Boundless Opportunities: du's Executive Vice President, Enterprise Business, Hany Fahmy Aly
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Some minutes into our conversation, Hany Fahmy Aly, Executive Vice President - Enterprise Business, du, isn’t keen on offering generalities to avoid answering how the UAE’s telecom giant functions from the inside, as we often hear from other executives of his rank. In fact, all 400 of du’s Enterprise Business employees do not have a hard time to get him to listen to them- his team holds regular meetings with the staff where the management provides updates on the progress of the implementation of their annual strategy, and then informs them on what the focus will be over the next quarter. “Some people can stand up and say, ‘I think this is not fair,’ and you have to answer it in front of 400 people, and sometimes, you might not have the answer, but you need to do it, because answering it is important for you to stay in touch with what’s going on,” Aly says. “It can be about a process, like, ‘In order for me to sell this product, I need to have this signed, and it takes me two weeks. By that time, the deal is gone.’ In the end, we are an organization who wants to sell, and if our front line troops have problems, or if there are things that don’t make sense to them, and they are complaining, we have to listen to them.”
Hany Fahmy Aly, Executive Vice President - Enterprise Business, du
Over his six-year-long tenure at du, Aly has witnessed firsthand the power of technology to change the world; however, a topic that he returns to most often relates to people, and why listening to them is important for a company like du to continue delivering the best service possible. As he is in-house, Aly is equally an active listener when it comes to du’s customers, meeting them regularly at their premises, or organizing or attending different events to become more attuned to their needs. Similarly, Aly is well-versed in the development of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, stating that the region is now more than ever keen to back local startups, due to a string of success stories, such as Maktoob’s sale to Yahoo, Amazon’s purchase of Souq, and Careem’s sale to Uber. “Kids are graduating from university, and they want to launch a startup,” Aly says. “Before, they would have wanted to work for a large corporation straight out of school. This new generation grew up in a world that is always-on, hyper-connected, and ondemand. They see opportunities in new places, and their thinking isn’t restricted by the physical world. Where I had a stack of cassettes and CDs in my bedroom growing up, they have access to the entire world of music on-demand, and at the click of a button.”
Looking forward, Aly states that du is perfectly positioned to support this mindset shift and empower local entrepreneurs to create even more success stories. Aly believes that the region, and especially the UAE, is on the cusp of another wave of innovation. He explains that while 3G enabled Google Maps and other useful apps, 4G brought real-time communications and video to our devices, 5G is now expected to deliver a new paradigm for communications and applications. "We’re moving from connecting millions of subscribers to billions of devices,” Aly says. “It is creating a data-rich environment, where anything can be connected to the network efficiently. This moment we’re at with 5G mirrors what our discussions about cloud were three to four years ago. Cloud is here, and we’re all benefitting from it. 5G will have a similar innovation cycle, but an even bigger impact. The sharing economy will go from cars and houses, to anything you can think of, including clothes. If it is on the network, it can be shared and monetized. On the B2B side, connected vehicles, manufacturing, smart cities, and all kinds of vertical-centric solutions will be enabled by 5G.”
Aly believes that with more funding available for new ventures, 5G coming online, and the IT infrastructure put in place, the only thing today’s hungry young entrepreneurs need is a great idea. And he believes that du, as a large organization with an entrepreneurial history, holds many lessons for them on how to translate these ideas into products and services. Once again, it is listening to the customer needs that brought Aly and his team to develop du’s current offerings. “Corporate entrepreneurship is all about transformation, and that’s how we approached the redevelopment of our enterprise business,” Aly says. “We went through a period of very high growth, then we went through a period of low growth. When we first started offering our enterprise solutions at the end of 2013, we had phenomenal growth rates, because we were doing things which customers wanted, and because the market was still a virgin market from the enterprise point of view. We grew much faster than our competition, and yes, we were smaller in size, but we were still a multi billion dirham business when we started our transformation. Growing exponentially in terms of revenue on top of that was not easy in a very short time, but we did it. Then, as it happens in any other industry, the market matures, you have forces coming from outside, and attacking your pie.”
This is a moment in our conversation where I realize that du going through different cycles of growth holds many lessons for other executives and entrepreneurs. In more detail, apart from the process described above but simultaneously with it, du started developing its information communications technology (ICT) business, a process which in itself holds many lessons on how to overcome hurdles. Regarding this, Aly explains, “It started with us thinking what our purpose was again, since we could see that our customers wanted a simpler experience, as their IT organizations became more complex. From small to large businesses, they wanted a partner that would understand their needs, and make it simple-to-use technology in order to be successful. That was our starting point. After that, we set a 100-day plan. We wanted quick wins, milestones, and proof that we were on the right path. After that it was all about execution.” The main result, Aly says, was that du entered the ICT space, and went way beyond just basic network connectivity services. “We could have played it safe, and just focused on network and mobility, but that was not what our customers wanted, who were asking for cloud solutions to drive cost-efficiencies and increase their agility,” he adds. “Furthermore, IT security is a massive one, and we recognized that without security, all of these new innovative solutions would be useless. We had to give customers a secure foundation for their transformation. In this way, playing it safe was not going to work. We had to get out of our comfort zone, hire great people, and partner strategically.”
Once the ICT part of the business was up and running, the du team went back to the drawing board to see how it could help the enterprise as a whole. “It was about how to change the mindset of the organization that they were not selling telecom anymore, but ICT,” Aly explains. That was a change that required training. So, we put together a marketing and a sales academy where we focused on consultative selling called SPIN selling, which helped us understand the buying cycle of organizations. So, we created what we call the du Enterprise University, which was mandatory for all our employees, and little by little, we started to change the mindset and started seeing very good results.”
The most fascinating part about this story are the results the company saw- Aly states that, in the end, the du team grew their revenues exponentially, and created entirely new revenue streams that have been growing with healthy margins ever since. “More than just the financials, we created a base for continual transformation,” he says. “We learned how to learn. That’s about adaptability, and encouraging internal entrepreneurship.”
Remaining calm even when recalling these difficult times, Aly considers it a normal part of business that, at times, certain things do and do not work, but advises entrepreneurs and executives to not shy away from acknowledging the latter as quickly as possible. “Once you acknowledge it, you need to create a safe environment where you can have proper discussions in order to solve the problem,” he says. “The most important thing is to stop the bleeding first, and then to start treating the root cause. That’s the best way to handle a problem. So, if something is not working, don’t have a big ego but stop it, cut your losses, and move onto something else. If something is working but is not working properly, look at the quick fixes, like the 80%-20% rule, meaning what things you can do in order to fix the problem and get good results quickly. Ultimately, once you have more time, and once the things have been corrected, at least partially, you can revisit the strategy what caused the problem.”
During the process of du reinventing itself, Aly explains, the biggest challenge did not relate to technology, but to making sure that every single member of his staff was crystal clear on the plan ahead. “That’s easier said than done,” he says. “It’s just human nature that if you communicate something once to somebody, and even though you think they got the idea, it might not work. The most difficult thing about managing large enterprises is the people element.”
For his team, Aly has a threefold rule: everyone needs to understand the vision and objectives, to believe in it and be energized and excited about it, and lastly, to know that the management is there to help them to remove any obstacles on the way. In more general terms, Aly says that his management style is objective-oriented. “The most important thing for me is that we all need to have a plan, and the plan starts with us getting together, and having frank discussions,” he says. “I don’t impose a plan on my direct reports, because each of my eight direct reports have a big team under them, since, as a whole, we are a team of 400 people. It’s important for them to think of what they want to do in their areas, while my role is to guide them and challenge them, and to make sure that they are working towards our overarching objectives. Once we have a plan, it’s very important to define it into parts, which are manageable, like specific goals, and then who, and when. After that, we have weekly meetings where we look at dashboards, KPIs, and if needed, we take actions to correct the course. I also meet with the entire team, the whole group, so I don’t just rely on my direct reports, because I believe that you need to communicate with everyone.”
Hany Fahmy Aly, Executive Vice President - Enterprise Business, du
With its team emerging stronger from what could have been some serious setbacks, du is now thriving, but Aly is even more excited about the future. “Each of the solutions we branched out into were close to our DNA, and this is only going to continue,” he says. “The growth of 5G is going to open up opportunities to create vertical-centric solutions, and partner with different kinds of solutions providers. At the same time, we’re going to continue to support Smart Dubai, Dubai’s smart city initiative, and explore a growing number of opportunities in IoT.”
However, one thing will never change- regardless of the solutions they offer, du’s purpose will always remain making it simple and easy for customers to use technology in their businesses, and giving them an amazing digital experience. “I’m excited about the continued digitization of our business, and offering seamless experiences that cater to the next generation of IT innovators,” Aly concludes. “That’s a challenge, but it is absolutely critical to our future. We need to increase automation, while offering online procurement and experiences that match Amazon Web Services and other platform-based businesses. It is going to take an entrepreneurial approach and some really fresh thinking to push our business to get to that level. It will be hard work, but it will absolutely be key to our further growth in the future.” Or, shall we say, du will do it again.