Nikhil Patil

“Our business model is quite simple. We connect our customers to what matters to them most, in the most seamless, hassle-free manner,” explained GO plc CEO Nikhil Patil during an appearance on weekly television programme Flusek.

“In order to deliver this seamless experience, we have to make long-term investments in digital infrastructure,” the CEO continues, describing the company’s ultimate purpose: working towards a digital Malta.

“We all know that digital technology is reshaping the ways we work, rest, play and interact with the world around us. It’s becoming a fundamental enabler of our lives,” he says, describing it as a notable factor for the future and wellbeing of Malta and its people. At present, the CEO laments, not everybody benefits from this digital revolution. “We believe that our purpose is to drive a digital Malta where no one is left behind.”

GO is doing this, he maintains, by going beyond being a provider of connectivity. “We want to centre ourselves around the digital needs of Maltese citizens. No one left behind means that we will challenge them, and ourselves, to find ways to get everyone online and build digital skills,” he maintains.

Reflecting on this purpose, Mr Patil forecasts that, in the next three to four years, the majority of Malta will have fibre to the home, making it the first European nation with more than 80-85 per cent of homes covered by fibre. The CEO also explains how GO is investing heavily into 5G, and also changing the connectivity map of Malta by laying out a submarine cable which will directly connect Malta to France and to China.

“But we don’t want to stop there,” he adds, affirming that “our ambition is to create an environment where people have more and more digital skills. Today, GO is one of the largest digital companies, employing more than 200 individuals in the digital sector. We want to expand that. We also don’t want to stop at skills. We want to create an ecosystem of digital jobs, hence we launched GO ventures, which looks at investing in start-ups in the digital sector, so when people have the skills, there will be jobs ready in the digital sector.”

Looking back on 2020, the CEO describes it as “a difficult year” – one which the company got through because of this focus on purpose and values. “Our purpose was our glue: we realised that we are not just providing connectivity, but we are driving a digital Malta where no one is left behind,” he continues, describing the ways in which the company showcased this throughout the year.

“We gave free television to all of Malta, so whether you were a customer or not, during the first lockdown you had state-of-the-art entertainment; we provided free data to all frontliners including police and medical staff, so they could be connected to their loved ones and to each other. While doing that, we also ensured that we mitigated the financial impact to our business so that our shareholders got appropriate returns. Most importantly, we did all that while protecting our employees and making them our number one priority.”

Breaking down the company’s financial results, the CEO affirms that “revenue grew because we had growth in local broadband subscriber revenue, growth in BMIT and growth in Cyprus.” However, there were three things which hit operating profits: a one-time restructuring cost; a heavy investment in sports content in Cyprus; and investments in network infrastructure. “So, the slight reduction in operating profit is because of the re-investments we have made in improving future profitability,” he maintains.

The company registered profit before tax of just under 21 million and a dividend of €0.16 per share.

Reacting to this, Mr Patil says, “our mantra has always been to invest for the long term while taking care of the short term. During my three years as CEO of GO, we have delivered more than 80 million cash returns through dividends, while investing more than 100 million in network and digital infrastructure.” Equating this with GO’s market capitalisation, which stands at around 330 million, Mr Patil explains that the company has returned about 25 per cent of this back to shareholders. “I consider that very remarkable,” he says.

Looking ahead at 2021 and beyond, the CEO maintains, “I’m sure we are all looking forward to moving past COVID,” joining many in the hope that continued vaccine rollouts will help open up the economy. As for GO, “for the long term, it’s really about living our purpose and values,” he concludes.

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