Ben Verwaayen took over as chief executive of BT Group Plc. in February 2002. The 55–year-old Dutch-born executive has since led a transformation of the UK telecom major by moving the focus of its business to enterprise customers worldwide.
In an exclusive conversation with Mint in Bangalore, the first stop in a three-city tour of India, he reiterated the group’s focus on corporate customers and said they would not enter the consumer and wireless space in India. Edited excerpts:
Do you think BT missed the bus by exiting the mobile telephony business in India with the sale of BT’s stake in Bharti Cellular Ltd in 2001?
In a way we did miss the telephony bus, but what does “miss out” mean? You could look back in the rear-view mirror and say in hindsight what we could have done. You know what? In hindsight, we would all be millionaires, because it is so easy to have hindsight.
When I came to BT five-and-a-half years ago, we had two options: we could desperately try to go back to a space for yesterday or we could be radical in the space of tomorrow and that’s what we have chosen. I found a company that needed one thing—focus. Getting innovation, getting on the street again and making things that we would really do well.
I think if you look back in 2007, we have done that. We have created a successful space, now we have to grow faster and innovate further.
We recently made a phenomenal next step in our transformation process, globally.
We announced four weeks ago that we would play end-to-end, in terms of designing the communication networks of our enterprise customers and also managing them.
If you look at where I think we will drive the company, it will be as a part of the ecosystem of other companies. The brand I like very much is Intel, which says Intel Inside, and that’s what I think you will see BT do.
We are going to be more productive, more global and more focused on what we do best. I believe global sourcing is the way forward.
What you want is the flexibility to do what is best for your customers.
We have signed over $50 billion worth of long term contracts over the last three years; most of them are with Fortune 2000 companies.
Will BT offer mobile telephony in India?
There is no possibility of us joining the mobile telephony bandwagon in India.
First of all, this is a market set and there are a lot of players here with scale and they are doing pretty well.
Our focus is different: we enable our corporate customers to remain mobile in all environments. We are not in the consumer and wireless space. UK and Ireland are the only markets worldwide where we offer consumer services.
Today, if you look at where we are as a company, we have chosen to focus on enterprise customers globally. Globalization is going to happen and we are going to be there at all corners of the world.
It’s not just about saying hello or sending a fax. It’s about real-time collaboration, which means you have to integrate capabilities and capacities.
What is the role that you see for BT’s Indian operations in the company’s global transformation?
India is a remarkable story. It is amazing to see. For example, 15 years ago, when you said India, the image was elephants and poverty. Today, when you say India, you say high-tech and globalization
When you think about it, it’s only a handful of countries and people who have done that. The US is proud of Bill Gates, but you guys have five Bill Gates. It’s an amazing story and it is a story that only got started.
Over the last couple of years we have invested over $100 million in Asia. The acquisition of i2i, a company that provides global managed-networks services, which was completed this month, is an important part of the India plan. In the past, we had a few limiting factors, now that we have acquired the necessary licences, I am bullish about our prospects in India.
What we provide is a communication and capability layer. We want to be the No. 1 player worldwide in this game and India is an integral part of that. Now, we have put resource in India; we are building our MPLS (multi protocol label switching) network.
If I look at how many people work for BT in India every single day of the week, then we have almost 20,000 people, and that’s a serious part of what we do and I think that will expand.
India is often cast as a villain in the debate on globalization of services; specifically for the cost advantage it brings to the table. What is your view on this?
This is a phenomenal story. It’s like the steam machine; when the steam machine was invented, it was important because you didn’t need physical muscle.
Today, you do not need physical proximity to have an integral process; India is at the centre of globalization with its capability to collaborate. Talent has no passports and India is blessed to have so many talented individuals. In the past they could not get into the game. Now they can.
What do you see BT’s revenues in India growing to, as a result of these initiatives?
Achieving $250 million in revenues by 2009 will only call for a glass of water, not a glass of champagne to celebrate.