Looking for the next iteration for Epsilon
Epsilon has a new CEO, and at the same time much of the top management team has changed. Alan Burkitt-Gray asks Michel Robert what he plans to do
The new CEO of Epsilon Telecommunications is talking to a number of companies that he wants to become managed service partners. No names yet, says Michel Robert, who joined the company in February 2020, but “we are actively working with a number of partners”.
When will he be able to say who they are? “Between now and the end of January. I don’t want to give you a date and miss it,” he smiles.
Robert took over as CEO from Jerzy — or George — Szlosarek, who has moved after 17 years to Dubai to run a software-defined network company called Neutrality.one. Capacity interviewed him in the October/November issue.
But that wasn’t the only change to hit Epsilon in 2019 and 2020. All four of the company’s top management, as listed on its own website, have joined since January 2019, when Colin Whitbread, formerly of TalkTalk, became managing director for service and operations.
He was followed through the entrance by Lee Myall, formerly of Interoute, who left after the GTT takeover in 2018. But Myall’s stay as chief commercial officer was brief. He continued moving as the revolving door kept turning and in November became CEO of Kao Data.
The other newcomer is Craig Forrester, VP of finance for sales and marketing at Colt. He became Epsilon’s CFO in May 2020.
Epsilon no doubt hopes Robert brings stability. As his timeline shows, this is only his third job since 2001, when he became European solutions director at South African company Dimension Data, which since 2010, though not in Robert’s time, has been NTT’s IT specialist. “I was part of the European management team,” he says.
Robert was born in the US but is French — his last name is pronounced “Rob-air”, not “Rob-ert”.
“I went to school in Rhode Island and then to Kenyon College, a small liberal arts college in Ohio.
“My early career was in the shopping centre business, with a leading developer for 10 years, and then I came to the UK to work with a data-driven marketing consultancy.” Among the projects he worked on was the Tesco supermarket chain’s loyalty card.
“I became more involved in business development and consulting than in general management.” And that led to the technology business, “helping to set up companies to work with brands for online commerce”.
Dimension Data acquired that consultancy, and he stayed until 2007, when he was recruited by Claranet, which had been an acquisitive internet service provider (ISP) that now provides network, hosting and managed application services in Europe — the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Italy — and in Brazil.
“Claranet was a consumer ISP and then transitioned to a managed service provider,” he recalls. “But from 2012 onwards the big focus was on acquisitions. We made about 30 acquisitions and I was involved in eight of them. Acquisition is one of the things I have some familiarity with.”
Robert has already seen the first acquisition since he joined Epsilon: a week before we spoke the company bought 7d Digital, a UK-based software development company, to grow its information systems team and bring new skills in-house. Epsilon and 7d Digital had been working together on the development of its connectivity platform, Infiny, since 2015.
The company said in October: “As part of Epsilon, the 7d team can commit fully to the development of Infiny and support the company’s vision for software-centric service delivery and customer engagement.”
And Robert himself said: “It is time for us to dedicate more resources into the development of Infiny, and to grow our software capabilities and enhance our DevOps. Our information systems, service and operations teams are now working closer than ever in orchestrating Epsilon’s services on Infiny. … We have invested a significant amount of time and effort towards building Infiny and will continue to add new skills and talents onboard to take it to the next level.”
So how did Robert find himself in the CEO’s office at Epsilon? “I was approached, and it was a very interesting opportunity,” he says. “It’s a business that’s been around some time. It was an opportunity for the board to bring me and a new CFO into the company.”
The next iteration
The challenge: what’s the next iteration for Epsilon? “The business continues to move and change. The market is around cloud and cloud infrastructure — and the influence the hyperscalers have had. Epsilon has a great heritage in providing those services to carriers. We’re building on that.”
The aim, now, is network as a service, or NaaS, says Robert, “to support carriers and partners — and a set of enterprise customers that are technically savvy. We provide international access and data-centre interconnection.”
He notes: “There’s a big focus on connecting to clouds,” listing Alibaba, Amazon Web Services, Azure, Google and so on. “How do we make that as seamless as possible?”
The answer, he provides himself, is to use Infiny, and to take that to the next generation. “7d Digital was involved in that [the original development] and the takeover was intended to gain more of their time,” he says. “They did have other customers, but we wanted to bring them inside the fold. They are a very good, talented team.”
The acquisition was directly intended to further “the evolution of our services”, he adds. “We are building on the services we provide today.”
So what services is Epsilon wanting to add to the portfolio? “There is nothing specific I can announce today,” says Robert. “But we are looking at partnerships as a way of enhancing services. There’s some incredibly clever technology we’ve produced.”
So, how does the company see itself supporting managed service providers? “They need a good network to succeed, and we can partner with them.” In the portfolio are “things you could enhance and do better. That’s where we’ve started.”
We’ll see features that “would be a great enhancement to an Epsilon service”, he says. “But it’s not just one thing we’re looking at.”
Epsilon is on the lookout, he says. “Epsilon is partner-friendly — or technology partner-friendly. If someone has a brilliant idea we’d love to hear [from them].”
The company operates from three main centres, Singapore and London, with customer services in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, and there some further people in the US and the Middle East.
Having started work with Epsilon at the beginning of February, Robert managed to visit just Singapore and Dubai before everything closed down. “Timing is everything,” he smiles.
So where’s the focus under his leadership? “The Asia Pacific,” he says, adding: “We’re continuing to build in the footprint,” noting Singapore and Hong Kong as key. “Asia will be a very important region for us.” But he doesn’t forget Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “The Middle East will continue to be a focus — as well as the US.”
What sort of US customers? “We’re refining the segmentation. We have colocation facilities in London, Singapore and New York, and we want to ensure we’re focused on the data portfolio.” Epsilon is still involved in voice services, including IP-TDM translation services, “but the main investments are on the data side”, he says.
“Driving profitable growth is important,” Robert adds, but he doesn’t want to put numbers on the market segments or the profitability. Is anything unprofitable? “No,” he says. “Data, colocation and voice have their own dynamics. We see opportunities in each. They have different dynamics, and we want to treat them appropriately.”
Does that mean one or more of these might go outside Epsilon? Surprisingly, Robert doesn’t follow the usual CEO’s formula and refuse to comment. “Who knows?” he says. “We’re happy with the mix. Each has different economics and different requirements and all three have a place in Epsilon.” But then, tellingly, he adds: “I have no crystal ball.”
Robert is based in London. He’s speaking from the appropriately named Telephone House in Paul Street, in the somewhat faded but undeniably high-tech Shoreditch area of central London. Apart from those two fortuitous trips after his appointment, he’s been locked down, like all of us. He’s looking forward to getting out again.
“There’s been a change in the way of working. People have learned to adapt. There’s not really a choice. People have been forced to make the best of it. I’ve been able to get to work in London, with social distancing.”
Fortunately, he says, “we’re in a relevant sector of the market [with] the ability to support businesses working from home. Luckily some of these people are our customers. We’ve been able to grow revenue as a result.” Operationally, “our teams have reacted really well”, he adds. “This has really helped.”
At Epsilon, too, the management team is scattered across different markets. “We’re trying to adapt,” even though there’s no chance “to get the team together for a meal”. Something for us all to look forward to.
2001 European solutions director, Dimension Data
2007 Managing director, Claranet
2020 CEO, Epsilon Telecommunications