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Wataniya, telecom's first private competitor

Interview - October 23, 2013
World Report meets with Abdul Aziz Fakhroo, recently appointed General Manager and CEO of Wataniya. Here he speaks about how mobile services transformed the region, the UK's influence on Kuwaiti telecoms and Wataniya's youth initiatives
WATANIYA BUILDING
ABDUL AZIZ FAKHROO | MANAGER AND CEO OF WATANIYA
What would you say defines Kuwait and makes it authentic?
 
Kuwait is definitely unique. Authenticity is what makes Kuwait so unique. For example, Kuwaiti people keep their traditions, but are also open to international influences. They do not mind getting the latest fashions, but with a Kuwaiti touch, in every way – clothing, perfumes, investment, movies – everything is touched by local imagination and creativity.
 
Secondly, the sense of liberty is embedded in every individual. Kuwaitis are like that. When it comes to business, Kuwait was one of the first countries to really embrace change. Tradesmen became businessmen but always maintaining their traditions. This is why everyone in the Gulf respects Kuwait, apart from the fact that they have always been pioneers and number one in almost everything they do. 
 
By default, authenticity has become a part of Kuwait. The whole GCC is doing a fantastic job, but each country has its own DNA. Kuwait is a pioneer. It sets the trend.
 
Moving onto bilateral relations, Kuwait and the UK have been close partners for 230 years. The UK telecoms market is one of the largest in Europe and there is fierce competition between mobile and data services. In your view, what competitive value can the UK bring to Kuwait and vice versa, especially in the telecoms industry?
 
Most of the telecoms and mobile companies specifically are coming from Europe, and the UK has played a big part in fixed and mobile communication. The British Telecom standards are used in the entire region to my best knowledge. 
 
Do you think that bilateral relations between Kuwait and the UK should be reinforced?
 
There have been 230 years of amiable and mutually beneficial relations between Kuwait and the UK. A lot of what we do started outside of this region; and a lot of it started in the UK. The whole GCC and the UK have very strong trade relations that continue to this day. This continuation is a success on its own as businesses evolve. 
 
Technology and communication are playing a leading role nowadays in any developed or emerging economy. They are bringing people together and making the world a global village. Wataniya is an active part of this, being the first privately owned telecoms business in Kuwait. What are the plans as far as the company’s portfolio goes and top priorities for 2013/14?
 
Before I talk about Wataniya, I have to talk about the mobile industry. I chaired the GSM Arab World, which represents all operators in the Arab region. It has been an effective contributor and representative of wireless technology in the region driving growth and development of mobile communication. 
 
Telecommunication has provided people an advanced and convenient means to stay connected. When mobiles came in, they changed people’s behaviour. They created a new lifestyle. The GCC countries in particular were the early adopters of mobiles and broadband. After Europe, it was mainly the Middle East and the GCC countries that embraced innovation and contributed towards enhancing international connectivity. 
 
Wataniya, as the first privately owned telecom company in Kuwait, contributed to the creation of a market with a healthy competition.

Furthermore, Wataniya is definitely contributing to the development of this country and all the services that make people’s lives much easier. Our focus will always be on providing the people living in Kuwait with the latest technology and experiences that enhance their mobile and online interactions. At Wataniya, we believe that every person in Kuwait is entitled to enjoying the best communication services and we are committed to offering them the same. 
 
What would you say is Wataniya’s competitive advantage? What makes it different from the rest of the telecoms operators?
 
Our primary focus is to enhance customer experience. We are constantly developing strategies that strive to improve customer journey across all our touch points.

We are heavily investing in the development of human capital, not only in terms of consumers but also employee experiences. We perceive innovation as another opportunity; it encourages us to introduce new technologies and services in the market and is part of healthy competition. It keeps us on our toes and pushes us to perform better. 
 
How do you think you are able to create and maintain customer loyalty with such fierce competition?
 
By simply listening to our customers. We pay careful attention to what our customers want. But sometimes, customers might not even know what they want. It is our job to read between the lines, by carefully listening and understanding the needs and aspirations of ordinary customers like you and me. Simultaneously, we try to help society through our social responsibility programmes. In the end, it’s simple – listen, teach and then achieve. 
 
Furthermore, GSM mobile operations are mandated by a worldwide organisation called the GSMA. They are the creators of the system. Everything is standardised including the technology; we just need to adapt. 
 
One of the focuses of our report is the youth. We discussed earlier that there is a young generation of change, which is starting to take over and lead Kuwait in a way. Could you share with us the main vision of the Wataniya GiveKuwait Programme?
 
Kuwaiti youth are entrepreneurs. They like to do things on their own, lead and own businesses. It is in their DNA. The idea of GiveKuwait was to help young people achieve their goals and encourage them to be entrepreneurs in any industry – not just telecoms. GiveKuwait was an immense success; it was named ‘CSR programme for the youth in the Middle East’.
GiveKuwait focused on enabling the youth. Almost 65% of the Kuwaiti population is young and they are the future. We want to entertain and empower them by not only offering them services but also by giving them a platform to realise their full potential.
 
Talent and creativity exist across all age groups, be it young or old. But Kuwait has been blessed with the enthusiasm of youth and the experience of mature people.  
 
I believe that this mix will make a difference, and will take Kuwait to the next stage of prosperity and growth. The seamless blend of young and old is a big part of the Arab culture and exists across the GCC. Therefore, developments and success in Kuwait will automatically transcend beyond the borders and will have a positive influence on the entire GCC. 
 
What would your message be to encourage young people and invite them to take a more active role in Kuwait’s development, economy and private sector?
 
Patience and commitment are the key ingredients. Young people should become active contributors in the development of the country. Kuwait has always been a leader and it can sustain that and has the ingredients and the main sources of success. Therefore, my advice to the young people is to believe in themselves and take part in the development of their beloved country Kuwait.  
 
What achievement in your professional career are you most proud of? What drives you today?
 
One of my important goals is to connect the missing pieces which will bring Wataniya success. I want to create a society through Wataniya which understands and respects the potential of the telecom industry. I want to contribute towards social awareness which will help people integrate mobile technology into their day-to-day lives with ease.

For Wataniya, I want a work culture that can run effectively and efficiently without a CEO. I believe in doing things systematically. By following systems we aim to create a dynamic and inspiring work culture. I have only spent a few months in Wataniya but I intend to continue working closely with students, youth and different segments of society. 

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