Qtel proving true to its word

Qtel boss Nasser Marafih reckons the company will hit the top-20 global telecoms list by 2020.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  March 8, 2007

On the sidelines of the Asian Games held in Doha last December, Qtel CEO Nasser Marafih told CommsMEA that his company was finally ready to pursue a dedicated international expansion programme that would propel it to a top-20 global telecoms provider by 2020.

Qtel's move to acquire a 51% stake in Kuwait's Wataniya Telecom for US$3.7 billion follows the Qatar operator's US$635 million foray into Singapore through the formation of a strategic alliance with Singapore Technologies Telemedia (ST Telemedia). That deal also saw Qtel acquire a 25% stake in ST Telemedia's Asia Mobile Holdings. Last year Marafih also emphasised that Qtel's geographic area of interest extended to the Middle East and Africa, as well as markets that surrounded the region, including Asia.

Wataniya's presence in attractive telecoms markets such as Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, makes it an attractive takeover target, and given the fact that all of Wataniya's stakes are in going concerns, Qtel is set to assume a healthy cashflow position the first day the takeover becomes binding.

For 2006 Wataniya recorded a consolidated net profit of KD73.2 million (US$252 million), up 39% year on year, and is looking to continue driving its bottom-line growth in the years to come, in part through expansion in its own right. A US$1 billion syndicated loan agreement signed last month is set to bolster the operator's war chest and offer it the flexibility to seize investment opportunities as they arise.

Questions that remain to be answered at this point include whether the name Wataniya will be superseded by a Qtel-driven name and brand identity. Management at Wataniya International, the holding company for Wataniya's investments outside of Kuwait have always maintained that their driving ambition was not to see the Wataniya brand necessarily adopted in all of the local markets in which it operates. So in countries such as Tunisia, Algeria and Saudi, Wataniya International is a shareholder in Tunisiana, Nedjma and Bravo, without the Wataniya brand itself being pushed in those markets.

An insider at Wataniya told CommsMEA that staff at the company are waiting to hear and see what the implications of the acquisition of the company by Qtel will be. I'm confident that sentiment is shared by senior management including Harri Koponen and Ahmad Haleem, respective CEOs of Wataniya Telecom and Wataniya International. It has been speculated that the two gentlemen, whose management styles are as different as their personalities, have been vying for wider influence in their respective roles and as such, have been less than close colleagues.

It is still to be seen whether Qtel will maintain two separate management structures for the Kuwaiti operation of Wataniya and for the international arm, and whether or not the new Qatari owner will show the same patience for the number of Wataniya Telecom senior management sourced from Finland - Koponen's home country.

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