GO CEO Nikhil Patil joins our interview from his home office in the UK. That’s where he spent most of lockdown, while effectively leading his Malta-based team and keeping Malta as connected as possible.
Throughout this time, Nikhil never veered from his CEO ethos: to create an environment that unlocks the potential of everyone around him. “I see myself as driving a culture where other people can thrive,” he says.
Nikhil – while understanding of the challenges posed to so many organisations – was enthused by the opportunities created by COVID-19. “It provided us with the impetus to rediscover our purpose,” he continues. “We were able to ask: why does GO exist? What are our values? And what does all that mean for us as a team? Group-wide we embarked on an exercise to really understand our role in society.”
After months of work in this vein, the CEO says it became clear that GO’s purpose is to drive a digital Malta where no one is left behind. Now Nikhil and his team want to enable their clients to participate in the digital economy as much as possible. “I am really enjoying working together to unlock the digital potential for Malta,” he continues. “So, besides my usual day job, 2020 has definitely been all about purpose and values.”
Going into further detail about how he created a work culture that best unlocks potential, Nikhil explains that GO has three resolute values: to obsess over its customers, to act like owners, and to be one team. “I was pleased with how things were able to keep moving when the pandemic struck, because we had already done a lot of the background work needed for the operation to carry on remotely. We are used to trusting each other to make the right decision as a wider team, so this wasn’t a challenge. COVID-19 has really been an extension of the culture we had already created – one of empowerment.”
Still, there is no denying that 2020 wasn’t quite the year that Nikhil had planned. He says that the circumstances around the pandemic challenged every assumption that the company had made about how to serve customers and interact with people. “It wasn’t a gradual shift that we had to make but a binary one; we had to figure out a completely new way of living. I have to admit that I saw this coming slightly ahead of the curve, though, when I was in touch with friends in China. It meant we could prepare ourselves a little earlier.”
The CEO explains that ‘stopping or slowing operations’ simply wasn’t an option for GO because so many people rely on the company for their connectivity to critical aspects of their lives – from business functionality to chatting with friends and family. “We had to become a digital company very quickly, and began sending things to our clients rather than having our technical staff visit them in person. Getting all that organised was a challenge at the start, but I know it will serve us long-term.
We’re now ‘remote first’ – we reduced the number of desks, introduced digital desk booking systems and limited the number of days that employees could work from the office to three days per week. We are set up for COVID-19 but know that everything we do today will serve us long after the pandemic is over.”
Similarly, Nikhil says many of the changes made have allowed the telecommunication giant’s customers to pivot at this time. “Previously, a lot of them weren’t fully reliant on working digitally or in the digital world, and I think that’s changed too. This year we have been able to support our customers on this journey to transform their working habits, and that will also benefit them into the future.”
With this in mind, he believes Malta has a lot of potential in this area, as digitalisation will help the island to play more effectively on the world stage. “From our perspective, we haven’t only focused on improving digital infrastructure but on increasing digital education and creating digital jobs too. We kept rolling out TrueFibre, investing in start-ups through GO Ventures and improving connectivity to mainland Europe by building Malta’s first cable to France.”
Looking back for a moment, the CEO says 2020 certainly highlighted the importance of connectivity in ways many could never have imagined. “It posed the question of how we can best use data to benefit human life going forward. For instance, how can we use it to change human health, or to make the environment greener?
In the future we will increasingly see telecoms companies playing an important role in sectors like AI and the IoT. “As for GO, we will doubtlessly focus most on ensuring everyone is brought along on this exciting digital journey. To achieve this, we will be investing in the best infrastructure and the best education. In the next 12 months I see us walking the talk as a company that is even more digital, while meandering the path of living our purpose and acting on our values,” Nikhil concludes.
This interview is part of a serialisation of 50 interviews carried out with Malta’s top CEOs, featured in the bumper edition of MaltaCEOs 2021 publication, which was recently released. Despite the many challenges of 2020, this is the largest edition to date.
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