In 2008, Globe was a struggling platform. Its market share was down. The company’s infrastructure was not ready for the industry’s shift from voice and SMS to data. Even the corporate culture was no longer the right fit.
This was the scenario I faced when I took the reins of Globe as President and CEO, a position I reluctantly accepted after my dream of starting a growth capital fund failed to materialize due to the global financial crisis.
I looked back to my beginnings in Globe in a fireside chat with Minette Navarrete, President of Kickstart Ventures, one of our portfolio companies, which is marking its 10th anniversary of investing in startups, technopreneurs and tech innovators. To mark the occasion, I shared my story with Globe on its 104th Raid The Fridge community mixer session.
Customers as the North Star
When I came into Globe, I knew it had to pivot— and fast, or it would perish. The challenge was how to convince people about the urgency and to change the culture to get things done.
In the end, everyone agreed that Globe has to be a customer-centric company.
We went about and evangelized a customer-centric culture. But we needed to do a lot of things like removing bureaucracy, solving people's problems, making the experience good for the customer, and things flowed from there.
Globe made the customers its North Star and saw to it that every product and service was developed to meet a demand or solve a problem.
The reason was simple. If we cannot deliver what the customer wants, then we have no right to be in business. We've got to keep the customers happy. It’s holding the hands of the customers and walking them along the journey, understanding it's worth the time, and listening to them.
Despite internal and external struggles, the culture and network transformation eventually allowed Globe to gain market share. From then on, there was no stopping it from becoming the country’s leading mobile provider.
Transforming the second time around
After 14 years, Globe is going into a second round of transformation. The Philippine telco industry continues to grow and it will reach its maturity at some point. Then perhaps it will go through another cycle of growth as newer technologies or innovations come along. This is why it is important to explore new businesses.
When we started, the transformation of Globe’s telco side was in stages.
First, we had to build the data network. Then, we had to put smartphones in people's hands and give them something to do with their phones on the network, so we brought in apps like Spotify and Netflix. Now we're looking for the next one.
Globe's current strategy is to go beyond the traditional telco business and build something that would capitalize on its assets: customers, distribution network and capital, among others. Globe now has the capability to create new forms of value to sustain the company's growth.
The flagship telco business has become a strong launching pad for new ventures in Globe’s expanding portfolio, which includes e-wallet giant GCash, the country’s only double unicorn, and telemedicine provider KonsultaMD. With this, Globe is transforming into a digital solutions platform. This is our new frontier.
Luck or Timing
As we move the business forward, I have to note the importance of luck and timing.
When COVID-19 struck, GCash was already very well positioned and prepared to scale. It was simply waiting for the public to embrace the platform. The pandemic propelled GCash to greater heights as the nation shifted to cashless transactions.
GCash has been around since 2004 to solve the problem of financial inclusion, but the conditions then were not ripe for widespread adoption.
A similar case happened with KonsultaMD, which was formed to address the lack of doctors and the high cost of medical consultation. It was not until five years later, during the pandemic, that the public realized the importance of telemedicine.
Although the timing may not initially suit some product ideas, we continue to build them as long as they are viable. You just have to be prepared so that when the right time comes, you can take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.
It is also important to stay attuned to the consumer or the target market, watching what they are doing and being able to anticipate their next move. In every shift in people’s habits, there is an opportunity.
Behind our successful transformation are strong leaders who set the direction and oversee the changes. For me, it is important to have a very cohesive, collaborative and collegial set of leaders who like to be with each other and win together.
I do my best when working with like-minded and passionate people who want to make a difference. At the end of the day, we spend most of our lives together, at least we used to. It would be awful if we are with people we don't like.
I also love working with people who are flexible, agile and entrepreneurial. To do well in business, they have to learn to live with ambiguity, stand on their own, and know how to bounce back after setbacks.
As we come out of difficult times following two years of an unprecedented
pandemic, I am optimistic that together with our leaders and employees, Globe will continue on a path that would keep it growing and evolving to serve its customers and the nation.
(Editor’s Note: Ernest Cu is President and CEO of Globe. Cu participated in Kickstart's Raid The Fridge, the Philippine startup ecosystem's longest-running community event, hosting speakers from investor groups, global tech companies, and startup founders from the Philippines, SEA, USA, and Europe.)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.