MEET THE CEO: Du's Osman Sultan talks about the future - now

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MEET THE CEO: Dus Osman Sultan talks about the future - now
Du CEO Osman Sultan during his interaction with journalists at Khaleej Times' office on Wednesday.

Dubai - He talks about how his management style fit in perfectly and why disagreements aren't really a bad thing


Issac John

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Published: Thu 22 Jun 2017, 8:56 PM

Dissent or disagreement with the norm isn't a bad thing if you want to succeed, says Osman Sultan. Corporates, he adds, should anticipate changes and be prepared to embrace them. The founding chief executive officer of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du), the UAE's second telecom operator, also believes that CEOs must have the ability to think several steps ahead of the game.
"We are living in a fast-changing world. When the pace of change increases, it will be disruptive. It is the case with all of us today as fast-evolving technologies and innovations are redefining the way people live and do business. Being connected is a basic human right now," he said while speaking at the 'Meet the CEO' session held at Khaleej Times' office on Wednesday.
At a time when the world is getting interconnected fast, telecoms have to invent new ecosystems, says Sultan, who took his first corporate leadership role way back in 1998 as the founding CEO of Egypt's Mobinil.
Your story has to be credible for it to be incredible
He maintains that du's story and its culture are key contributors to its remarkable success. "While a CEO needs to be a storyteller, the story has to be consistent, and must reflect the values and the culture of the company even when it is narrated in different ways to different people - employees, clients or the media. It is also equally important how corporates can build the right culture that blends with the socio-economic fabric of the society, he argues.
In a digital age, new business models are transforming the way people do things and interact with each other. "Fast-evolving technologies, the Internet of Things and the digital space are becoming increasingly important in our life. Like any other telecom, du has to diversify its range of services constantly to find new revenue streams while keeping itself abreast of advances in technology."
Du, which was launched in 2006, is considered one of the most spectacular startup success stories. Against heavy odds and challenges posed by an established competitor, du managed to reach profitability in just two years of its operations. Its range of services include both mobile and fixed-line telephony, broadband connectivity, and IPTV services to people, homes, and businesses all over the UAE, in addition to carrier services, data hubs, Internet exchange facilities and satellite services for broadcasters.
Moving from unshared certainties to shared uncertainties
Sultan believes it is time telecom operators plan well in advance to stay ahead of their game. Sounding upbeat about the future of ICT, Sultan reminds that as the business world is moving from "unshared certainties to shared uncertainties", the ongoing challenge for du would be future-proofing against major disruptions.
And to thrive and stay ahead of the game, business leaders should have an open mind to conceive and receive out-of-the-box ideas, says Sultan, who believes that at the centre of all these should be "a passion for new ideas and a concern for the human well being and happiness."
In short, "it is all about making things easier, safer, and more efficient. ensuring a better quality of life and happier people", the CEO says.
On the future roadmap of the company, Sultan has a clear vision: to remain successful, telecoms have to go beyond connectivity services. And du is doing just that, Sultan points out.
Sultan says du would be looking beyond the role of providing connectivity to that of a connectivity plus smart facilitator in its overseas expansion strategy. "We want to move from telecom service to an ICT provider and venture into the enterprise space."
As one among the very few telecom startups that had moves into a converged services model, du launched many different services simultaneously. Sultan believes that in tandem with a growing digital revolution, this evolving service model has to encompass more home-based services, along with managed services for enterprises, including catering to digital trends such as machine-to-machine connectivity, a shift to cloud-based solutions, and the growing smart city space.
Going beyond pure connectivity to win in the future
With the UAE, pressing ahead with its mission of transforming itself into a smarter nation, du along with a group of different operators hopes to play a key role with the Dubai smart city project.
Sultan says du, which has been selected as an official partner for the Smart Dubai initiative, will be going beyond connectivity while positioning it as leader in this area. He believes that du will be playing a significant role the Smart City initiative by creating a platform that will further empower a digitally driven society. Mobile number portability, which allows consumers to switch operator without having to change their number, was not a game-changer as the impact has been negligible as only a small per cent of the market has decided to port over to a competing operator.
On sharing of fixed-line infrastructure, Sultan believes it remains very crucial for du as it currently has about 10 per cent of fixed-line coverage in the UAE. There has been progress and in several new developments, du is partnering with etisalat in laying the fixed-line infrastructure.
Accomplishing corporate vision by sharing it with stakeholders
On his management style, Sultan says that he makes things happen by sharing a vision, and convincing people that it was what is needed. "I do not accomplish things by authority nor by consensus."
He says that his leadership style worked perfectly well with du. The recipe for success is to have a disciplined approach across the value chain, driven by people with the right mindset to make it happen.
On 5G, he says the UAE, which has always been at the forefront of new advancements in telecommunication technology, is expecting the roll out sooner than anticipated earlier. With the launch of 5G, a whole new range of services can be expected in the telecom ecosystem.
EITC, the parent company of du, has launched Virgin Mobile services under the Virgin brand in a bid to stimulate prepaid revenues. The Virgin Mobile brand was introduced in the UK in 1999 and is in use in more than 10 countries including Australia, Canada, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
His vision: Put 'a mobile in the hands of everyone'
Osman Sultan is the founding chief executive of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, the UAE's second telecom operator popularly known as du.
He joined the company in January 2006 and in less than a decade of operations under his leadership, the telecommunications provider has reported annual revenues exceeding Dh12.5 billion ($3.4 billion) and claimed a market share of 47 per cent.
Sultan is considered one of the most experienced telecommunications executives in the region with a successful career spanning over 30 years across Europe, North America and the Middle East and North Africa region.
And while he spent a good part of his professional life in Europe and the United States, he pays high value to the Arab dimension.
Prior to joining du, Sultan was the founding CEO of another successful Middle Eastern operator: Egypt's Mobinil, which he set up in 1998. During his tenure, he achieved his vision of putting 'a mobile in the hands of everyone.'
Sultan - also a noted public speaker - has earned several industry accolades, including being selected as one of the 100 most powerful executives in the telecoms industry in the world on the GTB Power 100 List in 2010 and 2011.

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