Kaan Terzioğlu, Co-CEO of VEON: The Privilege of Connecting Lives and Livelihoods

VEON Co-CEO: Kaan Terzioğlu

VEON Co-CEO: Kaan Terzioğlu

“We touch millions of people every day: their lives, their businesses. And, especially during the Covid era, it is clear that our industry is the backbone of society,” says Terzioğlu. “We provide connections between those who cannot travel or interact. We provide connections for business. It is satisfying to be in a business with a purpose.”

Kaan Terzioğlu looks back over a long career in telecoms and technology and reflects on the progress of the past few years — in particular, the surge in digital adoption in response to the pandemic.

“I have never known a time when our business has been more critical to economies or people’s security, safety, health and education. In every area, there is relevance to our daily life,” Terzioğlu shared in an exclusive CFI.co interview. “Every morning, I wake up and feel that relevance. I’m extremely satisfied with that possibility which is key for telecom companies. That’s how I define my purpose.”

As a leader, Terzioğlu believes that the most advanced technologies — mobile communications or AI, robotics, virtualisation— should first and foremost serve the people who need them most.

“The best technologies should address the quality of life of traditionally underserved or disadvantaged people,” he insists.

Putting customers first is a belief forged through over two decades of service to the telecoms and technology industries that has seen him rise to the very top of two companies, Turkcell and now VEON, and to serve as a Board member of the GSMA, to which he was re-elected last November.

At VEON, Terzioğlu is dedicated to ensuring that the digital development of emerging markets leaves no one behind. The company has been working relentlessly to expand its high-speed mobile data services and now has 80 million customers using its 4G networks, 20 million of which were added in 2020 alone. This is bringing about a fundamental change in user experience as 4G enables a new generation of digital services, many of which help VEON’s emerging market customers access resources that currently lie beyond their reach.

“As an industry, we help people participate in the economy, be part of the financial market, be part of educational inclusion,” says the co-CEO of VEON, a telecom company serving close to 10 percent of the world’s population and over 200 million subscribers. “Each market has its own dynamics and opportunities, but one common denominator is that the expectations from our industry now go beyond simple connectivity. Customers requires higher quality, consistency, reliability and availability of mobile data services, which is a core element of our value proposition and also the grounds on which our company and industry ensures its own growth.” He spoke of his earlier role at Turkcell, where he was dealing with 50 million subscribers. Terzioğlu has already increased the reach of his vision more than fourfold, but as new services launch he could have an audience of over 650 million based on VEON’s population footprint.

Kaan Terzioğlu talked about the company’s responsibility to consumers and the communities in which they operate. He discussed the role of technology and telecom providers in the education of young internet users to help them acquire the critical thinking skills to discern manipulative misinformation from credible facts.

“In the physical world, it’s easy to call a liar, a liar. In the digital, you don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he says, so kids have to develop critical learning capabilities early. “Our industry is positioned to make that happen.”

VEON has expanded beyond the limitations of a strictly telecom company and is settling into its role as “an essential enabler of digital lifestyles”. VEON’s raw data capacity provides the connectivity to become a full-service digital operator, providing relevant and trustworthy solutions that touch on all aspects of lifestyle, from music to videos and news.

All these digital services, Terzioğlu says, create raw data that can be used to enhance customer experience while fuelling the company’s growth and helping to build data-backed digital economies for emerging countries.

“And the data, of course, belongs to the countries that created it,” Terzioğlu states. “So, Pakistan’s data should stay in Pakistan, be processed by Pakistani engineers, and turned into TV, general entertainment and music services, so that the Pakistani people can enjoy them, so that employment can be created in Pakistan and taxes paid in Pakistan.

“It is our responsibility to make these things happen. If we stay at the level of connectivity and providing raw data, we do a disservice to these countries.”

Alongside co-CEO Sergi Herrero, Kaan Terzioğlu works to ensure that VEON’s crown-jewel brands — Beeline, Djezzy, Jazz, Banglalink and Kyivstar — become essential enterprises in their respective countries. The two leaders work hand in hand but with different goals. Herrero focuses on big digital opportunities in adjacent markets, while Terzioğlu is focused on migrating VEON’s growing customer base to its high-speed 4G networks and shifting the company towards a more customer-centric digital operation with an ever-increasing suite of services.

“Looking at things from these two angles gives us 360-degree coverage of opportunities, Terzioğlu continues. A management view with a limitless horizon, in other words.

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