International telecommunications providers have a presence in Canada, though few Canadians know it. That’s mainly because they serve multinational corporations who have divisions here, and not consumers.
The newest executive of a foreign telco to have North American responsibilities is Bas Burger, president of U.S. and Canada for BT Group, one of the biggest and oldest in the business whose British antecedents date back to the late 1880s.
BT (which used to be known as British Telecom) hasn’t been here that long – it’s a youngster with just over 20 years in the colonies. Although it doesn’t have a network in Canada, it has points of presence in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and several other locations.
It counts about 1,000 customers in Canada and the U.S. including locally-based TD Bank and the Montreal Exchange, as well as international giants like Unilever (consumer goods, Bristol Meyers Squibb (pharmaceuticals), AngloAmerican (mining), Novartis (pharmaceuticals) and DHL Int’l (parcel express).
Although Canada is small part of the North American business, in an interview Burger said his goal here is get more revenue.
“For us it’s important to implement our global strategy, and that is growth. We don’t necessarily look at top-line growth but we want to grow in the areas where we have made investments.” These include verticals like financial services (where BT’s 2005 purchase of Reuters Raidanz financial information network can be leveraged), pharmaceutical companies (where BT has created a cloud platform for research and development); logistics and energy.
At the same time he wants BT to increase its business among Canadian-based enterprises looking to expand internationally.
Burger works from Dallas, where BT’s North American operations is headquartered.
He came here from Amsterdam, where he was president for BT’s global commerce customers and he retains that responsibility. Before that he was BT’s CEO for Benelux countries. He’s worked for the Netherlands’ incumbent telco, KPN, where he led the enterprise division, and for an IT services company.
BT used to be the telecom division of Britain’s post office. British Telecom was formed in 1980 and in 1984 was privatized. It now operates in over 170 countries.
Burger said his competition here includes AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and France’s Orange Business Services along with BCE Inc.’s Bell and Telus.
Unlike the others, BT doesn’t offer cellular service, which is an advantage, Burger says: It can focus on its landline business and not worry about a wireless infrastructure.
Although it would be best known for its business connectivity services, Burger said BT makes most of is money from building what he calls value add on top of the network – in other words, IT services such as creating or tailoring applications, helping corporate network security, unified communications and managing corporate mobile assets.
Among the biggest challenges BT [NYSE: BT] faces here is trying to meet customer expectations. “Technology’s going really, really fast,” he said, “and innovation is very much connected to consumer markets rather than to business markets. So many of our customers see innovation (in things they use) at home and come to us and say ‘I want this. I want to be able to use this type of service at work as well because I use it at home as well.’”