‘Watch this horizon – there’s more to come’ says UPC boss

New chief executive Magnus Ternsjö says the company may add mobile services and wifi hotspots to its range of services

When a new chief executive takes over at a company, you expect a bit of a shake up as they make their mark. But UPC Ireland's new boss Magnus Ternsjö says there was little need to start making waves at what he describes as a well-run firm.

A veteran of the business, Ternsjö stepped into the role after outgoing CEO Dana Strong moved to Virgin media to become the firm's chief operating officer.

Ternsjö has been involved in the sector for more than 20 years – a fact he describes as “horrifying”, saying the years have gone by too quickly.

Previously managing director of Liberty Global’s central European Direct to Home (DTH) satellite television business, he has held numerous roles in UPC’s parent company.


He took up his new role just ahead of the launch of the new Horizon TV service here, and immediately threw himself into learning about all aspects of the Irish business.

That included going out with UPC technicians to perform installations in homes around Dublin.

“I’ve been down in the customer care facility, I’ve been out in the vans. I’ve been listening to our customers, what’s been going on,” he says.

“I didn’t say who I was when I went into those houses, I presented myself as a new person in UPC and wanted to see how things were working.

“It was very rewarding, an excellent learning curve for myself and a great chance to find out what consumers like and dislike.”

That approach is typical of how he works, Ternsjö says.

“I’m very down to earth, I like to understand how things go at a very grassroots level. Because how can people expect me to make sensible decisions if I don’t really know what’s going on?

“If you ask my team members how they see me, I think they see me as very tall,” he says – and, at around 6ft 7, that’s probably true.

“I think they see me as outspoken and straightforward, engaging, energetic, positive, see the opportunities and the solutions in things.”

Looking at the business from all aspects has been “tremendously rewarding”, he says. “You get a closer relationship with the staff, and the staff’s the most valuable asset we have.

“I believe if I can emotionally connect with our staff, they’ll perform better, and if I can bring some of my enthusiasm across to every person, not just to the ones I work with every day, we’re going to succeed and be much better.

“The other is that I, ultimately, want our staff to emotionally connect with our end consumers. For me to understand if we actually achieve that objective, I need to listen in to conversations.”

That customer care team is being put through its paces at the moment following the launch of the new TV platform here, and the associated increase in calls that inevitably come for UPC as customers seek to change over and need help in installing the box.

About 20,000 Horizon TV boxes have now been shipped to UPC customers, and Ternsjö says it has won UPC some new customers, accounting for about one in four of these signing up.

“Research on that quarter says about 50 per cent to 80 per cent of those are earlier Sky customers,” he says.

“It’s absolutely proven and clear [that] it is starting to eat part of Sky’s lunch, and not just Sky’s future lunch, but existing Sky customers. And that’s exactly what we wanted to achieve.”

Warm welcome
The company is opening a permanent UPC experience centre in Cork this week, which will allow more customers to see the Horizon box in action before buying.

It’s not just change for the UPC staff. The move to Ireland brings yet another new country for Ternsjö and his family – his daughter was born in his native Sweden, his son in Amsterdam and his wife currently works in Hungary – but so far, he says the country has treated him well and he plans to spend Christmas in Dublin with his family.

“It’s an easy country to settle into. The Irish people have given me an extra warm welcome – both the general public and the team at UPC.”

While he may be happy with the team that UPC has built up in Ireland, he acknowledges that competition is tough, and Ternsjö has plans to bring new services to customers.

One potential development for UPC's business that has already been flagged is the addition of mobile services. Before it was announced that Three Ireland would buy O2's Irish network, there were rumblings that UPC was interested.

However, Three's parent company – Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa – struck a deal to purchase O2 Ireland for €780 million in June.

The deal has yet to be passed by regulators but, if successful, the combined customer base will be more than two million.

Ternsjö says UPC is actively exploring the idea of a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), and a team is already working on the potential new service.

“Hopefully, in the not to distant future, we should be able to say that we have a partnership with one of the operators for the future,” he says, estimating that it would take about a year, or a little more.

“Mobile is relatively new to the Liberty family; it’s complicated and will take some time.”

That will put UPC in competition with Eircom on the mobile front too. The incumbent telecoms operator is exploring the idea of introducing an IPTV service to its customers.

“I would expect them to come out [with the service] at any time. They would be quad play, where we are [currently] only triple play, but I don’t think this will harm us in any way,” he says.

Another thing we could see within a year is the rollout of wifi hotspots for UPC customers.

“We sit on a gorgeous network, we have modems in so many homes, and a good few of those modems can be divided into two,” Ternsjö says.

“In simple terms, you divide the modem into two, one does exactly what you as a consumer see it doing today; the other piece becomes a wifi hotspot for other UPC customers.”

While that may sound a little daunting to users protective of their wifi access, it’s not quite as scary as it sounds. Your own network is unaffected in terms of speed, security and data use.

Ternsjö explains that users do not have to allow part of their modem to be used, although if they choose not to opt into the service, they will not be able to use the wifi hotspots that other UPC customers have allowed the company to open up.

“This is being trialled in other Liberty families for the moment. In theory we can enable 100,000-plus hotspots. That’s a very powerful message,” he says.

“It would ultimately mean that, when people are out there and use quotas or have poor network, they can – depending on where they are – hook up straight way, and you won’t need to find the network, it will connect seamlessly once you’ve done it once.”

Aside from its strong consumer base, UPC is also involved in providing broadband to schools, and has a growing business base, which Ternsjö is keen to build on.

“I’m a firm believer that UPC is assisting Ireland Inc in its goals of making Ireland more digital. We are helping the country in becoming more competitive in the future.”

From Ternsjö's point of view, this is just a starting point. "Continue to watch this horizon – there's more to come," he says.

CV: Magnus Ternsjö

Name: Magnus Ternsjö
Job: Chief executive, UPC Ireland
Lives: Dublin
Family: Married with two adult children
Hobbies: He likes the outdoor life, and also finds cooking relaxing.
Something we might expect: He likes to play golf. "When I get the opportunity I like to play golf. Ireland is a Mecca from that point of view. I'm not a good player, but I do enjoy it."
Something that might surprise: He travelled around the world on a freighter when he was 13 years old. "My father was captain. In a period of three months I experienced multiple cultures,
gorgeous sunshine, tropical storms, icebergs and deserts, going through
some of the most important waterways on the planet. I think it made me open for new cultures. It probably gave me a certain hunger for exploring."