Manning Orchestrates the New Concert

Peter Manning

Peter Manning is just shy of six months on his new job: president and chief executive of Concert, the joint venture of British Telecommunications PLC and MCI Communications Corp. The telcos signed a merger agreement in November, which should be finalized in the next few months.

But Concert has several competitors for the $670 billion global telecom market: most notably international powerhouses Global One and Unisource. Manning's mantras to beat them include a focus on Internet, a new Asian alliance and ensuring what he calls "customer delight."

A Brit who previously headed operations for British Telecommunications throughout Europe, Manning is still in the process of moving his family from London to Northern Virginia, or, as he calls it, "Telecom Valley." He spoke to WT staff writer Shannon Henry at his Reston, Va., office.

WT: How will the BT/MCI merger affect government customers?

MANNING: When the original Concert joint venture was formed [in 1994] it offered global products, but provided them through two channels, London-based BT and MCI in Washington. And they would in turn provide them to the end customer through distributors such as [Swedish telco] Telenordia. We were actually two steps removed from our own customer base. That's been a frustration for the business.

One of the major benefits for [the merged company] Concert PLC is that those barriers ... are being removed. Now we're able to go direct to our end distributor, and as a result, become a lot closer to our customer.

WT: What else will change?

MANNING: We will have a revised service model through the merged parent. We can upgrade our quality of service.

Secondly, there's a new method of selling. We really can provide global account management as opposed to somewhat of an artificial barrier. That's vital.

And [thirdly,] there's not one type of global customer. We must be able to structure ourselves to interface with the customer on how he is doing his business today, but also in a way that will allow him to make a transition into a more efficient business structure in the future.

WT: Can a telecom company compete right now without being global?

MANNING: There will be supercarriers. It's more of a question of whether there will be two or three rather than if it's going to happen.

It's estimated that 90 percent of the $670 billion global market is controlled by monopolies. By 2001 we expect that marketplace to have grown to $1 trillion. We also expect greater than 90 percent will be liberalized or open to competition.

So you must be able to effectively address that market. Of that trillion dollars, we're expecting 20 percent to be spent by the top 5,000 multinational customers.

You'll see the global companies emerging through equity alliances and you'll see the domestic [telecom companies] either failing or joining one of the big entities or becoming a niche player in more specific markets.

WT: What are your plans to enter the Asian market? Are you looking for a partner there?

MANNING: Asia is probably the most complex story; it's a huge opportunity for us. We are looking at China and Hong Kong together, but obviously our focus is Japan.

There's no secret about the attractiveness of NTT [Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in Japan] to every potential suitor. We've done a lot of business with NTT and have NTT as our initial distributor of Concert Internet Plus. We've made a number of initiatives with them. But to counter that, [recently] the president of NTT announced his intention of going it alone in the global arena.

But the way you do business over there is essentially doing one thing at a time. It's not a big-bang approach. It's very different from what we're used to.

It's a frustration to us ... but we do need an Asian partner. Obviously every month is very important. But you've got to be realistic.

WT: What are your financial goals for the company?

MANNING: I'm delighted to say that this
organization will achieve positive trad-
ing performance this year, which means we will begin paying back our shareholders in 1997.

WT: What's Concert's Internet strategy?

MANNING: The Internet growth is a phenomenon that no one has seen before. There's one market for the home user, but there also is a need for the ubiquity of the Internet for a transport mechanism for multinational companies.

For [a business] to move into a next generation in service, it needs predictability and speed as well as security. We will be launching our Concert Internet Plus service primarily focused on multinational customers very much looking to provide those value-added features. That will be available in July.

We're also looking at how to allow greater mobility and access on the Internet, for example if you use it at home and work and then you toodle off to Japan. You need access to it. You've become very dependent on it.

We can provide Internet roaming so you get the same service no matter where you are.

WT: Assuming all goes well with the merger, what should we expect to see from Concert in the next few months?

MANNING: You're going to see a whole roll-out of broader voice products. You'll see a huge amount of focus on mobility. Remote LAN access and also cellular access to our voice networks. Using the new merged Concert PLC environment to set new standards in customer delight, we will deliver consistent service in a seamless manner and have a global account management strategy.

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