M-Tel Bulgaria CEO Andreas Maierhofer: We'll Stay Market Leader, Definitely
An interview with Mr Andreas Maierhofer, CEO of M-Tel Bulgaria, for "International Survey: Bulgaria-Austria" of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) & Novinite.bg.
The Expat 'Personality in the News' award you recently got from the readers of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) is by far not the first that you win as a manager both in Bulgaria and abroad. Do you still get surprised?
Yes, of course, the awards are always a very nice surprise because it is evidence of the positive feedback to what I personally and more importantly the whole company do. I represent M-Tel, but this award is for the whole company and all the employees who work in it. They really do deserve it and it is important for me that I share it with them.
What is your recipe for success? Are there any basic rules you invariably stay faithful to?
There is no exact recipe. I think that every manager has to develop his own style how to lead a company and especially how to lead people. My approach in leading people is to coach my direct reports, give them enough freedom and also enough empowerment to decide on their own. I strongly believe that only the freedom to take the right decisions can bring out the potential of creativity and self-confidence in them. A company can be successful only if it has the right team.
You took over M-Tel, the largest Bulgarian mobile operator, in 2009. How do you see it changed since then under your leadership?
In July 2005 the Telekom Austria Group acquired a 100% stake in M-Tel, the leading Bulgarian provider of mobile communications services, and successfully completed the integration process in 2006. I was appointed CMO of M-Tel Bulgaria in May 2007. In July 2009 I became the company CEO.
Definitely things have changed a lot. I took over the company just as the world was caught in the middle of a global crisis and unfortunately Bulgaria was one of the hardest-hit countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Consumption has steadily declined and from this point of view the telecom market has underwent huge changes. It is much more difficult and competitive, so these are really quite challenging times for us.
Which is the hardest lesson that you have learned faced with the new challenges?
It is not about learning hard lessons, but rather learning new approaches how to operate in the telecommunication industry. The sector has always had a nice growth and still remains the most dynamic industry, but nevertheless we have to become more cautious in our investments. Prices are declining, but at the same time we have to invest more than in the past because of mobile broadband, new technologies, also the higher demands of our customers. We end up in a situation where we have shrinking revenues, but higher investments to make.
Given the fierce competition and high saturation on the market, how do you go about making sure that M-Tel stays competitive?
We are clearly the leader in mobile communications and we are already a very serious player in the fixed line market, especially the broadband market, following our acquisition of cable operators Megalan Network and Spectrum Net in 2010.
We will definitely continue to be the leader on the market simply because we are listening to what customers want to have in terms of new services and products. Being the leader means that we are the innovation leader as well, we are the first to bring to Bulgaria the new things on the market. This is the obligation of a leader. But for us it is much more important to put the customer into the center of our focus. The customer is the most important topic for us.
Where do you see Bulgaria's telecom sector in 5 years?
Bulgaria's telecom sector is in a very difficult situation. This forces us to be much more cautious how and where to invest.
I can confirm that Telekom Austria continues to invest a significant amount of money in the company per year. The total amount of our investments since the acquisition in 2005 stand at EUR 700 M, focused mainly in infrastructure. The whole industry moves to data services - mobile data, fixed data, based on high data access, this is definitely the future.
Bulgaria should make it a top priority to start investing not only in the big cities, but also in the regions. Unfortunately Bulgaria has one of the lowest rates of broadband penetration. That's why giving access to the Internet to everybody here in Bulgaria is one of our major goals and we are investing a lot to make this happen.
What are your recommendations to the Bulgarian government? How can Bulgaria improve its business environment?
The new government stepped into office at the same time as I took over M-Tel in the capacity of CEO. The timing was challenging as that was just the middle of the crisis., I think the government is doing a good job, given all the difficult circumstances they have to cope with.
My strong advice to the government is to focus more on foreign direct investments. FDIs were one of the main drivers behind the gross domestic product growth that Bulgaria recorded in the past, it will also be the main factor that could fuel consumption.
Unfortunately FDIs in Bulgaria decreased over the years significantly. Now Bulgaria needs to draw up a good new plan for approaching foreign investors. The mood among foreign investor about investing in Bulgaria is not the best, although the country offers a 10% flat tax. But a 10% flat tax is not enough to lure foreign investors. Bulgaria needs to have the right program to motivate foreign investors to come here.
You have a lot of international management experience. How is managing a company in Bulgaria different, how does it compare to other locations where you have worked?
Bulgaria has really highly educated workforce. What needs to be improved is the connection between the universities and the business, to make sure that while gaining theoretical knowledge students are already becoming familiar with the practical part of life.
What Bulgarians need is much more confidence, particularly in the management potential they have to decide on their own and take over responsibilities. I want to encourage Bulgarian managers to take the power not only to decide but also to bear the responsibility. This is the main difference of the Bulgarian approach to doing business from other countries like Austria. This is not a negative trait, but a process, which needs to be accelerated and I am already very satisfied with my management team.
How do you feel as an expat (manager) in Bulgaria, or, rather, in Sofia?
When I don't work I spend all my time with my family. As you can imagine leading such a big company, which employs almost 4000 people, means huge responsibilities and little free time. The time I spend with my wife and my kids is the most relaxing part of the day I enjoy.
Social networking also needs time as we have many friends in Bulgaria and Austria, including other expats in Sofia mainly from the Austrian community.
One needs to be fit to take the responsibilities that this jobs brings, which is why I do sports two or three times a week together with my wife. This is a way to train our body and be mentally fit, which is very important.
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