Your 10 questions with Afzal Abdul Rahim

  • Business
  • Saturday, 22 Jan 2011

Time dotCom (TIME) has achieved a great turn-around since you took over in 2008, what are your future plans for the company to achieve greater growth and transforming it into a globally competitive company? Gan Kong Yik, Kuala Lumpur

“Great” is an overly generous word to describe our turnaround. As much as we have clearly turned the corner, there are many, many things that we could have done better over the last two years. The truth of the matter is that in 1995, Maxis, Celcom and DiGi were our peers, and they are now many times our size.

The analogy I use is that for 15 years, the other teams have been running around the track racing against each other and we’ve been stuck in the pit lane! We are now finally at the starting grid, and have to make up the 15 laps, one lap at a time. The real challenge starts now, and it’s time to battle it out for market share against the giants.

I think we have a good shot at systematically taking more market share year by year. We’ve recently announced plans to transition the company into a regional wholesale player. In all of this, the determining factor will always be our ability to execute our plans.

There have been several comments on the nature of proposed acquisitions by TIME. What is your reaction to this? Jeffrey Tan, Kuala Lumpur

In general, there have been three broad groupings of reaction to our recent proposed corporate exercise: positive and excited; indifferent and unstirred and; sceptical and cynical.

The positive and excited group is overwhelmingly the largest one. They understand that the acquisitions will take the business to an entirely different level. They see that the ownership across the entire telco value chain; starting at fibre last mile to data centre content hosting to trans-Pacific submarine cable capacity and a global internet network, allows us to break into a business that’s usually reserved for the really big boys. We get to reduce our costs significantly while allowing us to guarantee end-to-end service quality.

The indifferent and unstirred group believes it is not a big deal and its a usual course of business. For most of them, TIME is a non-event and not on their radar screen. In short, they never considered us a player, and the acquisitions haven’t changed their perspective in that respect. It’s quite frustrating sometimes when I meet with people from this category and share our industry ambitions with them.

My favourite group are the sceptics, cynics and fringe commentators.

They are the best to listen to for the latest “news”: who’s related to who, what contracts have been awarded to which company.

I enjoy engaging this group because they’re the real opinion makers and it is their usually sensational views that get taken most seriously. After all, who doesn’t want to listen to the “inside story” over a thosai?

The rationale for this proposal is to remodel TIME into a bigger and tougher regional player. Tapping into the synergies provided by each company, the proposal will allow TIME to leapfrog into an integrated telecommunications player.

Each of these companies inject value into TIME.

Since we made the announcement on the proposed corporate exercise, we have received positive feedback from key institutional investors and they have been supportive of TIME’s long-term vision. Some have also taken advantage of the initial price drop to increase their stakes which we take as encouraging. We certainly hope our shareholders will see this exercise for the growth potential it brings to TIME. I hope they will exercise their rights once we call for an EGM.

Since you took over the management of TIME, what have you achieved? Menon, KL

I told myself that I would lose 1kg of body weight for every RM1mil of additional net profit that TIME clocks in, but have failed miserably at that. So, that’s a clear target miss.

Jokes aside though, apart from the obvious improvements to our financials, and the fact that we are FINALLY sustainably profitable – our biggest achievement has been the change in our corporate culture.

We decided early on that no turnaround is complete without cultural renewal, and so we set off determining our corporate DNA, and collectively decided how we wanted to work and interact. The results are stunning.

I am so very proud of our boys and girls, who have wholeheartedly embraced the radical changes that we instituted. They continue to inspire me on a daily basis. You guys rock!

How IT-savvy do you foresee Malaysians to be by the year 2020? Bernard KH Lim, Penang.

Malaysian consumers have been in the forefront of IT and new technology adoption for a while now. As a developing nation, we exceeded 100% mobile penetration in less than 10 years. We recently passed the 50% mark in broadband penetration. We now see a generation hooked on mobility and social media. I think Malaysians are as IT savvy as any other society.

I do worry sometimes that we will lose our “Malaysianess”, but that’s an issue that should be dealt with at home or at school, and not by determining what kind of content people should be accessing.

I really have trouble figuring out what our usage behaviour will be in 2020, but one thing I’m certain of is that people to people interactions will reduce as we keep using our devices as an intermediary.

You have rebranded TIME recently. It looks great! What inspired the new look? Suzzie, KL

All the other colours are taken by major telcos, and that magenta is really cheap to print! We also wanted the macho guys at the office to embrace their sensitive side and embrace a more progressive colour palette in their daily life. Magenta also stands out from an advertising perspective.

Makes sense?

But the truth is, the new corporate identity adopts TIME’s new business culture. One that embodies a promise of challenging the norms and setting new standards. Our colour is magenta because it is unique, distinctive and bold. The speed lines in our logo represents the new performance pushing spirit within the orgranisation. It also speaks for the delivery of high performance connectivity via our resilient network and in our products and services. It symbolises the stretched efforts TIME puts in delivery and prompt customer service.

We love our new identity and we’re so glad you do too. We promise to live up to all it represents.

TIME has wired up several building with fibre in the Kuala Lumpur area. Where else do you expect to wire up in 2011? Kenny Yeow SL, Ipoh

I’m glad to know that there are people looking out for our 100% fibre service. We now have over 30,000 buildings in the Golden Triangle and Mont Kiara area running on our 100% fibre network. We are in the midst of covering a further 167,000 premises in more areas in the Klang Valley and we are spreading out to Penang as well.

And as we expand our network coverage in these areas we are also rolling out high-performance Internet products for both consumers and businesses. TIME Fibre Broadband for home users and TIME Fibre Internet for businesses. I am proud to say that both of these products carry a TIME-unique feature which we call the BOOST. TIME customers are the only broadband users in the country who have the option to increase their bandwidth as and when they require.

TIME recently announced a landmark collaboration with Astro to provide IPTV on our 100% fibre-based network in these areas. We are focused on wiring-up more buildings at rapid speed to meet consumer demands for real high-speed broadband that is reliable and stable.

How do you position TIME against the incumbent telco TM, also a GLC. Do you see TM as a competitor or a partner or both? Hafiz Yusof, Shah Alam

I genuinely have a lot of affection for TM and what they do. Truth be told, we know each other well, and partner where we can. Datuk Zam is a bit of a mentor to me and others in the industry and I think he’s doing a great job there.

Having said that, the fixed-line marketplace is obviously a dog fight between us, and that’s the way it should be. It needs to be this way so consumers get the best deal possible. TM’s ubiquity of coverage makes them a tough competitor. For example we can’t offer services to rural areas because we simply don’t have the fibre there. This “out-of-town” revenue is significant and fast growing, and so we have to find other ways to acquire market share.

Our mainstay as the country’s alternative fixed line operator remains the corporate and wholesale business segments. These are large customers who have serious demands and standards. We try our best to keep them happy and try to raise the service bar where we can.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ll continue to give them a run for their money and chip away market share, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.

If you had to pick a word to describe yourself, what would that be, and would your friends agree with it? Bulbir Singh, Seremban

Disruptive. And I would think my friends would agree. In an endearing sense, I hope. I think they’re pretty used to me by now. They also know me as a bit of a prankster. I’m pretty much the same at work I guess. I’m certainly not the easiest person to work with, and really do enjoy a good disagreement.

What hobbies do you indulge in between your hectic schedules? Tabitha CC Boi, Penang.

I have to say that teh-tariking is top of the list. Mostly in the evenings after work. I led a pretty hectic life and rarely ever get to spend time at home.

I try to play badminton whenever I can, with the TIME crew and also old secondary school friends. Music is a big part of my life, and something will always be playing throughout the day.

I am also a self-confessed gadget and gizmo junkie. I spend a lot of time playing with silly new gadgets.

Do you prefer running TIME or Chawan? May, Bangsar

Well, Chawan is a family business, and I’m very fortunate that my brother-in-law is the boss there.

There is a certain attraction to waiting tables though. I find it de-stressing, and in the early days used to head there after work to help out.

It’s also a fact that the most serious business problem you can ever have waiting table is easily solved by saying “I’m sorry Sir, we’ve run out of rendang, can I offer you nasi lemak sotong instead?”

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