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::Face To Face

Face to Face: Bill Murphy, CEO Esat BT
Tuesday, July 23 2002
by Matthew Clark

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Esat has rebranded itself Esat BT, and with the change a new feeling about its direction has emerged, including a closer intertwining with its parent. Last week Matthew Clark spoke to the company's CEO Bill Murphy, the New Yorker orchestrating the changes.

ENN: What do you think the perception is of Esat BT among Irish businesses and among Irish consumers?

Murphy: We have done a lot of research in support of the brand and what we have found is that the residential market just wants good service at a good price. And the brand is considered good; there's good name recognition about Esat. It's being viewed as a challenger to Eircom and it's being viewed as having value for money.

But maybe we lost our way a little bit on service and that's what we are putting a lot of focus into now. But from a brand point of view it's very sound. Stronger than I even thought it was.

ENN: You have been on the job for just 100 days. How is the company taking to you and your management style?

Murphy: I say this to everybody: There are good people and this is a good business here. We are changing as an organisation. We are no longer just on our own here in Ireland, we are part of something much, much bigger, which creates more potential for both ourselves as well as for our customers.

I think what the management team has done is brought a hell of a lot more clarity to the business than there was just a few months back. I think they have instituted a very good plan.

ENN: Have you had to make any changes in the way you manage, working in Ireland or working for Esat in particular?

Murphy: All business is local and every market is different. You have to understand how business is done, but you also have to understand first and foremost where the business is going.

I spent a bit of time understanding where we were good, or perceived as good, in this market, and where we were less good. So now we have a pretty good feel and we certainly know from a longer point of view where we want to go. Our biggest challenge is telling our story; getting that message out to our customers and doing it in a way that people want to hear.

You have to have relationships here. This is a key European capital but at the end of the day all business is local, and you have to know your customers and you have to establish relationships with them. That's where we are focusing so much of our effort.

ENN: On a personal level, how do you like living in Ireland?

Murphy: It's grand. [laughing] No, seriously, it's good. You know the average age in the company is 28 years old. It's a very young company, it's a very young country but with a great history. It's been quite refreshing coming to work here, a challenge, but quite refreshing. I've been quite lucky, too, because I have been readily accepted by people here.

The interesting thing, more so than anyplace else I've ever worked, is that the door is more open. You can get to people and you can talk to them.

ENN: You have talked about the goal of EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation & amortisation] breakeven by March 2003 and the goal of going after the top 300 companies in Ireland. What else would you like to get done over the next few months?

Murphy: We have done a lot in the last 90 days. That's integrating the networks North and South, integrating the networks into BT; these were all things that hadn't happened before. This was a big deal. Re-branding and re-marketing ourselves as a different company is quite an accomplishment. If you think about it, we have completely turned the business on its head in the last 90 days.

I can't stress this enough because this is what it's all about. We have done all the stuff that we need to do in order to get our business model right. It is all about convincing residentials, SMEs, corporates and government that we can be an effective part of their business, whether they are at home or in the office...and that we are a credible competitor to Eircom.

ENN: You have been reported as saying you have dropped the aim of 1 million residential customers, as that's not really an appropriate goal. What kind of measurable targets do you have? There must be targets you have set.

Murphy: We do have those targets. But if I give you a number, I have to send a filing to the SEC, and to be honest it's a real bear.

ENN: Fair enough. I understand you sent a letter to the Irish Independent taking issue with something they had published. How do you find the press here?

Murphy: Very accessible. In some ways more accessible than I have seen before. I do think the press plays an important role in driving a competitive environment.

We have had a very difficult time [in the press] and a lot of that is our own making. If you go back three months, there were a lot of things we had been given a hard time about. We had eight different brands, now we only have one. We had nine different companies, now we only have one. We had 35 different legal entities, now we are cleaning all of that up. We hadn't tied the networks together. These are all things we have done now.

If the press views us as something that has moved from uncertain to certain, believe me, the business people and the citizens will say, 'Jeez, these guys are for real, we can buy from them!' We spent a lot of time over the past three months going out and telling people -- our own people -- we are going to be here, we are sticking around, we have got a lot of work to do and this is where we are headed.

The only winner in an uncertain market is Eircom. If you want competition, you have to push a pro-competition agenda.

ENN: The changes you have made over the last three months, are they changes that should have been made 12 months ago?

Murphy: Yep.

ENN: Are they changes that could have been made shortly after the company was purchased?

Murphy: No. But I just don't dwell on the past. You can't change what happened yesterday.

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