Embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and sustainability, e& has grown from being the first telecommunications company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) into a tech powerhouse. This is a transformation aptly acknowledged by UAE Vice President Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed, who once described it as a “global influence in digitalization.” The company now stands as a beacon of the country’s commitment to economic diversification and sustainable development.
In this conversation, we sat down with Hatem Dowidar, the group chief executive officer of e&, to shed light on their ongoing transformation and strategic priorities. We also discuss the company’s various technological advancements, especially now that it serves as the principal technology provider at the upcoming UAE-hosted COP28.
Economy Middle East: Could you provide an overview of your current strategic priorities and the key growth drivers fueling e&’s strategy?
Hatem Dowidar: At the moment, we’re in the middle of a transformation that we announced two years ago. The concept is we want to grow by going into the technology industry and adjacencies in addition to our core business, which is telecom. We have restructured the company into five verticals.
These include etisalat by e&, e& international, and e& life, a pillar focused on bringing the next-generation digital world to the consumer’s fingertips. We include within that one of the strongest fintech platform in the region – e& money – our investments in Careem and Starzplay, and our own media and entertainment division of e& life. Then we have e& enterprise. At e& enterprise, we enable organisations across multiple sectors to maximize their digital potential with a focus on the cloud, AI, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cybersecurity. And lastly, we have a venture capital arm, e& capital, the investment pillar of e& that invests in the ideas and people that will build a better and brighter digital future.
Over the years our customers’ trust has enabled us to grow the business faster and in our transformation journey as well to become a technology group.
Economy Middle East: What are some of the innovations and technological advancements that you’re investing in particularly? How do these translate into better services and customer experience?
Hatem Dowidar: I think the code word these days is AI. So, we are putting a lot of emphasis on AI. At e&, we are thinking and moving ourselves from being a digital-first company into an AI-first company.
By using AI, we believe that we can offer better quality in everything – better quality in services, better network efficiency, and, at the same time, better efficiency in cost as well. We are making a lot of investments in AI, not just for our internal systems but also in the way we serve our customers. Moreover, we are offering it as a service to our enterprise customers.
We have a lot of work being done in AI. We also have a physical manifestation of AI, which is the world’s first AI powered autonomous telecom store. There will be more of them. At the store, you can do the entire shopping experience — including buying devices, services, and the entire gamut of solutions – without any human interference in using AI.
Economy Middle East: Apart from e& utilising AI, another milestone is that you are also the principal technology provider of COP28. What does that mean for the company? Could you tell us a bit more about how your sustainability initiatives intertwine with your corporate strategy?
Hatem Dowidar: Environmental, social and governance is an important part of our statute. The UAE’s visionary leadership has brought about significant changes towards climate action and positive impact in the region and the world. Our commitment to the global climate action agenda remains steadfast. We have made significant advances in embracing ESG standards, which has led to the integration of sustainability into our fundamental operations. As a member of the UAE Independent Climate Change Accelerators (UICCA) and a partner in COP28, we are restating our pledge to achieve net-zero within our UAE operations by 2030. This event creates an opportunity for us to cooperate with our peers to catalyze tangible change.
Our people are the foundation of our success, providing the knowledge, skills, and dedication we need to achieve our long-term business objectives. We want to be a very responsible company as we want our customers to like us more and our staff to remain motivated and stay with us longer. So, the environment and climate change have been some of the key areas within our ESG.
Furthermore, we have an amazing opportunity as COP28 comes to the UAE: We would be the principal partner there. We are doing a lot of things, from the green networks that are going to provide the coverage in COP28 to all the systems that are around it, including cloud computing. Everything is all green. We are using the latest technologies in the world – one that’s reusing renewables – to be able to hold that event together.
About Hatem Dowidar, Group chief executive officer of e&
One of the Middle East’s Top 100 CEOs, Hatem Dowidar played a critical part in transforming e& into a global technology and investment brand. He stepped in as e&’s Group Chief Operation Officer in September 2015, later assuming the role of CEO International in March 2016. Thanks to his strategic initiatives, the company saw robust growth, expanding across 16 markets and establishing what has been the UAE’s first telecoms company as the GCC region’s most valuable publicly traded company
Dowidar has accumulated 30 years of multinational stints since starting his career in Egypt’s AEG/Deutsche Aerospace. He has notably worked and held leadership roles at Vodafone Group and its subsidiaries. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and Electronic Engineering from Cairo University and an MBA from the American University Cairo. Currently, he also serves on the boards of multiple companies. These include Global System for Mobile Communications, Attijariwafa Bank Egypt, Etisalat Nigeria, Vodacom Africa and Barclays.
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