terms of the predicted success of major telco groups of the MEA region by 2020, according to a survey of senior executives from the telco sector by John Curtis-Oliver, partner at Boyden, an executive search organisation. In response to the question “Which of the major MEA region originated telco groups will emerge as the most modern / successful / globally respected by 2020?”, respondents had the option to select more than one. 

According to John, those voting for MTN felt that, as it is not an incumbent, it may be less bound by political constraints than others and thus relatively more free to grow its business as it sees fit.  Etisalat voters pointed to a secure revenue base from the home operations, a strong financial position and the chance to drive innovation initially in a home market with a wealthy and technology hungry customer base, willing to adapt to new innovations.  John adds: "I was surprised that STC did not garner more support.  STC appears ready to lead rather than react to technological advancements.  It will not get everything right but with an enviable financial foundation and a desire to drive innovation, it could be the one to watch."

The most interesting result was the 22.9% of respondents who chose the response ‘N/A - all of the above will become more localised in their approach and new players will come in.’ Rupesh Sharma, CFO of Ooredoo Kuwait, noted that “operators are too focused on protecting existing revenues and not investing heavily enough in creating new revenue streams.”  He, amongst others, felt that this may open the door to new entrants in the near future.  These new entrants need not be licensed operators in the traditional sense. 

Other respondents, who preferred to remain anonymous, lamented conservatism amongst boards and shareholders.  The accusation leveled against them was that they were too focused on short term dividends and quarterly KPIs and were not prepared to build for the future.  This conservatism and desire to cling to the past, it would appear, impacts CEO behaviour.  There is a sense of just trying to get through the next board meeting with an inevitable survivalist mentality.  

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