Richard Daly doesn’t mention his favourite football team during the interview, which is just as well. Premier League team Queens Park Rangers are facing relegation, and have just been knocked out of the FA Cup.
But you wouldn’t know it talking to the man who has been at the helm of Vodafone Qatar since October 2011. Smart, sharp, and totally immersed in the local culture, Daly has wasted no time setting new and audacious goals for the company and the telecoms industry.
“There is no reason why this place shouldn’t have the best fibre-optic fixed line network in the world. We have the geography to do it, we have the money to do [it], certainly we have the will to do it,” he says.
The New Year saw Vodafone Qatar break the one-million-customer mark and register its first distributable profit since launching in 2009. Challenging the incumbent operator Qtel for its mobile customers has been no easy task but now Daly is upping the stakes. The firm won a fixed-line licence two years ago, and is now building its own standalone fixed-line network. This won’t be easy or cheap, but Daly is convinced the long-term outlook in fixed lines is a profitable one. So far the firm — in partnership with the Qatar National Broadband Network — has connected 250 customers in Barwa City and new customers in West Bay are expected to follow in April.
“2013 is going to be about competition in fixed line services... From a mobile perspective Qatar is really thriving now and the market is growing. In fixed lines, competition is just starting,” says Daly. The company is looking at converging mobile and fixed-line services, bringing it in line with Qatar’s ambitious plans to have 95 percent of its population able to access affordable 100 megabytes per second fibre-optic broadband by 2015.
But while Daly is rightly excited about the future, he has much to smile about when it comes to the recent past. The last twelve months saw spectacular growth and the rollout of new products, in particular post-paid services. Having one million customers on the books equates to a massive 55 percent chunk of the population. And that in turn means it has financials to boast about: Vodafone Qatar’s revenue for the nine months to December 2012 grew by 20 percent year-on-year (QR1.09bn) ($299.4m) resulting in the company achieving positive quarterly distributable profits for the first time in its history. The QR25m of distributable profits is a 56 percent rise over the same period last year. And with precisely 1,004,767 customers by 31 December, Daly is looking at a huge 26 percent growth in customers over the next preceding months.
“Having positive distributable profits has been a clear target for us and so achieving this milestone after only three years of operations is a great achievement for us all and should give our shareholders confidence that the business is moving in the right direction,” says Daly.
Equally impressive has been the way Daly has led the company under difficult circumstances. He got the top job after the sudden death of the hugely popular and respected Grahame Maher, who had launched the company from scratch and recruited most of the key staff. Maher was not an easy act to follow; he had won praise not only in-house but also from competitor Qtel about the way he had helped introduce competition into the country.
Getting the team to pick up the pieces and refocus — not to mention working under a new boss — was tough.“I think that was one of the hardest management challenges I ever had,” he says.
The wide-ranging view both inside and outside the company is that Daly has succeeded in this challenge, and he now moves on to another — immersing the company into the local culture, and localising the business. Vodafone Qatar has reached sixteen percent in terms of Qatarisation, but is hopeful that one in four of all its staff will be local nationals by the end of the next financial year.
“Localising the business was the toughest challenge. We know how to do telecommunications, but can you do telecommunications in Qatar? That’s the key thing,” says Daly, adding: “To be a successful business in Qatar you need to have Qatari workforce, it’s just not negotiable for me, you can’t expect an expat-run company to understand the complexity of any country and, in particular, of Qatar.”
It is, of course, not just a Qatari workforce, but a Qatari customer base, that Daly really has his sights on. When Vodafone Qatar was launched, nearly all of its customers were expats, but now the Qataris rank among the highest users of Vodafone post-paid products.
Its pre-paid mobile service is mainly used by foreign workers but by launching its post-paid billing service in June 2012, Vodafone Qatar instantly became more accessible to the Qataris. Pre-paid business is linked to population growth, while the post-paid service leads to greater market share growth. The new goal for Vodafone Qatar is to now reach 300,000 locals. That target will be helped by the firm’s plan to double its current number of retail outlets to 24.
Besides having a call centre in Egypt with Arabic-speaking operators, Daly has added a call centre in Qatar with Qatari operators — again making the service more appealing to locals. That move should help reassure Qatari clients, who will find call centre operatives who speak not only the same language but also the same dialect.
And the future looks increasingly bright — from this month, customers will be able to change their operator and still keep the same number. “The number is very important to people in Qatar, more than in other countries, so we think the number portability would be more significant here than in other markets. But the customer doesn’t move for number portability because he chooses an operator over the other for its services” says Daly.
Plenty of big challenges lie ahead, but Daly appears more than capable of meeting them if his track record is anything to go by. He began with Marks & Spencer aged sixteen, where he learned all about retail directly on the shop floor. He then moved on to BHS, a British high street department store, to hone his retail management skills, and finally joined Vodafone UK’s retail operation in 2000. He has served in many roles at Vodafone, most-recently as CEO of Vodafone Egypt (through 2009), and CEO of Vodafone Partner Markets (until September 2011).
When Vodafone Qatar first launched its IPO prospectus, long before Daly took the helm, the company predicted it would have approximately 1.6 million mobile customers and a mobile customer market share of more than 40 percent by 31 March 2018.
At the time, most observers thought the figures were over ambitious. Not any more. As Daly says: “My responsibility is to create value in the company to return value to our investors and shareholders. As we are moving in the next financial year, we expect to be making regular quarterly distributable profit.”
Few would bet against him.
Source: Arabian Business