Stefan Amon, Telekom Austria: The Iron Man
Telekom Austria’s head of wholesale, Stefan Amon, has never shied away from a challenge. Here he tells Capacity of the growing issues facing European operators today and how to counter the threat of increasing competition and low returns.
Taking part in the gruelling Iron Man challenges for the past three years has certainly toughened up Telekom Austria’s head of wholesale, Stefan Amon.
It takes a man of immense mental and physical prowess to swim 3.86km, cycle over 112km and then run a marathon all in the same day, but it is something he aims to do until he dies, he says defiantly.
His strong will and determination shines through when he talks about the physical attributes required to complete the Iron Man competition.
“I’ve done it for three years in Austria and I am ready to do it again in Germany next year,” says Amon. “I have certainly chosen a challenging job and indeed, a challenging sport.”
It is fair to say, at the time of writing, Amon is one of the stand out favourites to win Capacity’s 5K fun run in Amsterdam.
Perhaps using the adjective “challenging” to describe his present role has been more apt than ever in 2012. European operators, particular in the wholesale side of the business have been damaged by poor financial performance, low consumer spends, and large network upgrade costs in a bid to secure fibre connectivity and replace legacy networks.
A youthful industry
Amon gives nothing away regarding Telekom Austria’s Q3 results, which are due to be issued in a week, but warns that present expectations from the industry and indeed declining results are because “the industry is becoming a victim of its own success”. He says: “You have got to remember, this is still a very young industry. The mobile segment is a mere 15-20 years old.”
While declining revenues is a present problem, there are still a lot of people fighting for market share with the belief that there is a lot of money to be made in the long term.
Amon points to the struggling European economy as further vindication of his point. He points to industries with established infrastructure that are declining at a faster rate than telecoms, but claims that other industries know how to manage the situation.
“Look at the car industry,” says Amon. “It grew and grew and grew, and suddenly it stopped, but manufacturers did not stop there, and the decline did not last for long. For us, there is a necessity to rethink business models, and deal with consolidation and competition in a better way.”
Consolidation is one thing that Amon believes is essential for European telecoms to begin thriving again. “There are too many players and too much competition in Europe, and in the next year we need to see more mergers and collaboration to ensure there are a sensible number of players in the market – we should be striving for a competitive landscape that doesn’t destroy everything.”
From the EU to A1
Amon’s route to the top job in wholesale at Telekom Austria has been an eventful one. While at university, where he studied international economics, he also worked as a controller for telecoms operator ONE (now Orange Austria), and he confesses “that being a controller is something I did not want to do until I got old”.
From ONE, Amon went to work with the European Union, where he focussed on European development, international business and dealing with business relationships in the continent. This experience gives Amon a lot of clout when assessing the European telecoms market.
It was after this role at the EU that he returned to telecoms at Telekom Austria, serving for five years as a strategic manager on numerous projects, and working directly under the CEO of the company. “At the time, we developed the business substantially and expanded our operations across Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia, which gave me direct entry into the international side of operations.”
In 2009, Amon decided he wanted “take responsibility for my own department”, and took control of residential and business customers, eventually leading the company’s entire customer service division. It was around the same time that Telekom Austria rebranded to A1, and it was left to Amon to bring the rebrand to the core.
Following this, he saw a window of opportunity in international wholesale, which he grabbed and has held the position since November last year.
Despite all the negatives surrounding the European telecoms market at the moment, Amon is thriving in his present role.
He showcases a certain passion and excitement for the wholesale shift towards data, and believes the opportunity for development certainly lies in partnerships with OTT providers, and finding ways to leverage the data revolution to be more beneficial for wholesale providers.
“It is important to develop the infrastructure for data services, and get those all important OTT offerings to the end user in the best possible way.” Now, as a self confessed “wholesale guy”, Amon says there is no question that OTT players need his business.
According to Amon, operators are being squeezed by high infrastructure costs, and they are not willing to pay premium prices for wholesale services anymore.
“Everybody will need to rethink their cost structure, because if we don’t, we will see next-generation LTE deployment but no development and no returns from it.
With only experience at one other company, bar Telekom Austria, there could be a case to argue that Amon has less experience compared to his counterparts at rivalling companies.
And he does reveal to Capacity Daily that there were people within the company that betted against him to succeed when he first took the role as head of wholesale.
He says: “I went from a supporting assistant role to taking full responsibility for our international business, and it was a major step up. I believe I have proved to those who doubted me that I can take responsibility, and not only talk from the back.”
Telekom Austria: key facts
History: Telekom Austria is an integrated provider of communications services in eight markets in central and eastern Europe. The group was formed in 1998 when the Austrian telecoms market was fully deregulated and Post-und Telekom Austria AG was split into separate post and telecoms units. It has been listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange since November 2000.
Operations: Telekom Austria Group operates in Austria under the A1 brand; Slovenia under the Si.mobil brand; Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia under the VIP brand; Bulgaria under the Mobiltel brand; Belarus under the Velcom brand; and in Liechtenstein under the mobilkom liechtenstein brand. The group has approximately 17,000 employees.
Head of wholesale: Stefan Amon is head of wholesale at Telekom Austria, responsible for overseeing wholesale business operations at the group level.
Ownership: Telekom Austria is 28.42% owned by the Republic of Austria and 22.76% owned by América Móvil with the remaining 48.81% of shares free floated, including employee stocks and treasury shares.
Revenues: Telekom Austria Group’s revenue amounted to €4.45 billion in 2011.
Products and services: Telekom Austria offers products and services including voice telephony, broadband internet, multimedia services, data and IT solutions, wholesale as well as m-payment solutions.