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18 May 2017
Gulf Bridge International is a cable company making the transition to a connected cloud business with its own fully managed service network. Bill Boyle talks to Amr Eid, CEO about GBI’s recent change process
Gulf Bridge International (GBI) was
the Middle East’s first privately owned subsea
cable system. It links the countries bordering the Gulf in an
arc and travels outwards towards Europe, Africa and Asia,
deploying state-of-the-art submarine kit.
But it’s undergone a radical transformation,
led by CEO Amr Eid. The company had assumed that it could carry
on being a subsea cable provider well beyond the point that it
was economically wise to do so, he says.
"Our organisation had a hard time getting to where it is
now. I could see in 2015 that selling traditional capacity was
not going to be a long-term game. The lights were going out in
our competitors’ windows one by one and I could
see they were probably clinging to the wreckage as the ship
Eid went to the board and told them that things had to
change quickly. "I am not a skilled loser, and I’m
not even a good loser," he said.
"They asked me if we had to change radically and I said, 'to
survive yes’. I told them that maybe I
wasn’t the man to do it but the company had to
transform root and branch to survive. If we did nothing we
would not last, so doing nothing was not an option."
All he knew was that GBI "had to look for any disruptive
service that was challenging the submarine cables and we had to
become that major disruptor ourselves", he says.
In the presence of titans
GBI had to go upmarket and transform itself. Eid told the
company to forget its current assets and he started to take a
look at what the potential customers wanted.
"We were among titans such as Google and Amazon. Now the
best thing about titans is that they are large – and
when a competitor is that large we have to fight like monkeys
for our bread."
Eid told his staff that they had to fight a daily battle and
also face the psychological fact that their new comfort zone
had to be what he calls the 'uncomfort’
Eid said to his bosses: "You don’t know what to
do, so if we fail it doesn’t matter! We are on the
edge of extinction!"
He warms to this theme of extinction: "It’s the
same with IT. Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple [in 1985] but
that gave him time at NeXT to plan and think before coming back
a renewed man. What is happening at Samsung is the same. The
worthy will transform and some will walk naked and crazy on the
wild side of the street, never to recover." So Eid started by
abolishing all mention of the dreaded financial word "quarter"
and replaced it with "season".
He says: "Quarterly business cycles strike fear into
people’s hearts. Now when I want to intimidate a
sales person I can say instead 'winter is
The company set up focus groups, including meetings with
"kids from the local university, to find out what they were
really interested in", he recalls.
"It turned out to be how much bandwidth they needed, and
couldn’t get, to play games." They asked how big
the bandwidth was.
Eid says: "One of them said to me: 'If I’m
going to be the star of World of Warcraft I need super-fast
broadband. The games server which my provider uses for the
Middle East is based in Germany and costs me 300 dirhams ($81)
a month but the latency means I’ll never be a
Lose your shirts
His reaction? "I immediately knew what we had to provide and
we went to it. I told my sales people to lose their suits and
ties. Some went the whole hog and bought Hawaiian shirts. Today
we have 25% of the Gulf connectivity market and are number four
in a market where the top 10 are all 40-50 years old," he
Fast data is what people want and GBI aims to provide it at
a premium. "Our next network will be fully software-defined.
Users will be able to log in, choose their services and
activate them in seconds," Eid concludes.
"We are connected to all the main data centres, which takes
us closer to the next target market – the SME market.
We are concluding our initial transformation but we have many
ideas still to execute."
Gulf Bridge International,