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The Euro50 Q&A: Diederik Karsten, Liberty Global

After a successful stint running UPC’s Dutch operations, Diederik Karsten took over as Liberty Global’s managing director, European broadband operations at the end of last year.

Age 55

Education MBA, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Previous Positions Prior to my appointment as managing director, European broadband operations, I was managing director of UPC Netherlands for five years. Before this, I was managing director for KPN Mobile, the mobile division of Dutch telephone incumbent KPN NV. Before entering into the telecom/cable/media business, I worked in FMCG, first with Procter & Gamble in brand marketing and later in PepsiCo in various commercial management positions. I was fortunate to gain international experience with both having worked in the US, UK, and Germany.

Last year’s highlights The highlights of 2011 have been our acceleration of top line growth even during the persistent macroeconomic climate in many of the countries we operate in and our continued ability to take market share from the national Telcos. We have achieved these by providing consumers with products of superior value at market prices. During this year, we have set the market benchmark with our product bundles that begin with internet speeds of 25Mbps, fulfilling our promise that “UPC starts where ADSL stops”. Taking market share for national Telcos is no easy feat considering we compete against global giants such as Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica in six out of 10 countries, and pan-European operators such as KPN, Swisscom, and Telekom Austria.  They all have scale and resources that are much bigger than us.

Most significant industry development The speed of the take-up of tablet devices such as the iPad has been quite dramatic, and the ever-growing consumer engagement in social media continues to fascinate me. In no time, tablets have become a “must have” mass market product. For entertainment purposes, consumers are leaving their computers and opting instead for these devices. On the social media side, consumers are opening and sharing their lives with each other as never before, and as evidenced by the events in North Africa/Middle East earlier this year, they are using this medium to raise awareness and drive change in social causes. For us, what consumers are doing with tablets and in social media is very relevant. We see a growing video consumption pattern on these devices. It is evident that consumers are keen to view content on the screen that is nearest and most convenient to them as well as recommend the content to others. Combine the near ubiquity of  Wi-Fi internet, the proliferation of tablets (and smartphones), the vast availability of content on the web, and the consumer immersion into social media, and it is clear that our own ability to fulfil the “anytime, anywhere” promise and our participation in social media becomes very important to remain relevant in the lives of the younger generation of consumers.

Goals for the next 12 months We will continue to build on the momentum of the last years to ensure we are the preferred choice of our customers.  We will achieve this by deploying our next generation digital TV product, including our own TV Everywhere service, across several of our markets and by maintaining our internet speed leadership. We will balance our market positioning on the acquisition front with an active management of our customer base to reduce the pricing pressure in our markets. We will implement programs to be more effective and efficient in servicing our customers, particularly by expanding from traditional such channels such as phone, walk-in stores, and email to newer one such as chat, social media, etc.  Finally, we will continue to drive internal programs to create momentum and positive energy to leverage our pan-European group scale and knowledge to enable us to work smarter, be more agile, and shorten our “time to market”.

Industry challenges and opportunities The telcos are waking up, and after some years of customer losses and declining revenues, they are ready to roar once again. Most of the Telcos we face in our markets now have a “ready for prime time” IPTV product and combined with their VDSL and FTTH rollouts, they must now feel confident that they have the right arsenal to fight us on both the TV and Internet fronts. Their ability to operate on a national footprint and their size that allows them to outspend us on advertising by, on average, 5:1 ratio makes them a formidable competitor.  To remain ahead of them, we must outsmart them as we are not big enough to outsize them or outspend them.

Alternative career choice Being a professional golfer would have been a good career (and winning the Ryder Cup for Europe). Unfortunately, my handicap is at a level much lower than my marketing abilities.

TV character most identified with I don’t necessarily identify with TV talk show hosts (the serious ones such as David Frost, for example), but I do admire the wide latitude their job offers them.  They are able to talk to world figures from all aspect of life, give their opinion on any current event topic, and most importantly, can positively influence so many people.

Most admired personality I admire FC Barcelona and players like Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta for showing us the way football was meant to be played. They play in such a positive elegant style where respect to the system and the success of the team is above the individuals.

Life outside work I like to spend time with my family.  I enjoy the time with them at home, on holidays, playing golf. Though I have to admit, the older they get, the more they seem to know, and the less I appear to know. This is true across many aspects of life.  And at times, it can even be frustrating, especially in the golf course as I have to work hard to keep my handicap from going higher while they lower theirs almost effortlessly.  It is no longer about “keeping up with Jones” but “keeping up with the kids”.

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