Luis Álvarez Satorre: aiming for Global
Services to contribute half of group revenues
Part of BT's increasingly international business empire, BT
Global Services has been gathering speed lately with a string
of strategic acquisitions.
These range from Indian company i2i and the Belgian consultancy
INS on the IT and logistics side, to more network-based
concerns such as the US companies Infonet, bought in 2005, and
Comsat, acquired in a well-publicised purchase in 2007.
Its choice of acquisitions says much about the course the
division — and hence BT itself — is taking,
not only in terms of its internationalist ambitions but also in
its diversification out of pure telecoms into a hybrid
And with it, BT Global Services is sprinting forward to become
one of the company's most lucrative sections.
The unit serves corporate, multinational and government clients
across the globe, including in the UK. Its DNA includes former
parts of the multinational-serving Concert, a long-defunct
joint venture with AT&T.
In 2004, of BT's overall £18.5 billion revenue just
£205 million came from outside Europe. By the end of
March 2007, a third of that financial year's £20.2
billion came from the company's extra-European operations. BT
expects that Global Services, now present in 170 countries,
will soon contribute fully half its revenues.
It's no surprise to find, then, that since its official launch
in Latin America less than two years ago, BT Global Services
has made large strides in the region's market. It has become
the third largest player in the corporate market —
behind Telmex and Telefónica — with remarkable
speed, mainly as the result of acquisitions, not least that of
Comsat, which came complete with a 15-country network.
This growth has taken place under the leadership of Luis
Álvarez Satorre, who was placed in charge of BT's
Spanish operations in January 2001.
The company's Iberian income more than quadrupled on
Álvarez's watch, from €93 million in 2000 to
€419 million in 2005-06.
It's presumably not exclusively a result of his magic touch,
but he's certainly doing something right, since his progress
inside BT has been impressive. Álvarez's remit expanded
to include Latin America in the run-up to BT's launch there in
Mexico in January 2006; and in May 2007, as part of the
company's internal reorganisation, he became president of BT
Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
He spoke to Global Telecoms Business in a week in which he
had just returned from a trip to Argentina, Brazil and Mexico
to inspect BT's latest prize acquisition, Comsat —
more of which later — and we started by asking him how
the company had evolved since he first came on board in
"Since Ben Verwaayen [CEO of BT] came in 2001, there's been a
very consistent roll-out in terms of strategy," he says, "and I
think that's incredibly important, because in this business, if
you lose consistency then you're at risk. Having a clear
strategy and having been able to implement it has been very,
"But I think the major change I've seen in my time at BT has
been its putting the customer in the centre and recognizing
that our best consultants are our customers. It's something
that many companies talk about, but I've been able to see for
myself that here it has actually happened."
In BT's case this does appear to be more than just
client-pleasing rhetoric, since the Global Services business
model is based to a large extent on the development of its
infrastructure according to the expanding needs of its
international client base.
"Rather than building an infrastructure and then trying to find
out which customers are interested, we're building the company
for our customers — creating, building and even
acquiring new assets based on where our customers are
investing, and where they have business requirements."
And with some of the world's largest multinationals busy making
the most of the opportunities for growth in Latin America, BT's
network has been growing in tandem, creating a solid, expansive
network able to collapse long distances for its clients, and
leaving them free to concentrate on their core
"It has been a very organic process for us," says
Álvarez, "of winning these large contracts with the
expansion of Unilever, Pepsico and InBev in the region, while
at the same time integrating the capabilities of Infonet and
acquiring Telexis from Fiat in Brazil, in 2006," he says.
"And now with the acquisition of Comsat, we have been able to
really leap forward in Latin America."
What in particular did Comsat have that BT wanted? "There were
a number of things, beginning with the customer base. It was
totally aligned with our target customer base —
enterprise and corporate businesses, and governments —
so it was perfect."
Comsat came with a set of some 2,000 corporate and
public-sector clients, as well as a staff of 700, ramping up
BT's manpower in the region from just 100 previously.
"Then there was Comsat's IT infrastructure," Álvarez
continues, "which has multiplied our capability in the region
by a factor of ten", boosting the scope of BT's '21st-century
network' in the area from 17 nodes to 180 in one move.
"Also Comsat's data centres in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia,
which we didn't have before and which, since our business is
networked IT services, are absolutely critical for us."
Finally, there's Comsat's access: with some 20,000 connections
in the region through its VSAT satellite link, "it has
increased our capability to connect customers very quickly", he
"Satellite is a very powerful tool in places like Latin
America," says Álvarez, "because it provides you, on the
one hand, with the facility to go to the market very quickly.
You don't need to wait until the infrastructure is ready. And
it's also very useful for interim installations in remote
places like Manaus, Brazil, or in Mendoza in Argentina, where
the infrastructure is lacking."
Comsat's satellite deals include that of the Caixa
Econômica Federal in Brazil — a state-owned bank
that also runs the national lottery — and Compartel in
Colombia, a project that was recently expanded from providing
more than 3,000 internet access points across the country to
include provision to 313 public schools, as well as providing
telephony to rural areas.
Communications provision to rural areas is also the
foundation of Comsat's Gesac contract in Brazil, extended in
October to run for a further 12 months, which uses VSAT to
bring broadband and VoIP to the furthest-flung regions of the
country, including to military garrisons, poor communities and
"It's a question," says Álvarez, "of making the best use
of the available infrastructure and of the appropriate
technology in each context."
The company is just as pragmatic in its approach to WiMax:
"It's a tactical matter," says Álvarez. "There isn't
much point in building a WiMax network in a city where
everything is already cabled. But in some remote places, then
it may be the best way to provide broadband services."
He also points out that you can provide WiMax services on some
frequencies without a licence; which makes WiMax very useful as
well as particularly efficient in remote locations. And
tactically linking satellite to WiMax to wifi, the
possibilities multiply even further. BT is offering
fixed-mobile convergence to its corporate customers using wifi,
rather than cellular technology.
"Wifi is becoming more and more easily available,"
Álvarez explains, "and its bandwidth is much higher than
that of GSM or even GPRS or 3G. It's very easy for us to expand
the integrated capabilities we have globally to provide
services to our customers — we have 49,000 wifi
hotspots around the world, so if those hotspots become
available for telephony, then that is going to dramatically
change the way our customers make their calls."
But much as telecoms infrastructure is, quite naturally, one of
BT's core specialities, it's where the network meets the IT
that the company is, more and more, coming into its own:
"Before, you had IT companies and telecoms companies, but no
one was in this space that we call the 'convergence space',"
"We've been able to create something that was non-existent
before, and that's the capability to provide IT services linked
to the network. For example, you build an IP network and then
you realise that you need security — it's essential
that you are able to protect your assets."
That might be via firewalls, he explains, but it's also through
being able to control what happens on the network through
identity-management and in-company email systems, secure
hosting and backup recovery.
Álvarez is on familiar ground discussing these kinds of
technologies: with seven years in Grupo Santander's IT section
under his belt, as well as a previous track record at Ericsson
and IBM, he is also credited with being one of the pioneers of
internet banking in his native Spain — he was in
charge of the team that launched Spain's first internet banking
service during his time at Banesto.
"I think that having worked at Ericsson and IBM, and having
then spent eleven years in banking, I was very quickly able to
understand what our customer requirements are. And it's being
focused on corporate business that has made this so much
easier," says Álvarez. "If you look at the strategy of
some of the other operators in the region it's more of a
multi-domestic approach. Ours is different: it's a global
Another area in which BT is pulling hardware and software
together to offer converged services is in the field of call
centres, where BT has moved into process management —
providing a set of services that ranges from designing
telemarketing campaigns, making the calls, processing the data,
and even managing the resultant contracts.
It sounds like BT is willing to go as far as its clients need
it to go in terms of services. "We're interested in
facilitating whatever our customers need to do," says
Álvarez, "which in some of these cases means finding key
partners. We are an enabler — our capabilities are in
providing the platform from which our customers can manage new
That willingness to work with other operators has meant that
even with the companies that might be its rivals in one sense,
it has managed to cultivate cooperative relationships: "We are
not competing face to face with Telefónica and Telmex,"
he says. "We are partnering with them, using their
infrastructure to supply services to our customers, especially
in the case of Telmex."
A business partnership, indeed, is what first led BT to
Comsat's door, when the two companies worked together on a
number of contracts in the region. "It was a good chance to
assess the company," says Álvarez. "We were able to test
Comsat's capabilities in deploying services and being able
BT is famously keen on implementing new styles of working among
its staff — a process it manages through its Workstyle
programme: a framework to manage job-sharing, home working and
flexitime in a set of configurations both procedural and
technical, based on innovations in both HR and IT.
And speaking to Global Telecoms Business in a little time taken
out from his family holiday in southern Spain, Álvarez
clearly practises what he preaches — as do members of
his team we spoke to, who just as they are perfectly prepared
to work from their holidays, also enjoy the liberty to be able
to work from home when possible, or to take a day off when
It's just as well there is a little slack built in. As
president of BT Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America
— the kind of title any player of Risk would kill for
— how on earth does Álvarez manage to keep such
a globe-spanning remit under control?
"Well, one of the first things I've been doing is to try and
sort out what the priorities are," he says.
"There are so many things going on, as you can imagine, that
you could be absorbed every single minute of every day, and get
distracted into not paying enough attention to the critical
things. And then after that it's about making sure I have the
right team on board."
He's passionate about delegating, he says: "I'm sure, when I
have something that needs to be done, that my people will want
the opportunity to take it on. One of the best things about BT
is its people — I really do think it has one of the
best teams in the industry by far, and that makes it very easy,
for someone with the will to make things happen and the
ambition to make things evolve, to accomplish all those