Battle of Bahrain

Batelco is hard at work coming to terms with the increasingly deregulated Bahraini telecoms market. The appointment of Peter Kaliaropoulos, an executive with years of management experience in competitive telecoms markets as CEO emphasises the telco's determination to become a more dynamic player.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  September 1, 2005

|~|Peter-K---200.jpg|~|Kaliaropoulos has previously held positions at Telstra, BT, StarHub, Clear and SingTel Optus. |~|Peter Kaliaropoulos is a plain talking Australian, and is the type of executive who is rarely encountered in the industry in this part of the world. As such, he is likely to say things that some people are not quite ready to hear, though it is precisely this straight talking that may in fact turn out to be his greatest asset with respect to making Batelco a better competitor in a rapidly evolving market. Possessing expansive telecoms management experience in competitive markets spanning Asia Pacific, Europe and North America, the corporate personality Batelco appears to have imported to lead the company is one that is adept at maximising opportunities in cutthroat markets. And while Kaliaropoulos' experience has often involved working with competitors that are taking on the incumbent, he remains confident that his skill set will successfully transfer to the situation where he is safeguarding the interests of the incumbent in the face of such competitors. "Because we (Batelco) have been a monopoly for many years, and let's be frank, the competition we have had has predominantly been on the wireless front, what has happened as a monopoly is that we have tended to focus on the technology, Kaliaropoulos says. "When you don't have competition what happens is that you listen to every vendor in the marketplace. They are offering all these technologies and you say why not experiment, let me buy this technology, let me buy that technology and you forget that the only thing relevant to a customer is features, functionality, price and reliability," Kaliaropoulos adds. As such, Kaliaropoulos believes he has five key priorities in his new role, the first of which is to very quickly bring a much stronger focus on improving customer experiences. "Customer experience is not just about having the latest technology and the service being available, but a true customer experience to us is about responsiveness," Kaliaropoulos explains. "It is about a plan that includes better prices, it is about listening a lot more and changing the way we provide the services so that [our] people can ask the customers if they want to buy through a shop or through a call centre." Kaliaropoulos says his first priority, therefore, involves looking at the way Batelco conducts itself with customers, business and consumers, and to make sure the processes the telco has are customer aligned. He describes his next priority as being "fundamental," and this involves the maintenance of the company's market leadership through better technology, while also inspiring the telco's people and motivating them to face the strong competitive task ahead. "We want to energise the staff to feel good about the battles we are about to get in to," Kaliaropoulos says. "So if people continue to strive and are motivated to want to change people, they will deliver a better customer experience." However, the ambition to be a market leader does not extend to deploying new technology for technology's sake. Batelco has two 3G trials ongoing at the moment, but has no immediate plans to commercialise the service despite it's competitor's high-profile backing of the technology. "We believe the consumer demand for 3G is not here yet. When the demand is there, our network will be ready to support customers," Kaliaropoulos says. Kaliaropoulos’ five priorities at Batelco 1. To bring a much stronger focus on improving the customer experience. 2. Maintenance of the company’s market leadership. 3. Development of a corporate culture of passion for performance. 4. Understanding the details about the business. 5. Growth through the expansion of services and geographies. ||**|||~||~||~|Developing a "passion for performance" within Batelco is what Kaliaropoulos deems to be his third focus area, with cost leadership being a key element within this area. He sees the management of Batelco's cost-structure as looking beyond the quick-fix solution of cutting head-count, and instead looking right across every part of the business, including looking at Batelco's supply chain, and the way the telco buys and delivers products. Kaliaropoulos is also looking at delving into the actual details of the organisation in order to look at ways in which the company can get to market quicker, and this exercise is what he considers to be his fourth action area. The anticipated agility of the competitors, free from many of the legacy problems encountered by incumbents as a result of their legacy infrastructure is viewed as a real competitive threat. "So I know I am up against very fast moving competitors and I have got to make sure that my responsiveness overall in the organisation improves," Kaliaropoulos points out. The fifth priority is the one that is likely to create the most challenges given that so many of the circumstances fall outside of Batelco's control. Kaliaropoulos has identified expansion, in terms of both size and geography as being core areas that require further development. "I have got o find growth and I'll find growth in two areas, in what I call adjacent markets - which may be moving up the value chain, from just being a connectivity provider of fixed and wireless... But I also have to find growth in adjacent geographies." Kaliaropoulos recently returned from visiting Batelco's foreign investments in Jordan and Kuwait and was struck by the fact that in neither market, the management had ever seen the Batelco CEO. Batelco controls a data communications and ISP company in Jordan - Batelco Jordan - that is set to become the country's first unified operator and is set to offer international long distance and national fixed line calls in competition to Jordan Telecom. In Kuwait, Batelco is a partner in a joint venture company, Qualitynet, which provides data services to the business market, while in Egypt the Bahraini incumbent also has a small data presence. "Now I don't know why Batelco in the past has not been as aggressive as some of the other regional players [in investing in the region]. I really cannot answer that question because I have not been here, but from where I am today, I am looking forward to growing the business in new geographies, in new vertical markets, because our [domestic] geography is so limited, so I have got to crack other markets." Like most fixed line operators that also possess mobile networks, leveraging the benefits of both networks and moving towards the provision of converged services is another Batelco priority. Earlier this year the telco announced it was overhauling its legacy network infrastructure to facilitate the introduction of triple-play services. The telco has signed an agreement with Cisco Systems for the implementation of IP/MPLS infrastructure across the kingdom, and views IP as integral to its plans to offer broadband services that are independent of access devise. "Let's be clear, convergence is already taking place at the customer level today. We already offer the Batelco Mobile Office and this is one example of convergence we are offering today, Kaliaropoulos says. "Convergence as far as I am concerned is not about what the technology vendors or companies like us define it, it is how the customer defines it." ||**||

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