The man behind BT’s recovery in global business

 
Oliver Smith
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WITH all the attention surrounding BT’s push into sport you’d be forgiven for thinking that all the telecoms giant does is home broadband and football matches. But as the telecoms giant’s Global Services boss Luis Alvarez explains, BT’s operations extend to over 170 countries, where it is a market leader in connecting businesses.

“We connect every European embassy around the world, as well as the Italian embassies, Spanish embassies and obviously the British embassies. The European Central Bank, British American Tobacco and Rolls Royce are just some of the groups that rely on us,” Alvarez says. “But sometimes we’re just not proud enough of what we do. Most people in the UK are probably totally unaware that the port of Singapore uses BT’s technology to operate.”

Alvarez has every reason to be proud, since becoming chief executive of BT Global Services (GS) – the division responsible for providing IT and telecoms services to over 10,000 businesses worldwide – in October 2012, GS has beaten market expectations on both revenues and profits for six straight quarters.

“I guess that the management team is pretty happy with us here,” Alvarez says.

Yet it’s understandable that the Spaniard is still working on a culture of pride. In 2008 and 2009 BT was forced to issue two profit warnings on the back of spiralling costs and mounting charges as GS failed to deliver on its contracts.

Now however the division accounts for nearly 40 per cent of BT’s revenue (around £7.04bn) and 15 per cent of its profits. Just last week BT revealed that GS’s customers now include every FTSE 100 constituent.

Such is GS’s recent success that BT’s chief executive Gavin Patterson had to field questions from journalists during the firm’s last set of results on whether he would consider spinning off GS as a standalone business, a move unthinkable just four years ago.

Alvarez played a key role in the turnaround, and attributes much of his success to keeping his 24,000 staff around the world inspired.

Last year he posted a blog on BT’s staff intranet telling the story of two bricklayers working side by side. The first bricklayer is asked “What are you doing?”, and replies: “I’m laying bricks”. The second bricklayer, when asked the same question, responds: “I’m building a cathedral”.

Alvarez says he’s now looking for cathedral builders to help him continue GS’s success. In the corner of his office is a stack of bricks, each signed and sent from staff around the world in support of his vision. On the top brick is proudly written “GS we can”.

Alvarez says it’s a good start.

BT Global Services’ darkest hour
Two separate profit warnings in 2008 and 2009, caused by Global Services’ spiralling costs and mounting charges after the division failed to deliver on its contracts, sent BT’s share price to around 70p, its lowest point since 1984.

CV LUIS ALVAREZ, BT
Company name: BT Global Services

Founded: 1984, branded Global Services from 2002

Profits before tax: £133m

Number of staff: Over 24,000

Job title: Chief executive of BT Global Services

Age: 53

Career: Alvarez has worked at BT for 14 years, with the last two spent as chief executive of Global Services. Before taking up this role he was president of BT’s European, Middle East, Africa and Latin American operations from 2007 until 2012. He previously worked at Ericsson, IBM and Grupo Santander before joining BT in 1999 where he started off as a multimedia and internet director for BT’s internet services before moving on to manage BT’s telecoms operations in Spain and Portugal.

Favourite book: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

Hobbies: An avid supporter of Real Madrid football club