Can Digicel’s new CEO make Denis O’Brien’s vision a reality?

Cantillon: Challenge for telco remains the same – to transform into a data company

Digicel in Jamaica: The incoming CEO, Alexander Matuschka Greiffenclau, will be  guided by Project Swan/Digicel 2030, the change programme initiated by former CEO Colm Delves

Digicel in Jamaica: The incoming CEO, Alexander Matuschka Greiffenclau, will be guided by Project Swan/Digicel 2030, the change programme initiated by former CEO Colm Delves

 

The person manning the controls has changed, but the challenge for Denis O’Brien’s telco, Digicel, remains the same: how to profitably transform from a mobile operator to a data company.

Colm Delves is leaving as group chief executive after 12 years, handing over to Alexander Matuschka Greiffenclau. The incoming German will be broadly guided by Project Swan/Digicel 2030, the change programme initiated by Delves in February. The chief executive will have flexibility to implement, but it is Mr O’Brien’s vision for Digicel that will inform above all else.

In a recent book by Ian Hyland, Ireland Inc: A History of Irish Business, Mr O’Brien clearly lays out where he sees the future.

“We’re becoming the 360 provider, so people will not have to buy telecommunications services from anybody else – they can just come to us as a one-stop,” he said. “That is the opportunity for the business, that’s where we will see the real growth . . .”

O’Brien spoke of setting up a “Sky-like platform in the Pacific” to drive its content offering. Digicel has already bought the biggest sports broadcaster in the Caribbean. It is also targeting businesses as well as homes.

“People are going to have smartphones, they are buying data and voice – but when they get to the office, the whole solution there has to be Digicel as well,” said O’Brien.

Digicel could also do with a weakening of the US dollar to eat into its $6 billion debt pile (a cheaper dollar makes Digicel’s US-denominated debts easier to pay off in Caribbean currencies). This would free up wriggle room to make it more attractive for investors – O’Brien still harbours a desire to float it, despite the the abandoned attempt in 2015.

Famously, there is no love lost between Mr O’Brien and new US president Donald Trump, who released some rather colourful comments during the election campaign about the businessman’s history with Hillary Clinton.

If Trump’s tax plan, as seemed likely earlier this week, ultimately leads to an even stronger dollar, the US president may end up doing Mr O’Brien no favours at all.