Jim Clarke, Telstra Global: Managing the growth cycle

Jim Clarke, Telstra Global: Managing the growth cycle

Growth and innovation are quite simply the only route to success in wholesale, believes Jim Clarke. Alex Hawkes speaks to Telstra Global's head of wholesale about tapping into the growth cycle.

Jim Clarke isn't a man to shy away from a challenge. About a year ago, what started off as a dare from his boss, quickly saw Clarke competing in a triathlon in the stifling humidity of Thailand. Not only did he successfully complete the gruelling race earlier this year, but he now plans to do several more in the months ahead.

This ability to rise to a challenge matched with a willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty, has served Clarke well during his time as head of wholesale at Telstra Global. Taking up the position some three years ago, Clarke has overseen a successful rebranding programme as well as implemented a fast-paced growth strategy across the Asia-Pacific region.

Clarke in fact possesses an unshakable belief that investing in growth and innovation is the route to a successful future in wholesale. He talks of the"incredibly important need to back yourself", while also frequently throughout the interview reiterates the value of adopting a "long-term mindset". Most important of all, however, is winning the support and confidence of shareholders to pursue a strategy of growth and innovation - something he appears to have already done in his relatively short tenure. "If you're delivering growth to your shareholders or your corporate entity, then the company will back you. As they back you and invest more, there is more senior level engagement, which leads to more innovation.  This all brings a positive effect to the overall growth cycle."

Tapping into that growth cycle, however, can present carriers with numerous challenges. Clarke says the largest obstacle is quite simply CAPEX: "It's a finite resource. With the global economy, in still something of a fragile state, CFOs are looking to ensure they maximise every single dollar," he says.

Going global

As part of his role, Clarke was required to move to Hong Kong - a transition he describes as both a professional and personal highlight. Relocating with his wife and young children from their native Australia, Clarke describes the Chinese city as an "adult's playground" that offers a wonderful sense of freedom and rich cultural experiences.

It is from his Hong Kong office that Clarke has orchestrated Telstra Global's surge in the market. His first move was to bring together "a disparate collection of regions and geographies" into one cohesive unit.

"What I brought in was that consistency. Consistency of how we dealt with customers, contracts and commercial modelling, as well as product roadmaps and portfolios," says Clarke. "We introduced global account programmes for our key customers so that if they spoke to our team in say Hong Kong or London, for example, they were getting that same consistent approach. I was able to show that to my bosses in our top line growth over the last few years."

That transformation was complete by August 2010, which Clarke describes as being the stand out moment of his career to date.

Since then, Telstra Global has also restructured its voice and OTT portfolio, in order to take "an holistic view of the global wholesale environment" across all aspects of its services. "I believe we will be able to deliver substantial synergies from that," says Clarke.

"Obviously our customers are also our suppliers, partners and competitors - which is one of the things I love about working in this industry."

End of the beginning

Underpinning Clarke's commitment to growth and innovation, Telstra Global has rapidly expanded its global footprint, announcing the addition of nine PoPs in October 2012, including London, Marseille, Stockholm, Osaka, Tokyo, Sydney, Hong Kong and Chicago.

Equal attention has been placed on infrastructure, with the company this year alone acquiring a fibre pair on the APX West cable and partnering on the Tasman Global Access (TGA). The company forecasts more than 60% annual growth in its trans-Pacific submarine cable traffic over the next three years.

In his own words, Clarke labels the business unit as now being positioned at "the end of the beginning".

Meticulous planning will continue to support further expansion over the coming years, but what advice does Clarke offer other wholesale units also looking to expand their global footprint? "The first step for implementing a new PoP is sales led. We talk to our customers and try to get a feel for what they are doing and where their business is expanding. At the same time, we get a good aggregate feel for some of the technologies and trends in particular geographies they are looking to expand into," he says.

"We then look at how the PoP may also be influenced by our own needs - so, for example, where our enterprise customers are based. I think that combined view is the first step for initiating a business case."

Next, Clarke examines the potential move on an operations level, examining areas such as network efficiency, reducing unit costs or moving more traffic on net.

Finally, he reiterates the importance of having a long-term vision: "Telstra has some tough internal metrics that we must adhere to just like any responsible company does. But we take a long-term view with respect to new PoPs. We must believe and prove to ourselves through internal analysis, that there is real demand in a new location for a particular product or service. Once that has been proved internally, we can go about executing the move."

With Australia perched at the very furthest tip of the Asia-Pacific, Telstra Global has a bird's eye view of the region and the vast potential of some of its telecoms markets. 

Of these new and exciting markets, it is Myanmar which has been making the headlines most recently as the country prepares to issue two mobile licences. Clarke, however, appears to have set his sights elsewhere. "With respect to Myanmar, a lot has been written about its potential but I think it may be some time, however, until there is an industry there that will really drive demand both in and out of the country," says Clarke. "I think potentially as mobile networks and fixed networks roll out in the country then that might drive an organic IP need for capacity. But with respect to enterprise needs, our view is that we would expect to see an industry develop in the country before we see a real need to enter."

Instead he earmarks Indonesia and Vietnam as two of the hottest markets to watch in the region. "A lot of Australian SMEs, for instance, are moving into Indonesia in different wholesale verticals - be it banking, airlines or mining. Indonesia is definitely a market that will show considerable growth and we are positioning ourselves accordingly in that part of the world," he says.

The same, says Clarke, can be said of Vietnam, which he believes has been "underrated" in the past, but is now starting to fulfil its considerable potential.

Outside of the region, Clarke believes Djibouti is another market deservedly receiving a lot of attention. "Its becoming an important gateway for Asia to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, particularly for IP. A lot of the African-based carriers that are looking for alternative options to get their traffic out of the continent see Djibouti as an important gateway," he says.  "We have been examining some of the options there ever since we attended Capacity Middle East this March. The business case that is being developed there is very interesting."

Innovating in the long-term

In the results of Capacity's C100 survey, which were released at this year's ITW, innovation emerged as one of the key themes, with IPX viewed as a major priority for 2013.

Clarke very much shares this mindset, describing the technology as the way of the future.

"Everyone has an IPX story today in some shape or form. When you scratch beneath the surface, sometimes you find some of the stories aren't as good as you would have first necessarily thought," he says.

"We have taken a different tact. We saw a gap where no one was really focussing on the LTE data roaming aspect of IPX. That has very much been our initial focus and has resulted in some early success."

Carriers, he says, will always be able to offer a "base level" of products and services that customers want, but there is a growing expectation to deliver much greater value and margins.

"If you don't innovate over and above that, then you are at risk of becoming irrelevant in the marketplace. User demand is becoming much more complex and smarter, and if you're not driving the same levels of innovation and productivity across your services, then you risk becoming irrelevant," he says.

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