Azerbaijan was one of the most talked-about markets at last week’s 6th annual Eurasia Com event in Istanbul. Although Turkey is by far the region’s leader (with great talks of broadband opportunities and MVNO launches), and Uzbekistan is hailed as the next big thing, one of the markets that was most talked about was Azerbaijan. Within it, the company that drew my attention most was Bakcell, its 2nd mobile operator.
Bakcell was represented by Ineke Botter, its new CEO of two months, and seemingly the only female senior executive in the region’s telecom (although I’d welcome anyone to contradict me on this!). With a background in Greenfield operations, she was brought to the company to rethink its position and fulfil its stakeholders’ renewed ambitions.
After 15 years in the market and 1.5 million subscribers (according to my number-crunching colleagues at WCIS), Bakcell is still somewhat lagging behind Azercell, the mobile arm of incumbent fixed-line operator Azertel (3.6 million subscribers), and threatened with being caught up by relative newcomer Azerfon/NAR Mobile, already claiming 1.01 million subscribers after a launch in 2007. Furthermore, smaller alternative operators are trying to make a mark in the market, particularly with broadband services: CDMA player Catel, and new WiMAX ISP Delta Telecom (whose CTO Rahid Alekberli also spoke at the event). In these conditions, Bakcell has been suffering, according to Ms Botter, from an image of an old-fashioned company at a standstill in the market.
But under the impulse of new shareholders with “great ambitions and great expectations”, and a new management team at the helm of the company, Bakcell is gearing up to face the competition and make a strong impact in Azerbaijan’s telecom. The company is being reorganised along some key drivers to move towards a new image and stronger market position:
- A strong team to lead the change, with new executives coming from diverse backgrounds; one of them, CMO Steinn Naevdal, was at the event and is bringing experience from other emerging markets
- Building an efficient network with new ideas to facilitate the rollout (and “not just cut and paste from other operators’ models”), and money to spend; Ms Botter said the company has “good CapEx to spend”, and indeed a GSM network expansion contract was announced with Nokia Siemens Networks last month
- Focusing on the company’s Azeri roots, to differentiate from foreign-owned competitors
- Building healthy relations with the government, with the objective of participating in the process of creating an independent regulator, which doesn’t yet exist in the country
These clear points, presented with conviction by Ineke Botter, made me think that we would probably hear more from this company. I am looking forward to hearing about the innovative solutions that are to be tried out, and maybe even more to seeing its competitors’ response.