Talking your way to the top

Christina Corbett catches up with Etisalat CEO Mohammad Al Qamzi, and asks how the company plans to stay ahead of the competition.

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By  Christina Corbett Published  September 13, 2007

We are just an operator," Etisalat CEO Mohammad Al Qamzi says. "We act like anybody else. We do our best," he adds simply. This must be the understatement of the year for the dominant UAE telecoms company and one of the top five GCC telecoms giants. There is no denying that Etisalat is an operator that spares no expense when it comes to battling with the competition and impressing its customers. Analysts have described the company as ‘aggressive,' a word that Al Qamzi also uses.

In a domestic market where mobile phone penetration has passed well beyond saturation point, the relentless struggle to maintain customer loyalty is never-ending.

Etisalat is an operator that spares no expense when it comes to battling with the competition.

An increasingly active regulatory body for the UAE's telecoms industry, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), is also making its presence felt. With the TRA planning to introduce more balanced competition in the UAE market, Etisalat cannot afford to rest on the results of its achievements so far.

Arabian Business's interview with Al Qamzi takes place in a makeshift room dominated by white sofas and a large, flat television screen. It is part of the Etisalat stand at Gitex, Dubai's annual information technology trade fair. A steady flow of people pour through the doors downstairs. The exhibition is heaving with humanity. Suspended above the chaos of Gitex the room is an oasis of calm, but even here the frenetic energy of the show downstairs permeates. During the interview booming music shakes the thin walls of the room.

It is only a fragile cocoon that separates us from the competition down below after all. The persistent ringing of Al Qamzi's mobile phone is another reminder. Yet, throughout it all, Al Qamzi remains unperturbed. Articulating a philosophy that appears to be at odds with the frantic rivalry in the telecoms industry across the globe, he tells Arabian Business: "we don't worry about where we will be. We don't worry about others. But we know where we are going."

His undisguised confidence is underpinned by Etisalat's financial results for the first half of 2007. These tell their own story of the company's growth to date. Etisalat's consolidated profit for the first half of the year was recorded at nearly US$3bn, and this marks an increase of a little over US$600m, or about 30% increase over 2006 figures.

"Our financial results for the last six months show where we are actually in the market," says Al Qamzi. He is confident that they prove Etisalat's senior management doesn't have "to worry about things" too much. Especially the competition snapping at its heels in the domestic market in the shape of du, and in the wider regional market in the form of Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC).

Yet with the TRA's recent announcements of planned new initiatives to encourage more balanced competition in the UAE's telecoms sector, including sharing infrastructure for TV and internet services between the UAE's two telecoms providers, how long can Etisalat maintain such a relaxed approach to the competition? Al Qamzi's response is calm.

"We are already working outside the UAE competing with a bigger market than the UAE. We are very successful in Saudi Arabia, we are doing very well in Egypt. Even here at home Etisalat's growth is still very high."

Closer enquiries about MTC fail to ruffle his demeanour. Some see the Kuwaiti-based company, with its strategic association with international heavyweight Vodafone, as a significant threat to Etisalat's regional expansion. MTC's profits and sales have been among the best performing in the global telecoms sector.

A leading mobile operator in six countries in the Middle East and active in a further 14 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, the group doubled sales in 2006 reaching a value of US$4.2bn.

3621 days ago
Gopalakrishnan Naganathan

the telecom giant ETISALAT in GCC should go and learn how to match competition in a country like India. It can then deal with any competition. 
The UAE volume will justify such aggressive marketing. It is another matter if ETISALAT wants to remain in a market such as GCC where there is only "namesake" competition effectively.

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