Current StarHub CEO Terry Clontz, who is retiring in January 2010, will be succeeded by Neil, who left M1 earlier this year in a move that also surprised many market watchers.
When a friend from M1 said that he would “re-surface” soon, I, like many watching the scene, had not expected him to turn up as the CEO of the “other” challenger to SingTel here in Singapore.
Still, when you think about it, this seems like a smart move for both StarHub and Neil. After all, M1 was the original challenger to SingTel in the partial liberalisation of the telecoms market here in the mid-1990s. When M1 burst onto the scene then, it quickly signed up mobile users who wanted an alternative to SingTel.
Only in 1999 did StarHub enter the fray, when the mobile market was already pretty mature – “the low-lying fruit had already been gathered”, Terry Clontz told me in an interview as it merged with the old Singapore Cable Vision, and became the No.2 telco here in the process.
Thus, signing up Neil to fight the new battles with SingTel seems like a sensible move for StarHub. However, there will be new challenges. More than just jumping into a market that’s ripe for competition – as M1 did before – the new CEO will have to compete with SingTel on exclusive content for pay-TV as well as ultra-high speed broadband services.
StarHub will have to continue leveraging on its Hubbing triple-play strategies going forward. It is this, plus its exclusive pay-TV content, that has kept StarHub a strong challenger to the much larger SingTel. The first test might come in the form of the upcoming bid for exclusive Barclays Premier League TV rights, where SingTel is expected to put up a strong bid to boost its mioTV service.
Having known Neil through my work as a reporter, I’d say he is one of the few CEOs here in clamped-up corporate Singapore who readily speaks his mind. A PR person’s nightmare, of course. But he is always ready for a good quote, and frank about what he thinks about the market.
He’s also known for his trademark grin and typical positive outlook on things. After surviving the Asian tsunami of 2006, when he was at Phi Phi with his family, he quickly gave an interview to Zaobao and The Straits Times when he was back in town to speak about his ordeal.
Hopefully, he’d give just as interesting quotes at StarHub. All eyes will be looking at where the company will go from here.