Jul. 3, 2018

Fouad Halawi

Saudi Arabia

Fouad Halawi

CEO, Virgin Mobile Saudi

“When first addressing the Saudi team in January 2016, I told them we were going to change the industry perception of how to do business.”


Fouad Halawi was appointed CEO of Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia in 2015 and has spurred the growth of the company in terms of subscribers, profit, and margins. Prior to that, he served in executive positions in the telecommunications industry across Europe, Australia, and the US.

Virgin Mobile Saudi primarily targets the youth, which comprises nearly 50% of the Saudi population. What is your positioning in the market?

From a demographic perspective, youth is certainly the primary target in Saudi. The mix is sufficient for Virgin Mobile Saudi to penetrate the market as we are right at the forefront of innovation, we are able to see where there is an issue and fix it. It is about making mobile better by providing a better service, and delivering our services to the customer at a fair price. In Saudi, there is a particularly strong need for good customer experience. The penetration rate for the mobile is dropping, but it is still a dynamic market because the demographic mix is changing. Therefore, our focus is shifting slightly, while the values remain consistent. We are still determined on targeting the youth by tailoring our products and services as per their needs and preferences. Virgin is an active, wild brand and this is what the youth like to see. Over 50% growth in Virgin Mobile KSA's revenue in 2017 despite the challenging market conditions has not only placed us at the forefront of the industry but has also made our competitors follow our footsteps.

Virgin Mobile has found a niche in addressing its customers differently. What did you do?

Virgin Mobile has entered new markets multiple times around the world, including the US, Australia, and Europe, where each environment is slightly different. When first addressing the Saudi team in January 2016, I told them we were going to change the industry perception of how to do business, and everybody is going to replicate what we are doing over the next two years. We are already starting to see that now. Our model is slightly more advanced in the way we engage with people and promote best practices. We are a place where well-being and happiness are essential.

With the growing demand for data services, what challenges is Virgin facing in retaining customers and acquiring new ones?

It is a classical evolution we have seen in mature markets. For example, back in 2014 in the US a mobile package came with unlimited data. That is a mature market, and that is what is happening in Saudi today. We are certainly seeing a huge shift here today from voice to data, credit goes to the positive changes in the regulatory environment. We are certainly putting a lot in favor of our customers at the moment because we believe disruption is not about gaining but giving. Gaining comes afterward. Fair competition is always healthy as it forces telecommunication companies to innovate, invest and put customers first. At Virgin Mobile we always try to stay at the forefront of innovation and disruption in order to make mobile better for our customers. This will mean that Saudi Vision 2030 can be achieved due to investments in technology, innovation, disruption and R&D. That said, it is up to those who own the networks and the regulators to develop along with this technological transformation.

What are your expectations for growth at Virgin and in the sector in 2018?

Where we are going next with technology is something that is on every leader's agenda today, including digitization. Very few people really understand what digitization means, what benefits it will bring to business, and how it is going to happen. People are slightly reserved on taking this step despite the fact that everyone wants to have digital assets. Businesses are wondering if it is cost saving, streamlining, rationalization, or some other benefit they are trying to achieve. And how is this going to be better and different for the customer? Not everyone is clear where they need to go next, while the Saudi regulator has now issued a public consultation process. They are promoting new innovations in the country, mainly IoT, which is great. Virgin Mobile has earned its place in Saudi, therefore, there is a lot of support to move forward and compete more.

Do you think there will be a big competitive component in the future for both MVNOs and MNOs in premium services?

Yes. And we are starting to see more acquisitions by the main telecom companies, which happened in other markets as well. In the future, you will see the competition moving into acquisitions of content providers to bring them in-house and bring the operator and content under one roof. The growth potential will come from smart cities, entertainment, and financial technology. There will be new market opportunities for B2B. This will include providing content, value-added services, digitization, and block-chain technology. There is a lot going on that could change the habits of what we do rapidly. Virgin Mobile is definitely going to digitize its assets in Saudi Arabia because we want to be first, this is how we do things.