Follow The Leader: Osman Sultan, CEO, du
"Collaboration is paramount to our business strategy, and this includes having a healthy cooperation with customers, as much as we have with our staff and business associates. In simple terms- we listen."
"Innovation is a revolution that has gripped the global society. It is all about modernization, originality and improvement. It’s a new mindset that we all must adopt– and it’s brilliant. Innovation is a key factor to succeed in today’s business world, given the rapidly increasing needs of our clients across the board and the tough competition we are experiencing from emerging disruptors, not originally associated with telecommunications.” That’s du CEO Osman Sultan’s take on what seems to have become the buzzword of choice of the MENA region’s C-suite- but unlike so many of his peers, Sultan is someone who can actually say that at his company, he has indeed put his money where his mouth is.
“At du, we have a solid focus on innovation, as we believe that it is the key to sustainability and progress,” he explains. “This year, we created the role of Senior Executive Officer of New Business and Innovation to drive the theme of innovation across all aspects of our business. Our aim now is to foster a connected society, and empower business acumen within leaders throughout the company.”
Sultan’s insistence on innovation being a core factor of his business makes more sense when one realizes the dynamics of the operations he runs. “du is the fastest growing telecommunications provider in the Middle East region- what this means is that we have to stay abreast of innovation. Maintaining pace with the latest technologies in this industry, as well as others that are converging onto the digital highway is challenging.” So how does du go about ingraining such a culture within the company? A customer centric approach is key, of course, but Sultan also notes the importance of having employees who are keyed into the overall organization’s vision.
“At du, we aim to offer a seamless service for all our customers, regardless of them being enterprise, mobile or home customers,” he explains. “Hence, we all have to be aligned in our goals, throughout the organization- working as one well-oiled machine. To achieve this, we try to maintain the spirit of family, by supporting our staff with a variety of internal initiatives aimed at increasing engagement levels.”
But Sultan admits that finding (and retaining) employees who are up for the job at hand is a hard task. “The biggest challenge is not finding talented and capable people; it is finding people who are adaptable to change, who are willing to innovate and who are skilled at creating ideas and opportunities that drive business in a positive direction, so that it outpaces the competition,” he says. “The challenge does not just come with finding great staff; it’s about nurturing them, so that they give their best to the organization. Maintaining quality and performance amongst employees is a vital aspect of our business. At du, we provide our staff with a great package, together with a clear career path. We are committed to employee engagement, which is why we support a number of social causes where our committed staff can volunteer.”
And the results of du’s efforts in this regard are easy to see- with an employee engagement level of 4.29 out of 5, du is today in the 65th percentile of Gallup’s Global benchmark for the same. The company has also been twice awarded the Gallup Great Workplace Award, and Dubai Women’s College declared du to be the “Employer of the Year” for three consecutive years. “At du, we truly strive to be the employers of choice, which is why we get the best out of our staff,” Sultan says. “We believe that great leaders create leaders– not followers.”
Given that response, one has to ask: so what exactly are the factors that make a CEO a great leader? “In this day and age, three things come to mind– foresight, flexibility and adaptability,” Sultan replies. “In the relatively short span of time that I have been in this position, the winds of change have blown in several directions. The Internet culture has undergone a transformation, and we have had to adapt by offering a host of new products and services to ensure that we stay ahead of the game. As an example, we are venturing into cloud based and machine-to-machine services in order to keep abreast of the Internet of Things.
With all these developments, and seemingly overnight changes in technology, one cannot have a pre-disposed mindset, if they are to lead a team the size of du successfully. In addition, a leader has to be just that– a team player and a positive influence who dispenses constructive advice and guides his team. A great business leader has to have a familial character amongst his staff.” Again, Sultan is someone who practices what he preaches- besides trying to stay as close as possible to his team, he also maintains an open door policy at his office.
From a business standpoint, Sultan is keen on building du up to be in line with the UAE’s Smart City Vision, and one of the company’s initiatives in this respect that he has taken a particular interest in has been WiFi UAE. “My personal belief is that connectivity is the right of all UAE population,” Sultan says. “In order to provide this connectivity, and exponentially enhance the quality of life in the UAE, we implemented WiFi UAE, an initiative that provides access to WiFi in public areas for all UAE residents. WiFi UAE is already available in over 200 footfall locations including Dubai Metro, Dubai Tram, Dubai International Financial Centre, Knowledge Village, Dubai Media City, Emaar Boulevard, Global Village and du shops. We will continue its roll out until we ensure that all areas throughout the UAE are covered.”
Of course, WiFi UAE is just one of the many innovative drives that du has been spearheading in the country, and given its recent association with the Global Innovation Index (GII), one can expect several more such initiatives from du to pop up in the near future. “We want to support the creation of an environment that could unleash the potential for innovation for all in a sustainable manner, and lay the groundwork for societal change and develop a framework for cohesive synergies through collaboration,” Sultan says. “Our commitment to innovation is ongoing.”
du by the numbers
As of Q2 2015, fixed and mobile data generated the biggest growth for du, in terms of revenues.
> Mobile data revenues increased by 4.9% to AED719.3 million from Q2 2014 (AED685.9 million).
> Fixed revenue climbed 20.2% to AED649.8 million as compared to Q2 2014 (AED540.7 million).
> Mobile data now represents 31.1% of mobile service revenues as compared to Q2 2014 (29.4%).
> As per market date released by the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, du’s mobile subscriber market share in the UAE has been consistently above 45% since September 2011. Year-over-year, du’s mobile market share data has been 48.7% in 2012, 47.4% in 2013 and 46.3% in 2014.
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.