Liberty Global could be the biggest enterprise you've never heard of. It's not really a household name, though the household is where it is to be found in the guise of its much more recognisable European brands Virgin Media, UPC and Telenet, and in the Netherlands Vodafone Ziggo. Liberty Global is among the largest converged video, broadband and telecommunication companies, with annual revenues of US$11bn, 11 million customers and 20,000 employees.
This company has grown since its foundation in 2005 by means of a canny and active M&A strategy, riding the crest of the wave of transformation as telecoms has evolved through technology – a process serially documented in these pages. Its latest announcement, the creation of 4,000 jobs by merging the UK operations of Virgin Media and Britain's largest mobile operator O2 (owned by Telefónica) is at once creative and aggressively competitive. Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries is keen to seize opportunities in the dynamic markets of Europe: “When the power of 5G meets 1 gig broadband, UK consumers and businesses will never look back.”
Clearly a company on the move determined to lead in the emergent telecommunications field, Liberty Global's appointment of Julie Fedele to the position of VP of Emerging Business in June of this year 2020 was an imaginative move. She had little direct experience in telecoms apart from an early stint as a consultant with Telstra in her native Australia but she came with a track record of value activation, a quality that's perfectly timed with this company’s current direction.
“I quickly saw the parallels with the healthcare industry, having worked inside across multiple roles during my 10 years at Bupa’s” says Fedele. “Both sectors have seen sustained growth and rapid disruption. This disruption means that traditional sources of growth become challenged and finding new sources is something that really excites me. There is a tremendous opportunity to reimagine capabilities and partnerships by leveraging our core assets like network, customer base and product platforms. We are essentially an infrastructure-based, consumer business that monetises this infrastructure with integrated services. As 3rd parties evolve their services, we become a meta-aggregator, simplifying experiences for the consumer. Coming into this role, I asked: how can we leverage our assets at pace to develop new value – and break long development cycles?” Fedele learned the advantages of breaking technology down into microservices that enable rapid change and flexibility. Bringing that principle to her current role, she's in favour of over-the-top, or plug-and-play services.
“What we aim to do with the Emerging Business team is to create revenue optionality at pace,” she says. “This is what differentiates emerging and new business. Emerging business is identifying completely new revenue streams. For example, launching a new business under the Virgin Media brand or a new brand, that taps new margetmarket segments.“We don’t need to explore the whole pool – but we can widen the swim lane!”
A business the size of Liberty Global generates a lot of ideas. And an important part of the Emerging Business teams’ remit is to advance some of the best, the 'activation' part of her job title. The team consists of squadspods directed to look at, say, e-health, e-sport or consumer energy, Fedele explains. “With the team, we then scope out what this means, set parameters – for example when considering healthcare we split out 'lifestyle wellness', a very busy field, from 'e-health, and concentrate on the latter.”
From there on they operate like a separate business unit to define the opportunities and partners they might work with. These tend not to be start-ups, she says: though early-stage businesses are her passion, it's hard for a large enterprise to work with them. “We look for Series B/C partners and beyond. We want confirmed growth, sound management and a clear path to scale,” she says.
Covid has emphasised the central importance of connectivity, which has been elevated to a basic human right, enabling families to stay in contact and individuals to avoid isolation. “I am deeply interested in how we can create an ecosystem in the home, based on peace of mind, safety and healthcare and every aspect of people’s lives, through our enabling services,” she says.
Content, it has been said, is king, and though Fedele fully expects the corporation to continue its M&A growth, she focuses her team on partnership. She thinks there's a real gap in healthcare services to the home: “I am not talking about flooded markets like e-fitness or digital yoga mats, but how we can play a role in the home when someone is facing a health event whether it's a fracture, a diagnosis or a need for something like physiotherapy or even psychotherapy.”
Fedele is passionate about activating new revenue. Her background includes running innovation labs and managing an accelerator programme for start-ups and she was impressed after joining Liberty Global to find that it took an expeditious approach to onboarding new partners. She feels at home, though admits to not being a typical corporate animal.
“We work in a very flat structure and personally l love the flexibility of working remotely, though it has to be said it does have some downsides, especially for the younger team members who are deprived of the chance to learn by osmosis from the rest of the team,” admits Fedele. “They are on my mind a lot – we work in an agile team, with many moving parts and multiple things changing every day, which can be a challenge getting alignment over video calls: I am really keen to show the rest of the business how a 'digital native' team works and demonstrate how a large corporate like Liberty Global can be nimble and activate new ventures – even during a pandemic!”