Michael Ebeid brings challenger mindset to Telstra to take on global enterprise

“Those big global deals where we can provide full connectivity and connect multinationals up in every country that they’re in is an amazing opportunity,” Mr Ebeid said.

“What I want to do is be able to do that for a lot more of our Australian companies who are growing and setting up across Asia, or other parts of the world, who may not realise ‘hey you’ve got all your network in Australia with Telstra, let us help you grow your business internationally’. There’s lots of companies we can help do that.”

For Telstra, enterprise will play a key role in the make up of the telco’s turnaround plan, T22. Not that it wasn’t already important, but headwinds with regards to wholesale pricing on the National Broadband Network and intense consumer mobile competition make the enterprise business and its potential growth vitally important to Telstra’s ability to deliver earnings growth.

In the international space, Telstra doesn’t have the incumbent advantage it does in Australia. The brand is known by telcos, but it’s far from a household name.

Changing mindset

After a decade away from the commercial world, including nearly eight years running multicultural government-funded broadcaster SBS, Mr Ebeid believes he has the right skillset to lead a growth plan where Telstra is a small player nipping at the heels of larger behemoth rivals.

“One thing that I am already enjoying bringing to Telstra is a real challenger mindset, shifting our thinking from an incumbent mindset to a real challenger mindset. Indeed, in that international space, we are a very much the challenger and we need to think like a challenger. I think if we can bring that domestically, I think that will be a good thing,” Mr Ebeid said.

“One of Telstra’s well-kept secrets which I don’t think we talk about enough, is Telstra owns and operates the biggest subsea cable network across Asia Pacific. When you think about all the countries in Asia, Telstra is carrying right now around 40 per cent of the traffic of all of Asia on Telstra networks and cables. A lot of people don’t realise that.”

Mr Ebeid brings to Telstra a track record of both cultural and business change. His tenure at SBS saw the launch of its streaming service – SBS On Demand – in late 2011, plus three new channels; National Indigenous Television, the Food Network and SBS Viceland. In 2017 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to broadcast media and multicultural affairs.

He also took staff engagement from 40 per cent in 2010 before he started to more than 80 per cent. His departure was met with an outpouring of support and praise from SBS staff. But, Mr Ebeid said the time was right for him to leave SBS and a return to the commercial world was what he wanted.

A shift to telco was hardly a surprise. Mr Ebeid spent 10 years at Telstra’s rival Optus as director of commercial operations, taking on his now-employer’s dominance of the Australian market.

This time, Telstra is at a crossroads and that was part of the appeal to Mr Ebeid.

“Telstra for me is an iconic Australian brand which is going through a major transition, so being a part of that was pretty exciting. It was a good opportunity to be part of that leadership team. With the enterprise business, it’s one of the growing parts of Telstra and it’s got pretty high market share and pretty strong NPS (net promoter) scores in the B2B enterprise space.”

Mr Ebeid said growth in the local market in enterprise will come from companies taking up all types of services on top of connectivity, particularly as 5G becomes more than a pipedream.

“Things in media, for example, 5G will enable so many things that we can’t do, or are limited, today in terms of outside broadcast, 4K-connected cameras, news gathering, going live without satellite trucks and satellite dishes, all that sort of stuff,” he said.

“5G with its low latency, high speeds and lots of capacity means that you can do so much more without rolling out cables and infrastructure. It will be transformative for production costs in the media sector.”

Mr Ebeid said increased competition from a merged TPG Telecom and Vodafone Hutchison Australia, Optus and Vocus in the enterprise space was a good thing for Telstra.

“But you’ve got to remember that corporates today rely so heavily on their telco. I think increasingly companies are looking to see who has got the best networks, who has got the best reliability and resiliency in their network,” he said.

“And you really can’t look past Telstra on all of that, that’s one of our key strengths, which I think we’ve got to do a really good job in making sure our corporate customers know we’re investing more in our networks than probably all our competitors put together.”

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