David Kay: we had to stop fighting between ourselves and
work under one banner
Linda Garcia: we said go with Go. It was a fantastic
Go has added TV to its offer, to compete with the cable
Take a government-run phone company, privatise it, and then
let it compete in the market against a bunch of dynamic
newcomers. How does it survive?
That was the challenge faced by David Kay when he became CEO of
Maltacom in June 2006. The government of Malta — the
Mediterranean island that is one of the EU's smallest member
states — sold a 60% stake in the company to Dubai
Holdings, with 40% floated on the Malta stock exchange.
But the newly independent Maltacom had to do more that to
compete against a cable operator that is also offering fixed
telephony, in a market where customers are anyway starting to
prefer to use their mobiles.
"I inherited a company that had been run by the government,
with all that that means," says Kay, who had worked for most of
his career in Cable & Wireless, in Hong Kong, Latvia and
most recently as CEO of the operation in Macau, before joining
the Dubai-owned Maltacom.
His first task was to consolidate. "We had many finance
departments, many network departments, many purchasing
departments — we consolidated the whole thing," says
The operation also had a successful, though separately run,
mobile operation, called Go Mobile, and legally the wireline
company and the wireless company were officially separate.
"The wireless company had its own board and it was not
allowed to recruit from the wireline company. It had a totally
different culture. The wireless company is young and vibrant,
with new ideas and energy. The other was the opposite, with
government practices and procedures."
But an important part of the strategy that Kay identified early
in the process was to rebrand the operation — and he
commissioned a branding specialist based in the UK and Dubai to
"We were responsible for branding Dubai Holdings' mobile
operation in Dubai," says Linda Garcia, managing director of
Turquoise Branding. "As well as Du, we've worked with Telenet
in Belgium, Telemar in Brazil and Pipex Wireless in the UK."
Turquoise became involved in Malta when there were still four
companies in the Maltacom group.
"We had to stop fighting between ourselves and work under one
banner," says Kay. "So we looked for a single brand. We had a
very good brand for the mobile side."
Garcia agrees: "It was a fantastic name. We said just go with
Go, and keep the name." Moving away from having "Malta" in the
name helped, she adds: "The 'Malta' prefix showed it was a
state monopoly. It had those associations."
On the other side, Maltacom "was seen as strong and reliable",
says Kay. "Both brands were very strong."
The operator undertook some market research. "We ended up going
with Go," says Kay. There was a small change — a
lowercase "go" was transformed into "GO", he adds, "to include
all the things Maltacom had".
Clarity of the message
What's the point of branding? Garcia is clear: "Telecoms
operators are worried about the clarity of their message with
more and more products and services," she says. "With all the
packages and offers and call plans it is confusion. So clarity
and simplicity of the message is the key. You need to make sure
your message is clear."
Since the change, which has been followed in a change in the
legal name of the company, "we've adopted the whole new
attributes of the brand", says Kay. "We've got to live up to
It wasn't a matter of just choosing the new brand, but of
implementing the changes throughout the company —
right down to redesigning shops and some of the company's vans,
a few of which still carried the name that was in use before
Maltacom. "Some were 20 years old and still had the old name on
Other tasks included staff uniforms and websites, notes Garcia.
"There's a lot of collateral that goes with rebranding."
And the result? "You can imagine putting all that together in
one go would have been a challenge," says Kay.
But after the process has been completed, "we're now uplifting
the game of the fixed company", he says. The process went
"extremely well", but as a result customers' "expectations have
gone through the roof", he reports.
"People complain that we're not doing stuff in half the time we
did before, when it was regarded as quite acceptable." That's
the consequence of not being seen as a government
"You have got to watch it on these things. Expectations have
gone up all round," says Kay. "I can talk to our employees
about competition and they're seeing it. It has unified the
organisation considerably. Things are now a lot better and
we've recognised the enemy is more outside than in."
Before the change there was an uncomfortable tendency to fight
internal rivals. Now the focus has shifted to the real
competition. And competition is tough, he notes. "We're driven
by the competition — it's a very competitive
The cable operator serves 100,000 households — in a
country that has a total population of only 400,000, "and now
they're offering telephony, and they have a 3G licence".
Mobile market share
Go Malta's mobile operation is only seven years old, though
in that time is has won a 49% market share, leaving Vodafone
— much longer established in the island —
with 51%. Now Go is starting to offer HSDPA services across the
country, "and that's taking off well", says Kay.
Thanks to Kay and Garcia there might be unified branding, but
is there a unified offer to the market?
"We're looking to bundle the services," says Kay, but he warns
that the company is still the incumbent and so it is regulated
in terms of what it can do. "We've got to be clearer with the
regulator on what we're charging," he says. "We can't
However Go is "looking to offer double, triple and quadruple
play services to our customers", he adds. "That will give value
to our customers."
The company has acquired a digital terrestrial television
service provider in order to add TV channels to its
"It means we're challenging the cable company, which is
attacking us on the telephony side," says Kay. "We are highly
regulated. The cable company is not. We are losing customers on
the fixed side to cable. We are not allowed to match their
Meanwhile he complains that the company — serving a
country that has a high dependence on the tourist trade
— had been hit by the EU's reduction in mobile roaming
On the fixed side, Go Malta has upgraded many of its switches
to IP. Braodband customers can get 28-30 megabits across most
of the capital city, Valetta. "Once you move away from the
distribution points it is more difficult," he admits.
"The access network needs upgrading. We are able to provide
very high speed in some places, and we do want a large IPTV
offer." At the moment only 35-40% of customers could
effectively be served by IPTV and Go Malta is looking for ways
to improve the infrastructure.
The company now has a licence for WiMax which will allow it to
offer a two-megabit service — suitable for internet
though not for IPTV — in certain areas, "where it
makes commercial sense to do so", says Kay.
Meanwhile the process of streamlining the company after
privatisation continues. We are looking at driving synergies
from the companies and that will develop," says Kay. There was
an agreement with the government not to cut the labour force in
the fixed operation for three years after privatisation, "and
we're now in the second year", he notes: "We're trying to
downsize the company."
But that doesn't mean cuts right across all departments. "The
commercial department in the fixed side was non-existent and
has been revitalised," he says. "We will be driving very
And, with its Dubai ownership come relationships with a variety
of companies from western Europe to the Gulf, including
Interoute, a London-based operator that runs a wholesale and
business network across Europe — and has just
installed a submarine cable connecting Italy to Malta.
Kay is looking for opportunities in data hosting, he says. "We
can provide hosting and managed services," he says. "It's a
good solid solution for people who want hosting facilities
offshore but within Europe. Data hosting has been continuing to
And he's looking with interest at investments in knowledge
cities in Dubai and other places. There's an idea for Malta, he