Openet exec gets red-pilled, joins Matrixx

Marc Price, CTO for the Americas at BSS vendor Openet, has decided to find out how deep the rabbit-hole goes by defecting to competitor Matrixx Software.

He will get to travel a bit more in his new role at Global CTO for Matrixx and he had been at Openet for 15 years, so it was probably time for a change. The move will also allow  Matrixx Founder Dave Labuda to step away from the techie side of things and focus his attention entirely on some serious chief execing.

“Marc is a tremendous addition to Matrixx’s executive leadership team,” said Labuda. “His experience will be invaluable as we continue to scale the company. Marc’s vision and vast experience in the telecommunications market is renowned. He has played a leading role across three key eras in the telco market: the rise of competitive carriers; the establishment of the real time charging model; and the current process of digital transformation and subsequent move to hybrid clouds and IoT.”

“Matrixx is poised to lead the digital commerce revolution being ushered in with the advancement of cloud technology and the advent of 5G,” said Price. “I’m excited to join the team at such an important time to help accelerate Matrixx’s global growth. I am looking forward to working with the Matrixx team to help scale the company, driving Matrixx’s innovation to further accelerate our customers’ digital transformations.”

Openet and Matrixx aren’t just competing BSS vendors, they’re both trying to disrupt the market by presenting a more flexible, cloud-based approach to customer engagement for operators. They’re both fond of buzzwords such as ‘digital transformation’ and like to paint larger BSS competitors as slow and anachronistic. So culturally this should be a straightforward move for Price and, at least until they find his replacement, may mean a fair bit more work for Openet Founder and CTO Joe Hogan.

Ericsson loses another senior exec

Ericsson lifer Rafiah Ibrahim, currently its Head of Market Area Middle East & Africa, is calling it a day after 23 years at the company.

To be precise Ibrahim is going to step down from her current position, which she has held for a couple of years, at the end of August and assume the new role of ‘Advisor to the CEO’. But since all precedent under the current CEO Börje Ekholm is that ‘Advisor’ is just a euphemism for ‘gardening leave’, we’d be surprised if Ibrahim was still with the company in 2020.

“Rafiah has been a very important leader in our sales and delivery organization,” said Ekholm. “In her latest assignment she successfully led the merger of two important markets, Middle East & Africa, increasing customer value and securing scale and efficiency as well as implementing a robust operational structure. In addition, Rafiah has built strong customer relationships across the region not least visible in the recently announced 5G contracts. Rafiah has been a valued member of the Executive Team and I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role.”

The workload of Ericsson’s executive recruitment team is starting to mount up. We still don’t know who is going to replace Helena Norrman to head up the marketing and there seems to have been a steady trickle of senior departures since Ekholm took over. No doubt this is all part of the grand plan, which seems to be going OK, but it does make you wonder about morale at the top table and we must assume Ibrahim was still happy with everything when this corporate vid was published towards the end of last year.

 

AT&T mucks about with WarnerMedia some more

AT&T has finally got the US government off its back, but now the challenge of making a success of its mega-acquisition really begins.

Last week an appeal from the US Department of Justice to reverse the acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T, which completed in the middle of last year, was rejected and the DoJ decided not to appeal, so that seems to be the last of the US governmental opposition to it. Now we get to the small matter of absorbing a massive media company into an even bigger telecoms one and making a success of it.

Respecter of tradition as AT&T clearly is, the first step is a good old reorg. There’s nothing like hiring some fellow members of the CEOs golf club and drafting up a shiny new organogram to make you feel like you’re really getting somewhere and in that respect AT&T seems to have scored a hole in one.

The flagship appointment could also be viewed as a replacement since Richard Plepler, long time boss of arguably the most valuable component of the acquisition – HBO – decided to call it a day last week. It has been widely reported that this was the result of the kind of culture clash and competing visions that are typical of M&A, but it still feels like a major negative to lose someone with such rare experience of making and monetising premium content.

In retrospect the writing had been on the wall for a while. Last summer the AT&T lifer put in charge of WarnerMedia, indicated that he wanted to refocus on quantity of content, which usually means a reduced emphasis on quality. That’s not what HBO is about and all the talk in the world about big data and advertising won’t change that. HBO is a premium subscription model and AT&T would be unwise to think it knows better.

The person charged with reinventing the wheel is Robert Greenblatt, who was previously Chairman of NBC Entertainment. He will head up the entertainment and direct-to-consumer silos. Meanwhile Jeff Zucker is in charge of news and sports, which includes CNN, Kevin Tsujihara is in charge of kids content and Gerhard Zeiler is Chief Revenue Officer for WarnerMedia.

“We have done an amazing job establishing our brands as leaders in the hearts and minds of consumers,” said Stankey. “Adding Bob Greenblatt to the WarnerMedia family and expanding the leadership scope and responsibilities of Jeff, Kevin and Gerhard – who collectively have more than 80 years of global media experience and success – gives us the right management team to strategically position our leading portfolio of brands, world-class talent and rich library of intellectual property for future growth.”

“I’m honoured to be joining WarnerMedia during such an exciting time for the company and the industry as a whole, and I look forward to working alongside the many talented executives and team members across the company,” said Greenblatt, as convention demands. “WarnerMedia is home to some of the world’s most innovative, creative and successful brands and we’re in a unique position to foster even deeper connections with consumers. And it goes without saying I will always have a soft spot in my heart for HBO going back to the rewarding experience I had producing Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under.”

See? He’s all over this HBO shizzle. Thanks for everything Plepler, but I got this. To be fair Greenblatt he does seem to have pretty solid experience and is presumably a safe pair of hands, but if Stankey tells him to sacrifice quality for margin and the mass market he will presumably oblige. Telecoms is a very quantitative game and there is a real danger that AT&T will be culturally incapable of appreciating things that are harder to measure and for which the ROI is less immediate and demonstrable. If that turns out to be the case at least the former Time Warner people will be able to draw on their rich experience of failed M&A to help them.

BT manages to give Kirkby a job after all

Allison Kirkby, the new CEO of Danish telco TDC, has found the time to become a non-executive director of BT too.

Kirkby was thought to be one of the front-runners for the BT CEO job, following Gavin Patterson’s decision to spend more time with his yachts. But she took herself out of the running when her employer at the time of the executive search, Tele2, merged with Com Hem, and Kirkby took that opportunity to start a new gig at TDC.

In the end BT went for former Worldpay boss Philip Jansen, who has plenty of experience at the top table, but not necessarily of an operator group. With that in mind it makes sense to get in some extra expertise in that area and it’s presumably safe to assume that TDC and BT have no competitive overlap.

“Allison brings to the BT Board valuable and recent experience in the international telecommunications sector,” said BT Chairman Jan du Plessis. “This, combined with her strong experience in driving performance, improving customer service and delivering shareholder value, makes her an excellent addition to the Board. We are delighted to welcome Allison to BT.”

“I’m extremely proud to be joining the BT Board,” said Kirkby. “This is an exciting time for the sector and BT is at the forefront of driving change in the industry for the benefit of its customers both domestically and internationally.” She joins an all-star cast on the BT board, which includes DT boss Timotheus Höttges, long-time ARM senior exec Mike Inglis and former Telefónica Europe boss Matthew Key.

Ericsson’s loss is a US operator’s gain once more as T-Mobile hires Ewaldsson

T-Mobile US wasted little time in snapping up former Ericsson lifer Ulf Ewaldsson after he came on the market, to head up its 5G efforts.

Ewaldsson’s most recent significant position at Ericsson was to head up its struggling Digital Services division. This time last year he became another casualty of Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm’s apparent desire to refresh the executive team by getting rid of some dead wood. He does it gently, however, by moving them to the position of advisor to the CEO for a few months before finally casting them adrift.

Following the well trodden path taken by his former boss Hans Vestberg, Ewaldsson presumably needed little persuasion to escape the Swedish winter and move state-side, although he might not find Washington state to be much of an upgrade weather-wise. He will be reporting into TMUS CTO Neville Ray.

“We are thrilled to share the great news that Ulf is joining our team of amazing leaders at T-Mobile who continue to show the other guys what it takes to win in wireless,” said Ray. “Just look at what we’ve done with 4G wireless! We’ve been the fastest for 19 straight quarters – nearly 5 straight years… and we’re just getting started.

“Adding Ulf’s passion and track record for driving innovation to the Un-carrier mix is going to take us to the next level. Ulf has achieved so many firsts and truly supported the evolution of technology for telecommunications across the globe. Bringing him on board is a total win for T-Mobile and we couldn’t wait to share it! He is going to be the perfect addition to our consumer-first Un-carrier team to drive our 5G evolution strategy!”

Have you noticed how similar to Trump’s tweets the canned quotes from TMUS are? Anyway Ewaldsson, does have good tech pedigree, having been Ericsson’s group CTO for five years before being handed the Digital Services poisoned chalice, so he should be a good person to be running the 5G side of things.

Nordic winter hits hard as Ericsson loses exec and Nokia cuts more jobs

Swedish Ericsson and Finnish Nokia both announced they’re losing people as the endless winter nights take their toll.

Ericsson’s SVP, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Head of Marketing and Corporate Relations, Helena Norrman, is calling it a day after 21 years at the company, with ten of those on the executive team. She’ll be hanging around for a quarter or two, to keep the transition smooth and presumably have a hand in finding her replacement.

“Helena has been instrumental in reshaping and modernizing Ericsson’s global marketing and communications strategy and function,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “With a deep understanding of the company’s priorities she has helped Ericsson navigate through periods of both massive change and considerable challenges. Helena has been a valued member of the Executive Team and I wish her all the best in her future ventures.”

On a personal note, I got a chance to hang out with Helena when I was over in Stockholm last summer and found her to be smart and tough, but at the same time friendly and approachable, in other words great at her job. I’m sad to see you go Helena, but wish you all the best with your next thing. Here were are getting the beers in, on a boat in Stockholm, with Helena on the right.

Ericsson tour boat beers

Over in Helsinki Nokia is trimming another 350 Finnish employees in a further dive to cut costs, as previously reported by Light Reading. “Our industry is one where a constant focus on costs is vital and the planned transformation measures are essential to secure Nokia´s long-term competitiveness,” said Tommi Uitto, Nokia’s Country Manager in Finland. “Such decisions are not easy, but we will do our utmost to support our personnel during the change process.”

“Nokia has made good progress in executing on its strategy, with momentum in providing high-performance end-to-end networks, targeting new enterprise segments and creating a standalone software business. Our early progress in 5G is strong and we continue to increase our investment in this critical technology.

“We will redouble our efforts to ensure that Nokia’s disciplined operating model remains a source of competitive advantage for us, and that we maintain our position as the industry leader in cost management, productivity and efficiency. Finland will continue to be an important country for Nokia to achieve these goals. To this end, we are also currently recruiting into key new technologies in all our campuses in Finland.”

On one hand any job loss announcement sends out the message that the company is struggling to make a profit. But as Uitto noted, this sort of thing is not uncommon among kit vendors and Ericsson has been on a massive downsizing of its own, so these 350 redundancies need to be kept in perspective. Meanwhile Norrman’s departure is a loss to Ericsson, but maybe it will take this opportunity to get someone in from the outside with a different perspective on the company.

Xiaomi unveils new strategy stressing AI, IoT and smartphones

The Chinese device maker Xiaomi has announced its new strategy will be built around two core areas: smartphone and AI+IoT.

At the company’s annual party, Lei Jun, Xiaomi’s founder and CEO, pledged an investment of CNY 10 billion ($1.5 billion) over the next five years, in a strategy it calls AIoT (meaning both “AI+IoT” and “All in IoT”). The objective is to develop this part of the business into a second core of the company’s strategy, to dovetail with its current core business: smartphones.

Xiaomi is no stranger to artificial intelligence. AI has been in the centre of Xiaomi’s marketing messages for its photo technologies on the new smartphones and the smart speakers. Nor has it been a novice in IoT. In fact, Xiaomi claims to be the world’s largest IoT company, “connecting more than 132 million smart devices (excluding mobile phones and laptops), including more than 20 million daily active devices as of September 30 (2018).” This mainly comes in its smart home category including products ranging from smart suitcases to smart scooters and everything in between.

Smartphone, on the other hand, has always been the linchpin in Xiaomi’s ecosystem. After its fast growth in China and the rapid market share gain in emerging markets like India, Xiaomi recently expanded into Europe, including choosing to debut its latest flagship smartphone in London. Additionally, Xiaomi sees in Latin America new growth opportunites. It is also one of the smartphone OEMs to endorse Qualcomm’s 5G chipset. However, as Lei recognised, “Before the proliferation of 5G technology, Xiaomi’s success in smartphone business segment lies in striving to consolidate its leading position in the smartphone markets across the world.”

As a means to continue strengthening its smartphone positions, Xiaomi also announced a dual-brand strategy. Its flagship and other high-end products will continue to come under the “Mi” brand, while the mid-range value-for-money products will carry the “Redmi” brand. Here Xiaomi may have taken a page from Huawei’s brand strategy, which has used “Honor” to address the mid-range segment while its flagship products have been branded “Huawei” and come in Mate or Pro series.

Ursula Burns officially made Veon CEO, at last

Eight months after losing its last CEO, telecoms group Veon has decided to stick with Chairman Ursula Burns in the dual role.

When Jean-Yves Charlier suddenly had his security pass revoked back in March, there was a curious silence on the matter of his replacement. That silence continued for so long that, distracted by the passing of the seasons, everyone forgot Veon didn’t officially have a CEO.

Today, what vestigial speculation there may have been was finally put to rest when Veon anointed Ursula Burns as CEO. To call this a bolt from the blue would be an exaggeration as Burns was already Chairman and had been covering the CEO role since Charlier cleared off. But sometimes these things need to be rubber-stamped.

“I am honoured to be appointed Chairman and CEO of Veon,” said Burns. “The company operates in a diverse group of markets, with growing populations and rapidly increasing smartphone ownership. This clearly presents a host of growth opportunities for Veon as we seek to build on the positive momentum that we are seeing across the business. I look forward to continuing to lead Veon towards more success and increased shareholder value.”

“The Board has been impressed with Ursula’s performance and leadership of the company,” said Veon board Director Julian Horn-Smith. “The management team are clearly working well together and focused on delivering against strategic priorities. Ursula has led Veon through a major transaction in the sale of its Italy joint venture for $2.9 billion and overseen a period of solid quarterly operational performance. We are confident that with her as Chairman and CEO there will be further improvements across the business.”

There you have it. To be fair, actually getting someone to do the job for eight months is a fairly rigorous interview process, so Horn-Smith and his fellow board member can feel pretty confident of having made as informed a decision as possible.

Nokia loses its mobile network head Marc Rouanne

Finnish kit vendor Nokia has had an executive reshuffle that resulted in yet another head of its mobile networks business group calling it a day.

Marc Rouanne is a Nokia lifer who inherited the mobile crown when Samih Elhage cleared off following the last episode of corporate musical chairs at Nokia, which saw his group diminished by the separation of its services arm into its own little silo. The move is effective immediately and Nokia has wasted little time erasing him from history, which does make you wonder how amicable this latest split was.

History seems to be repeating itself as Rouanne’s departure coincides with his group being absorbed into a larger silo called the Access Networks Division, together with the fixed network group. Nokia has yet to name the head of this new super-division, which is surprising. Maybe Rouanne was lined up for the gig but then bailed at the last minute for some reason, resulting in the embarrassment of announcing a major new corporate initiative without anyone at the top of it.

Nokia has at least managed to replace Rouanne at mobile networks, with lifer Tommi Uitto stepping up from his role as head of product sales to head up the whole group. He will report into whoever they eventually find for the access networks gig.

“Nokia has a unique advantage in the 5G era with its end-to-end portfolio,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “By creating a single Access Networks organization that includes both fixed and mobile, we can improve our customer focus, simplify our management structure, and more efficiently leverage our full portfolio.

“Tommi is a strong leader with the right background in both sales and product development and I am pleased that he has accepted this role. He brings deep credibility from across the telecommunications industry and a proven ability to drive product leadership and business performance. I want to thank Marc for his contributions to Nokia and wish him well in the future.”

Creating an overall hardware product division makes sense, given the whole point of the Alcatel-Lucent acquisition. It’s such an obvious move, in fact, that it begs the question of why it didn’t happen sooner. This will hopefully be the last corporate reshuffle required to fully incorporate A-Lu as Nokia’s going to have to start tapping the mail room for its mobile heads if this trend persists.

TIM announces Elliot-proposed board member Gubitosi as new CEO

As anticipated by Telecoms.com last week, Telecom Italia (TIM) has appointed current board member Luigi Gubitosi as its new CEO.

Gubitosi has been given the gig less than a week after the former CEO Amos Genish was unceremoniously shown the door, having been reassured his job was safe. His replacement is a member of the TIM board nominated by Elliott, the activist investor group that wrested control of the TIM boardroom from Vivendi. Genish was a Vivendi appointee and remains on the board.

This is just the latest chapter in the battle for control of TIM with a view to extracting value from it. Last year we asked how Vivendi, with less than a quarter of TIM shares, could apparently dictate the direction of the company. Elliot clearly felt the same and successfully challenged Vivendi. But now, with less than a tenth of TIM stock, it’s trying the same move.

You don’t have to be the biggest cynic in the world to figure both parties are in it for themselves. The biggest apparent difference between their competing visions is a matter of short-termism. The rhetoric coming from the Vivendi camp is that it’s interested in the long-term health of the company, while Elliot is effectively engaged in asset-stripping in order to give it a more immediate return and exit on its investment.

The main manifestation of this is the plan to spin off TIMs network holdings into a separate company, imaginatively called Netco, that would still be wholly-owned by TIM. This feels like a cosmetic change but it would apparently free up some value, for some reason, perhaps by saddling it with loads of debt. The longer-term danger is that this would be a precursor to disposing of those assets entirely in the long term.

Genish is not a fan of this approach, and recently offered the following statement: “Any decision to break up the company, including losing control of the fixed network, must go back to the shareholders for a vote.” He will apparently seek shareholder support for an extraordinary shareholder meeting to address this, which shouldn’t be a problem if Vivendi is still backing him, but it’s not yet clear whether this will amount to an attempt to regain control of the board.

Elliot affiliation aside, Gubitosi looks pretty well qualified for the gig. He did a couple of decades at Fiat before joining MNO Wind, where he was CEO between 2007-2011. He moved on to be General Manager of state broadcaster RAI and, like any self-respecting member of the elite, is on a bunch of boards, committees and that sort of thing. His rich history of working with the Italian state might come in handy in the network spinoff process.

It’s very unlikely that Vivendi and other shareholders will take this further power grab by Elliott lying down, so this story is likely to keep giving for a while yet. Both parties will spout rhetoric about how invested they are in the future prosperity of TIM, but they only differ in their value-extraction strategies. In the meantime TIM remains hamstrung at a time when new entrant Iliad Italy is taking massive chunks of mobile subscriber share. It’s hard to see how that’s going to benefit anyone with a stake in TIM.