A walk on the winning side to total transformation with GBI

A walk on the winning side to total transformation with GBI

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 slowly sank.”

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’ zone. 

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 coming’.”  

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 winner.’” 

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 says.

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.”  

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