'Be the disruptor, not the disrupted': Globe's Ernest Cu 1

'Be the disruptor, not the disrupted': Globe's Ernest Cu


Posted at Jul 17 2021 06:24 AM | Updated as of Jul 17 2021 07:26 AM

'Be the disruptor, not the disrupted': Globe's Ernest Cu 2
Globe Telecom President and CEO Ernest Cu. Handout

Editor’s Note: Globe President and CEO Ernest Cu earlier sat down recently with best-selling author and sought-after speaker Maulik Parekh in the podcast The Futureproof Leader. Excerpts: 


How was it to join Globe back in 2008 when you had no experience in telco? Back in the early days Globe was obviously a very different company than now. Were you overwhelmed, were you stressed out or was it very easy for you to come in with a fresh set of eyes? 

The latter is exactly what I brought but getting it done was the difficult part since Globe is a pretty large entity. The great thing was, the company already had good people.

When I came in, the company didn’t worry too much about customers since they were forced to go to Globe or the two other players in the market then. The culture was inward-focused. I recall that the rollout of products and services was based on profitability and not on what customers needed and wanted. Because of this, Globe was losing market share to its competitors. 

So we had to quickly transform from what I call a utility mindset to a consumer service mindset. How can a company with millions of customers not be a customer-focused organization? We started by really understanding the needs and problems of our consumers and focused on solving them. I recall going to sari-sari stores, sitting down in call centers, and spending days at our retail stores to really listen to our customers. We kept it simple, being fast and disruptive, being passionate about our customers, and taking advantage of gaps in the market.

Parallel to the cultural transformation, the second challenge was to overhaul and upgrade our network. We had already lost the battle in 2G, the world of SMS, so we made a strategic decision to fight the next battle and focus on being a data company. In everything we did, the way we looked, the way we spoke, we were all going to be all about data. We parlayed that into the world of 3G/4G data and eventually 5G. We changed out our entire network in a span of just one year. From a 35.9% percent revenue market share in 2011, Globe now has market leadership on mobile in a country with 151.57 million mobile customers.

How did you go about bringing that culture of innovation, the culture of disruption into Globe? 

I was already exposed to disruptions early on in life. My parents were entrepreneurs and I remember my father putting in 12-hour days at his gasoline station. I saw how his business grew to become a large automobile air conditioning company by putting customers at the front and center of every decision.

There is one thing a lot of people don’t know about me. In 1987, I put up a digital printing company in the US to disrupt the traditional way of printing at that time. We were successful for the first five years but were forced to close it down in 1992 due to a recession and cutthroat competition. I failed in that business but learned a lot of lessons which I brought with me in the BPO and telco industries.

At the time in 1997, BPOs were very nascent and people didn’t know what we were doing. But even then, I already saw the potential of this sunrise industry and knew it was going to go very far. It was very difficult to sell at first and in those early days, all the business was going to India. So we were going around meeting local and global clients espousing the country and its talent pool. I just needed my foot in the door and once in, companies started to see the Philippines as the go-to country for BPO. 

When I was building the culture of innovation and disruption in Globe, I started by saying that I will allow failure. I don’t let go of people for trying something new and innovative but I do let go of people who don’t do anything and stick to the old ways. I always tell them I’m not interested in ideas I’ve heard before but I will listen and support you if you’re going to start something that will rock the market or change the world.

GCash is a perfect example of this culture. We were experiencing a normal pace of growth for GCash until March 2020 when the pandemic happened. It grew exponentially from just 15 million users to 40 million in just one year since it directly addressed people’s needs. It helped us change the mindset of people on digital payments. People at Globe are starting to believe me when I say this company could even be more valuable eventually.

Partnerships is something we are very good at. We are not the type to say that we can do everything. I look for gaps in our business and bring in the right partner to complement our own competencies to set us up for exponential growth. For PureGo, we saw that only messenger companies were operating online groceries so we decided we can disrupt this space by going direct to the consumer. I always say - be fast or be last.

Something else quite intriguing about what you have done within the Globe ecosystem is bringing your entrepreneurship not just to the Globe ecosystem but within 917Ventures like GCash. Tell us more about that?

A lot of the ideas still come from me today, I have to admit but that’s what I’m trying to institutionalize in 917Ventures. It’s made up of a group of resident entrepreneurs whose mandate is to come up with new ideas and look for what customers need, and to a certain degree, anticipating what they'll need in the future. That’s the story of GCash in a sentence.

GCash was already around when I came in but the technology at that time was not there to support it. The concept was solid so I decided to put it on life support while waiting for the right time. And even as the banking system in the Philippines had evolved, the unbanked population was barely moving. So when our data networks caught up together with increased smartphone penetration, we went off to the races with GCash.

Today, we have over 40 million users and 8 million daily transactions. Two trillion pesos moved through the platform in a year. That’s incredible!

GCash is meant for a country like the Philippines where, geographically, it's impossible to have banks in every single town, every single island. With the services it provides, it solves that problem so it took off at the perfect time.

What drives you to do more now and in the future given Globe’s list of achievements? What is your definition of success?

I have this constant fear because I don’t want to be disrupted. I want to be the disruptor. That mindset drives us at Globe to keep on evolving and give customers what they need not just for today, but anticipating a product or service they will use in the future.

I think people will realize over time that digital is going to be part of their lives and there’s no going back. I always tell our people to throw the ball where you think the catcher is going to be, not where he is standing because customer habits are ever changing, the environment is changing, so you always have to be watchful of opportunities.

Today, I think about the double dividend, where the businesses we put up help people. In telco, we achieved that. We connected people, changed people’s lives and gave them access to information. We’ve parlayed that connectivity to financial inclusion with GCash. That’s what I call a “win-win” business where we are able to grow our investments, improve the lives of people and at the same time help the country.

What do you do during your free time? What are you into now? 

That's an interesting one. I’ve been following this guy on social media, who happens to be my godson, and he has been cooking up a storm during the pandemic. So one Sunday family dinner, I went out on a limb and made a dish and surprisingly, everybody enjoyed it. From then on, I started trying different things by following
people on YouTube and seeing if I could replicate their recipes. You must understand I am a guy who didn’t even know what a kilo was or half a kilo of something, ever. 

I do like cooking Italian dishes because of my affinity with the place and the simplicity of the cuisine. The only caveat is you have to start with fantastic ingredients. Before the pandemic, I would bring my family to Tuscany at least twice a year.


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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.