The Business Year

Richard Shearer

AZERBAIJAN - Telecoms & IT

Demon on the Field

CEO, Bakcell

Bio

Richard Shearer graduated in Accounting and Finance, and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. He joined Bakcell as CEO in 2011, and had previously held many top positions in the telecommunications sector in the US, Asia, and Europe, at companies including Cable & Wireless in the UK, DiGiTelecom in Malaysia, and CCO at T-Mobile in the UK, as well as Empower Interactive Group, and BTC Mobile in Bulgaria.

What were Bakcell’s most important developments in 2012? The biggest and most notable development is our partnership with Manchester United. We are the only partner for Manchester United in the […]

What were Bakcell’s most important developments in 2012?

The biggest and most notable development is our partnership with Manchester United. We are the only partner for Manchester United in the region, and it has provided us a very strong platform with which to take our brand to the next level. It also helps us get recognition more widely outside of Azerbaijan.

What strategies led to the decision to enter into a partnership with Manchester United?

It is an incredibly well-known brand. It reaches beyond football as the world’s premier club; it is the best football team, and we like to think that we are the best mobile operator. The content that Manchester United brings to the partnership and the opportunities we have to leverage its brand among our customers and the broader market as a whole is fantastic. We looked at several other clubs and sports, and the package that Manchester United brought was significantly better than anything other contenders could deliver. We have staged a number of events and a very large launch event, which brought us a large amount of brand recognition. We are currently leveraging content to our customers and also the broader partnership relationship with our corporate customers and opinion-makers in the country.

Football is a global game; it reaches out and touches people at all levels of society. It is a great way for people to talk and interact, and we like people talking and interacting, especially when they do it on our network. It is a sport that touches people at the senior levels as well as the more mainstream levels; it is a very egalitarian sport and a lot of our brand values relate to the sport. Specifically, Manchester United resonates very well with our own brand values.

“Customer numbers for mobile broadband and internet are increasing at an exponential rate.”

Which market segments have seen the most growth?

We have seen a significant growth in data on our network. Data is a very large component of our overall traffic mix. Customer numbers for mobile broadband and internet are increasing at an exponential rate. We are seeing many smart phones on our network, and we have the highest proportion of smart phones of the three operators in the country. Our customers are increasingly using their handsets as a means to access the internet and its content.

When do you expect mobile number portability to be fully operational?

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies is pushing very hard for us, and the whole industry, to launch mobile number portability effectively at the end of 1Q2013. It offers the customers a choice that is different from what they currently have, and we are very supportive of the Ministry’s initiatives in this area. We would anticipate being a net winner in portability. For us, a lot of the corporate and higher value customers tend to be with our competitor, Azercell, and are locked into Azercell because of their number. Azercell was launched prior to Bakcell with its GSM services. By way of legacy, it has captured many of the most valuable customers and they are now understandably eager to keep their numbers. Those customers are effectively locked out to us, but portability would allow us to access them. Feedback from the market, and especially from large national corporates, is that there is significant frustration that they can’t move, or it is very expensive. Thus, the market is looking forward to portability as well.

How do you evaluate the investment climate in the ICT sector?

We have had people knocking at our door to work with us. The external view of our sector in Azerbaijan seems to be very positive. We have gone to the market a couple of times to raise bonds, and they were massively oversubscribed, which is encouraging. All of the major vendors are present here and are aggressively competing for business. In general, it is a buoyant place to be. A lot of money is flowing from the oil sector, which is coming into the non-oil sector and attracts investors. There is much infrastructure to build and we have a lot of spectrum to exploit. From our standpoint, we see a good future.

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