When Nikhil Eapen joined StarHub as its CEO at the start of 2021, his vision was simple: to help the firm continue its transformation from a telco to a digital behemoth that can do more for Singapore and the world.
Before he took on the role, he was deputy CEO of ST Telemedia — one of StarHub’s major shareholders — and president and group CEO of ST Telemedia’s infrastructure technology division.
“There, we built a big data centre business, a high-growth business that makes money from serving giants like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. We invested in cybersecurity, in cloud partners,” Eapen recalls at the “Savour and Invest in Singapore” seminar on Aug 25. Jointly organised by the SGX Group, DBS and Nikko Asset Management, the event aims to highlight why Singapore remains an attractive market for global investors.
“So I knew how StarHub could harness the power of the cloud, technology and the digital realm to change society. That’s really our mission here at StarHub: to do things for the first time in the world here in Singapore, for our Singapore society,” he says.
After nearly a year at the helm, Eapen launched StarHub’s new DARE+ initiative in late 2021, a visionary plan to offer new products and services to connect customers’ digital lives.
For consumers, this means an expanded menu of lifestyle, entertainment and connectivity options that they can access anytime, anywhere, on any device. For enterprises, StarHub plans to be a trusted single platform for their cybersecurity, cloud, info-communications technology (ICT) and network connectivity needs.
Eapen notes that such innovation is crucial for StarHub to renew itself, grow and fend off challengers in a fast-evolving digital age. He explains: “If you only focus on traditional consumer mobile products, you can only grow a little bit. But if you go into new products and new business streams, you can grow in many ways. When you do new things, you grow your top line.”
“We want to be a company that’s growing and growing by doing new things again and again, in a repeatable cycle,” he says.
To infinity in entertainment
Take the increasingly crowded entertainment field. About two decades ago, StarHub broke new ground by being the first in the world to offer “quad play”, which comprises cellular, broadband, fixed line and pay-television services. The rise of streaming services and other technological advances, however, has threatened this model.
“We realised a few years ago that we needed to get rid of quad play. That’s why DARE+ will move us into ‘infinity play’ instead, which is an infinite continuum of connectivity, over-the-top streaming entertainment, cloud gaming and other digital solutions. This will tear down the boundaries between services to match customers’ diversity and needs,” Eapen says.
With this new approach, StarHub will not only survive but thrive in the long term. He shares: “Many people say, ‘Oh, Netflix must be taking away business from you.’ No. We slipstream these streaming services and make money from them too.”
Eapen says: “Our sense is that many households have three to four streaming subscriptions, but still want to watch things like live sports, the Premier League. If you want to have all these subscriptions and linear television, it is cheaper to get them as a package from us, rather than buying each and every one of them separately.”
He adds: “If you do it through us, you can also see all your services in one place when you turn on your television, and get combined billing.”
StarHub is innovating in other ways to boost convenience for customers. By the end of this year, it will integrate its different apps into the main StarHub app. “You will get a seamless customer journey that requires just a single sign-on, whether through biometric authentication or SingPass. Buying something new will take just seconds or minutes.”
There are other benefits to consolidating touchpoints with consumers, Eapen adds. “Digital engagement is an extraordinarily powerful thing. As we roll out more products, we want people to look at our app multiple times a day and engage with us continually. We want to do more things to retain customers’ loyalty.”
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The key to success
Eapen acknowledges that business transformation can be difficult. “Doing new things is not easy, particularly when you are a 25-year-old company like us. Sometimes, things don’t go as smoothly as you like. Sometimes, you get it wrong.”
The key to success is perseverance and teamwork. He emphasises: “You have to learn from your mistakes, adjust and keep trying again and again and again. But all this can only be done with everyone pulling together, with teamwork.”
“No man or woman is an island. None of us knows everything,” he adds. “We all have pockets of knowledge and pockets of specialisation. We must work together, as a team, whether we are building new products or trying new things, if we want to create something awesome.”
For StarHub, innovation will continue to be its differentiating factor. Eapen shares that while he occasionally worries about the growing array of competitors in the market, he has faith in the company’s offerings.
“You have operators out there with cheap plans, who compete on price, not quality,” he says. “But even in the mobile market, which is the one with the most intense competition, we grew 12% year-on-year, so there is clearly a significant segment of consumers who focus on quality, not just price. That is why we will keep innovating.”
His confidence in StarHub’s innovation stems from his extensive experience in the global ICT sector too. Before his tenure at ST Telemedia, he was an investment banker for over 18 years in Citigroup, including serving as its managing director and head of Asia-Pacific technology, media and telecommunications corporate and investment banking from 2008 to 2015.
He hopes that StarHub inspires other firms, even established ones, to reinvent themselves as needed to prosper in the long run. “We are 25 years old, but we are not all that cumbersome. In fact, we are quite nimble. Telcos typically do not do new things, but we are doing a whole lot of new things.”
“I don’t think there is any other telco like ours. Certainly not in Singapore, not regionally, and almost none globally,” he says.
StarHub is a leading homegrown Singapore company that delivers world-class communications, entertainment and digital services. With its extensive fibre and wireless infrastructure and global partnerships, StarHub brings to people, homes and enterprises quality mobile and fixed services, a broad suite of premium content, and a diverse range of communication solutions. StarHub develops and delivers to corporate and government clients solutions incorporating artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data analytics, internet of things and robotics. StarHub is committed to conducting its business in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. Listed on the Singapore Exchange mainboard, StarHub is a component stock of the SGX iEdge SG ESG Leaders and Transparency Indices and included in ESG-focused FTSE4Good Index Series. StarHub is ranked as the world’s most sustainable telco in the Corporate Knights Global 100 2023. The company’s website is: www.starhub.com
About kopi-C: The Company Brew
kopi-C is a regular column by SGX Research in collaboration with Beansprout, an MAS-licensed investment advisory platform, that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations