“In this business you need a big amount of patience” says the brain behind Telenor’s movement in Asia, Arve Johansen, Senior Executive Vice President and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Telenor group and head of Telenor Asia.
Arve has been with Telenor since Norway’s telecommunication monopoly broke down in 1989. With background in a private sector Arve joined Telenor to reshape and reform the old state enterprise to a modern industrial company. He was the one suggested the company should invest abroad, today Telenor has 75 per cent activities outside of Norway and more than 130 (as of today) million mobile subscriptions worldwide. He has proved it when he said success doesn’t happen over night.
Telenor is an industrial international group, an active owner providing companies competence, global coordination, giving access to all the technologies, systems, applications, services, scale advantage in purchasing and opportunity for developing people in the group.
The company also offers a full range of telecommunication services including mobile and fixed telephony as well as Internet access and TV market.
The Ladder to Success
In the second half of the 1990s, Telenor became involved in mobile operations in a number of countries in Europe and Asia. In 1996 Telenor made contact with GrameenPhone, largest mobile telephony company in Bangladesh. Later in 1999 Telenor set its step in Malaysia and managed to own majority shares of DIGI, Malaysia’s third largest mobile telephony company. Months later Telenor approached DTAC, one of the largest mobile operators in Thailand and in 2005 Telenor successfully launched in Pakistan.
“In Asia we are growing quickly than anywhere else, in Bangladesh the business is growing tremendously and the biggest market mobile operation in the region is Thailand. Even though we are not number one in Thailand but we have good progress and a good number two position,” says Arve.
Telenor’s mobile commitments in Asia and Eastern and Central Europe are becoming increasingly important and to ensure optimal follow-up, Telenor has appointed dedicated Executive Vice Presidents for these regions, Arve was then appointed the Senior Executive Vice President and Head of Asia Region of Telenor ASA since early 2006. Telenor has also strengthened the co-ordination of operational and human resources across all the countries.
During 2005, Telenor successfully extracted a number of cross-border synergies across the group. Common technologies for optimal spectrum and network utilization have been successfully implemented at each of the group’s operations, and Telenor maintains its focus on adopting new technologies to improve service quality and reduce costs.
As the result in the same year Telenor increased its economic stake in Total Access Communication (DTAC) in Thailand to 56.9 per cent. Following further transactions based on mandatory tender offers, Telenor’s economic exposure was raised to 69.3 per cent by year-end 2005.
Fresh Market in Asia
Telenor is already doing well in Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. The second-quarter profits in the region overall have increased impressively. However for Malaysia’s Digi, Telenor has to cut its stake to below 50% from 61% before the end of 2007. Cutting stake is part of an agreement with Malaysia’s government, which has demanded that Telenor owns less than 50% of the mobile telecom company.
Despite this Telenor still sees a benefit from expanding further in the region rather than finding new markets on other continent. The company has identified a number of targets in Asia after Norwegian telecoms giant confirmed it was considering opportunities in the region.
“We are actively considering opportunities in Indonesia, the Philippines as well as in Vietnam and among the few remaining countries with low numbers of phone subscribers,” says Arve.
Vietnam is a very attractive market with a growing population of approximately 85 million people, the mobile penetration is only about 32 percent and 800,000 new mobile users are signing up each month. Telenor hope to enter the Vietnamese market when the government privatized mobile telecoms operator.
However according to Arve, it is not easy to emerge these markets. “It’s not like setting up an ordinary groceries store you can just set it up and start selling. There are specific rules to join a company in each country so to get the position in the market is not an easy task.” continues Arve.
New HQ in Bangkok
One year ago Telenor has moved its Regional Head Quarter from Singapore to Bangkok. About five employees and their families were transfer to Bangkok as a new centre for Telenor in Asia.
“It was an expansion of the company’s presence in Asia. The first reason for moving up here is that Bangkok is more of a natural centre comparing footprints to other countries in Asia. It’s also the best possible connection in traveling and according to the analysis Bangkok is the best hub for the market we’ve surveyed,”
“Reason number two is that it’s a good idea to have a Head Quarter in a country where we have a substantial operation. We found that Bangkok is very competitive compare to other markets in the region.” He continues.
Global Excellence and Local Strengths
Telenor’s growth and success in this arena has been achieved by combining group industrialization with local drive and responsiveness.
“Across all our operations, we are building a common culture that enables us to share the best practice and cooperate between market, at the same time we encourage and support efforts to maintain local edge and market relevance.”
“Clearly there are a lot of local characteristics in each market, the different in licensing, the competitive situations and number of competitors in the market but what makes Telenor stands out from other mobile group and achieves the differences is that we have more emphasis on local adaptation than we have seen other groups did, that is one of the key to success we claimed that we have.” says Arve.
As part of Telenor’s global coordination effort, all operations have adopted common guidelines for ensuring a customer-oriented-focus and performance. Key Telenor concepts are today applied across borders, whether it is a content provider access model, which allow content providers to bill customers directly, Telenor’s common E-load electronic prepaid top-up solution or E-phone, a common push-mail solution. This global coordination programme remains a central element in the further globalization of Telenor.
According to Arve, in general term Telenor is now in a steady track and expects to continue the growth until the end of the year.
“My personal goal is to become the biggest of these three regions which are Mobile Nordic, Mobile in Central and Eastern Europe and Mobile in Asia. We are very optimistic about approaching number one position.” says Arve.
“I’m proud of where we are today. We started out in Norway, now expanding to Asia and things are prospering, we get a lot of recognitions for what we have done for 10 to 15 years. The rewarding part of the job is that this is a long term perspective. We planted a seed and now we’re harvesting, it takes a very long time to see a result of all this.”
A Man of Many Roles
You can say Arve is one of the masterminds behind Telenor’s success but yet he humbles to explain how he has contributed to the company. Beside Telenor he also takes roles in other telecommunication companies i.e., Director of Vimpel-Communication, Chairman of Remuneration Committee and Director of Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, Vice Chairman and Chairman of Executive Committee of Total Access Communications Public Co. Ltd., Director of Wireless Matrix Corp. and Director of Eltek ASA. There’s no doubt he is a very busy man but the most important part is that he’s happy with his jobs.
“What I like most about this job is that we really transformed the Telenor group to make it more international and now we are in the tenth biggest mobile group in the world.”
Arve is living in Bangkok with his wife and his children are back in Norway. When he has free time he likes to go to travel, take his times of from work and just relax.