Colt CEO channels Marty McFly, Clint Eastwood, says telcos are chasing fools gold

Carl Grivner wants to take Colt back to the future and says he'd like Clint Eastwood to play him in a film.

The movie references were to the fore as the UK-based company got its 25th anniversary celebrations underway at the Berlin International Film Festival this week.

Colt provides data centre and network services for the Berlinale, but Grivner, who is celebrating a year in charge as Colt CEO, has more than technology to show off.

The company announced plans to invest €500 million over the next three years as it looks to steal a march on rivals, notably the enterprise arms of the likes of BT, Vodafone and Orange.

Speaking to journalists, Grivner said telcos were "distracted" by chasing "fool's gold" in the form of content and mobile.

Of course, Colt – formally the City of London Telecommunications company – is still a telco to many people.

But Grivner introduced a customer, hhpberlin, to ram home his point.

The fire safety company's Managing Director Stefan Truthaehn excoriated Deutsche Telekom for being "too slow", for competing only on price, for lacking understanding and for sending faxes in an expletive-laden answer as to why the incumbent operator didn't meet his needs.

Amid such feeling, Colt understandably senses an opportunity.

It plans to focus its investment on tripling the number of sites across its network that can provide 100G-enabled Ethernet and IP connectivity.

It will also build out its metro networks in Singapore and Hong Kong, and Grivner revealed it is hoping to announce a joint venture in China later this year, taking the number of countries it serves to 51 across Europe and Asia.

The CEO said the company was "not interested" in the US market.

At the same time, Colt plans to double its sales force and increase its net promoter score, a key customer experience metric, from 35 currently to 60 by 2020.

"I want to take Colt back to the days of yesteryear – when it was a disruptor," Grivner said.

The new strategic investment plan comes just over a year after investment house Fidelity bought Colt outright and delisted the company.

In 2014, Colt saw revenues fall over five percent to £1.5 billion and profits before tax almost half to £23 million amid what it said was a difficult operating environment.

In the first half of 2015, the last publically available data, sales rose 2.6 percent but it made a loss of £13 million.

Speaking to European Communications, Grivner said in the last 12 months revenues had jumped five percent while EBITDA was up 18 percent.

Europe accounts for 90 percent of revenues currently, with Asia accounting for the other 10 percent.

Grivner said he'd like to see the split move towards 70/30 in the future although he noted Colt would "need more assets" for that to happen.

He said Fidelity, Colt's first ever investor, remained committed to the business long term.

"[Fidelity CEO] Abby Johnson believes in the new strategy and that Colt can become a disruptor in the market again," Grivner said.

"Aggressive" pricing will be part of the mix, Grivner promised, particularly on 100GBps services and above.

"The cost of our new network shrinks our overall cost structure by 60-70 percent so we can be very very aggressive," the CEO said.

"That's an advantage we will have over people with more traditional networks."

In particular, Colt will target "bandwidth hungry" companies.

Grivner admits to being worried about Brexit, and Colt has joined the European Competitive Telecommunications Association to "get a bit closer to the European Commission to see what happens over the next two years".

But the CEO says his biggest challenge is going to be growing the sales team.

"It takes longer than you think," he said.

"We have to sit down with them and tell them why they should join us.

"We're starting to pick up momentum, but it's not at the level it needs to be."

Arguably, he could do with some help from one of the many characters played by Clint Eastwood, the man Grivner says he would like to see play him in a film.

"I've always been a fan, he's an interesting character," Grivner said.

A film about the Colt story is unlikely to trouble the judges at the Berlinale any time soon, but Grivner is determined that his new strategy will have a happy ending.

 

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