Felicity Glover sits down for coffee with Ian Dench, the new chief executive of Ooredoo, and discovers a seasoned expat with an extensive depth of experience in the global telcos sector.
It’s just before 11am on a recent Sunday and I’m waiting in a café at Muscat Grand Mall to meet Ian Dench, the new chief executive of Ooredoo. I’m a little early but that gives me time to gather my thoughts and prepare for our interview.
Ian is right on time – he is friendly and appears relaxed, despite having only moved to Muscat at the end of January to take up his leading role at the telecoms provider. But as an expat, it seems that Ian is taking it all in his stride.
Ian orders a coffee (a single shot latte) and I settle for a cup of tea, and it’s pretty much straight down to business.
Originally from Essex in the UK, Ian started out in the telecommunications industry at a very young age – 16 years, as a matter of fact, when he joined British Telecom (BT, but is now known as O2) as an apprentice engineer.
“I took an unusual route that I don’t think is available to many people now, so I joined BT at the age of 16,” says Ian. “I was an apprentice engineer and back then, you spent a full three years of vocational training – on-the-job training, going off to technical college then back onto the job and so on.
“And that was really exciting because you are driving a van, fitting phones, going down manholes, jointing cables, going up poles; you are working in the exchanges, working in the field and learning the business from the ground up.”
Ian’s career took a different direction when he fell into the commercial side of the business at BT by “chance” – and it seems that he’s never looked back, climbing the corporate ladder with the help of BT, which supported him through his studies. First, he did a Chartered Institute of Marketing certificate and diploma and then studied for his Masters at the City University Business School (now called CASS) in London.
“It is pretty invaluable starting in engineering then moving through commercial,” Ian says. “And BT, like a lot of big organisations, particularly then, was very supportive. So they put me through educational all the way through to my Masters.”
After a three-year stint in Singapore, where he was working in a business development role for a BT subsidiary, Ian had what he calls a “fortuitous” meeting with a former colleague that eventually led him to take up a job with Batelco in Bahrain, where he stayed for three-and-a-half years.
“They were doing this preparatory work for competition. I came and explained all about … this exciting world of services and data services etc, so I met the team in Bahrain and shortly after, the CEO of Batelco said: ‘Have you thought about coming and working in the region?’
“So that’s how I made the transition [to this region]. A little bit of luck, a fortuitous meeting and timing, of course.”
In 2006, Ian joined Ooredoo in Qatar, which was known as QTel back then.
“For the last 13 to 14 years, I’ve worked in the GCC so I’ve been in Qatar for the past 10 years, working with Ooredoo Qatar and for the Ooredoo Group for the past year.”
I ask Ian about the future of the telecoms sector in Oman and where he sees it heading. His answer is unequivocal: data experience leadership.
Before you wonder what that’s about, Ian explains: “The thing that is really driving our customers today is their smartphone – whether you are a consumer or a business and the digitisation of all services with apps – banking, food delivery, insurance … you name it – everything is moving onto the phone.
“If you are consumer, you are consuming the services. If you are a business, you are trying to digitise your services and get your app onto your customer’s device. So that is where we are trying to uniquely position ourselves, with data experience leadership for consumers, making sure they have the best data experience that we can possibly give.”
However, he says that the sector’s current focus is on the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority’s invitation for operators to apply for the Sultanate’s third mobile licence, which was announced in November last year.
“That is something that we are preparing for. It’s a good opportunity for a company like Ooredoo Oman to revisit its products, services, its customer service – all of the things that we’ve developed over recent years.
“The other thing I think will be a big part of our focus is growing fixed communications for the home. We partner with OBC [Oman Broadband Company] but we see continued growth and good opportunities for fixed services.
“People will continue to have a thirst for data and the growth keeps going. That’s not going to stop any time soon and, of course, with the use of data comes greater and greater expectations for a service and coverage.
“So, of course, we are going to keep on investing in expanding our coverage and capacity to make sure we have that great data experience leadership we want to establish.”
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