Q&A with Globe CCO Issa Cabreira on Innovation

Issa Guevarra-Cabreira is the chief commercial officer of Globe Telecom. 

Under her watch, Globe rose to mobile leadership beginning 4Q of 2016, and has held the number 1 position to this day. In August 2019, Issa was appointed managing director of 917 Ventures, the largest corporate incubator in the country, tasked to create new businesses beyond telco, and to oversee its current portfolio of non-telco businesses such as GCash, KonsultaMD, and AdSpark. In October 2020, Issa was assigned back to Globe. She is a recipient of the 5th Mansmith Market Masters Awards for senior mentors, an award not just for outstanding corporate performance but for her excellent work as a mentor to young marketers. In this interview, Issa shares how Globe has been transformed from being an affluent brand when it started to being the leading mass market brand today. 

Q1: How do you balance the need for innovation and the desire to maintain a stable business model in the telecom industry?

A1: While on the face of it, innovation and business model stability may seem to be two opposing concepts, it is possible to achieve a balance between them. At Globe, we do this in three ways:

1. We put the customer at the center of our thinking; 
2. We constantly monitor and adapt to the market; and 
3. We structure for innovation while protecting our core.

First and foremost, the customer is our north star. By always beginning with customer insight, we are able to prioritize customer experience and identify innovation opportunities that are aligned with – or build upon – our existing business models. For instance, our understanding of our customers tells us that there is a pressing need to bridge the digital divide and make fiber accessible to more Filipinos. Customers want to learn, earn and be entertained at home, supported with the speed and stability of a home fiber connection. However, the economics of traditional fiber postpaid plans simply do not work for the vast majority of our financially-constrained countrymen. By bringing together our expertise in prepaid business models, and innovating on our digital and deployment infrastructure, we are set to deliver an innovative prepaid fiber product that is more affordable for a wider market, in locations where it is most needed.

Second, by constantly monitoring and adapting to market and competitive forces, we focus our innovation efforts on developing features and services that are commercially viable. By doing this, we are able to keep our cost to produce and cost to serve at optimal levels, maximizing return on investment.

And finally, we have what we believe is an effective organizational structure that allows us to pursue the most disruptive innovation through our 917 Ventures unit, without destabilizing our core telco business. By ring-fencing 917V, new ideas can be aggressively pursued, tested and launched, with little to no risk to the core connectivity business.

This setup also creates powerful synergies between the existing telco business and 917V companies: the telco business provides unparalleled distribution to more than 80 million subscribers for new startups; while the startups provide the telco business with a pipeline for new products and services for telco subscribers. It is a virtuous cycle that enhances Globe’s offering beyond simply core connectivity. For example, bundling of Konsulta MD with Globe connectivity offers has helped accelerate its growth to become the #1 health app in the Philippines. Exciting new launches and partnerships are in store for the future of Globe and 917V.

So you see, innovation and business model stability are not inherently incompatible. They can, in fact, enhance each other, as long as we are able to strike the right balance through a customer-centric approach and a strategic mindset.

Q2: How do you measure the success of your innovation efforts, and what metrics do you use to track progress?

A2: In Globe, we take a holistic view of innovation and measure its success based on positive impact to our customers, financial impact to our business, and overall contribution to uplifting Filipinos’ lives. As such, some metrics that we use are:

·  Net Promoter Scores to measure overall customer satisfaction

·  New products/offers and their contribution to the top-line and the bottom-line

·  Socio-economic impact of innovative and new initiatives, like our Hapag Movement, which was launched in 2022 and has raised over P13Mn in donations to provide direct financial assistance to key sectors who are in financial need

Globe also celebrates innovation within our organization, and rewards innovative individuals and teams in our annual Globe Excellence Awards.

Q3: What is your approach to managing risk and uncertainty in a fast-paced and rapidly changing industry like telecommunications?

A3: Globe’s approach to managing risk and uncertainty hinges on three key pillars:

1) We take a data and insights-driven approach. We are a highly analytical organization, and we draw on data from internal and external sources to power our decision-making. We not only constantly monitor today’s trends in light of how these may impact our business, but we also constantly scan the horizon for early-warning signals. Our litmus test is always the customer, and we make a conscious effort to always go back to what developments mean for our customers.

2) We strive to achieve a culture of transparency, coupled with operational and organizational agility. Even the most advanced analytics will not always get it right, but by establishing a culture of transparency, we are able to quickly find out when things are not going as well as we hope. And when this happens, the agility and adaptability of our teams mean that we are able to quickly pivot our strategies and approaches. This may involve rapidly introducing new products or services, changing pricing, or optimizing operations.

3) Lastly, our strong corporate governance helps ensure there is transparency in our business dealings and accountability in decision-making. This helps promote ethical behavior and compliance with laws, reducing risk of misconduct and reputational damage.

Q4: What do you see as the most significant challenges facing the telecom industry today, and how do you plan to address these challenges?

A4: The Philippines’ telecom industry undeniably faces a number of headwinds. For one, all players are seeing a slowdown in revenue growth, especially in the mobile market, which saw a meager 0.6% year-on year growth in 2022 versus 2021. Broadband industry growth also slowed to 13.6% in 2022, a far cry from the previous year’s 42% spike. This sluggishness comes at a time when we all face increasing operating expenses, driven by rising fuel costs and interest rates, and lower consumer spending as many Filipinos struggle to make ends meet.

In Globe, we believe that in a cost-constrained environment, it is even more important that we listen keenly to our customers. We are committed to truly understanding their needs – and let them direct the choices we make. We are very prudent and selective in where we focus our resources and effort. Every peso we invest and every person we hire need to be purposefully directed towards improving the way we serve our customers, and delivering on our promise of uplifting Filipino lives.

We continue to invest in our infrastructure as we want to always improve our customers’ mobile and broadband experience. It is, after all, the backbone of our services. Over and beyond this, we are building on the strength of our core services and investing in new solutions to address real Filipino needs. Our venture company, 917Ventures, is creating other powerhouses in the Globe Group ecosystem – from GCash for financial inclusion; KonsultaMD for health; Kroma for entertainment; to Gogoro for environmentally-friendly mobility, among others.

Q5: What are the top career achievements that you’re most proud of, and why?

A5: I have been fortunate to have had many memorable career experiences, and perhaps it is not surprising that the ones I cherish most, I experienced with Globe.

For one, I had the unique privilege of launching the first smartphone –  the first iPhone – in the Philippines in 2008. The entire experience of working with the iconic Apple organization was surreal – from negotiating the deal with their executives in their Cupertino headquarters to collaborating with their marketing team. It was amazing to see the rigor and discipline they had, and no wonder! They had a ground-breaking, world-changing innovation. They were highly selective with who they were willing to go to market with, and we were delighted when they decided to launch in the Philippines only with Globe. We had exclusive rights to sell the first iPhones in the country for over 3 years, with competition only able to sell in 2011.  

Beyond launching glitzy technology however, I am most proud of being able to bring the power of connectivity to the Filipino masses with TM – Globe’s value brand. Originally Touch Mobile, I took on the business when it was the far No. 4 brand that nobody paid attention to. By redefining the brand’s target market from blue-collar males to the mass youth segment, coupled with a relevant product portfolio and strong regionally-nuanced sales and marketing executions, we had struck a chord with the Filipino youth, and they embraced TM and all that the brand stood for.

We continued to build dominance in the prepaid market with TM and Globe Prepaid. It was an exciting time, as we changed the mobile industry by shifting consumer behavior to digital through mobile data. Globe trail-blazed by bringing the biggest mobile data use cases to the Philippines – from social media and chat on the likes of Facebook, Viber and Twitter, to music and video streaming on Spotify, Netflix and Disney. Again, this was based on the insight that Filipino customers were hungry for another way to interact and be entertained. Simply put, we wanted to really surprise and delight our customers, and in return, in the last quarter of 2016, our customers made Globe the mobile market leader. This surpassed all our ambitions and expectations and drove home the point that customer relevance is key.

Q6: What are your hard-to-forget strategies or marketing failures? Please share some nuggets of wisdom our young readers can learn from these lessons.

A6: One of Globe’s “bet-the-farm” moves came in 2013, when we struck an exclusive and groundbreaking partnership with Facebook, launching an unprecedented offer to allow our 38.5 million subscribers free access to Facebook on the Globe data network. This was a risky move which came at a time when all other telcos were trying to protect their core messaging business.

We shared the technology capacity and network infrastructure to drive this ambitious commercial proposition, premised on seeding greater mobile browsing adoption in the Philippines. Coupled with the immense popularity of Facebook among Filipinos and increased smartphone penetration, these became the basis for a very successful promotion that more than doubled the number of Globe subscribers actively using mobile browsing services.

I believe that the key lesson from this experience is this: openness to change and risk-taking (albeit, carefully managed) are essential to business and personal success.


Josiah Go is Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. 

The search for the 4th Mansmith Innovation Awards is ongoing. Send your application/nomination here: https://bit.ly/4thMansmithInnovationAwards.

See more articles on Innovation.

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