Telco’s CEO looks to ZINC spin-off to help his company adapt to a world in which operator brands are not central

The extent of telco innovation in recent years has covered voice and data and not much else, according to the chief executive of Zain Jordan, who has adopted a new strategy designed to reposition his company within what he describes as the innovation ecosystem.

Innovation is coming from "a world where our brand does not exist," said Ahmad Hanandeh, CEO of Zain Jordan, at Total Telecom Congress on Wednesday, listing the usual suspects of Facebook, Amazon, WhatsApp and Instagram as brands that have captured consumers’ attention.

These companies have a number of common attributes. "Their value is growing… [their] ability to attract investment and funds is much faster and stronger than a telco company…[and] they cannot work without us," Hanandeh said.

Hanandeh took office as CEO of Zain Jordan in 2011 with just three months’ experience in the telecoms space.

"For the first time in my life I freaked out," he said, noting that he didn’t know whether to "think outside the box, jump out of the box," jump into other boxes or link the various boxes together.

Ultimately, he came up with a plan that he believes will enable the telco to grab a slice of industry innovation, rather than focusing purely on rolling out networks in a world in which data demand is growing and revenues are not keeping up.

In 2014 Zain launched ZINC, or the Zain Innovation Campus, which is designed to support start-ups. There are now 40 start-up companies working with Zain and the scheme has 95 partners.

Zain needed partners to "jump into other boxes," Hanandeh said.

Getting in on the ground floor with start-up companies or technologies can prove lucrative. Hanandeh pointed out that someone who invested in Bitcoin at the start would have made tens of millions of dollars in just a few years. He stopped short of suggesting that ZINC will do the same for Zain, but it is clear what the thinking is behind the company’s strategy.

"Survival is only for those who are the most adaptive," he said.