Nikolai Andreev is the CEO of Vivacom since December 2021. His former position was that of a CEO at Nova Broadcasting Group, which he took in 2019, having previously been the Group’s Finance and Administrative Director for 10 years. He was also a Finance Director and Investor Relations Director at Devin JSC. At the Unilever international corporation, Nikolai Andreev held various financial positions focused on Bulgaria and the countries of Central and Southern Europe. He was also the Executive Director and a member of the Board of Directors at Ecopack Bulgaria AD, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of Eco Rom Ambalaje S.A. – Romania. For his contribution to the development of the profession, he was awarded ‘Best CFO’ in 2014 at the ‘CFO of the Year’ forum of Forbes and EY.
Mr. Andreev, you recently took over the management of Vivacom. What surprised you in the company?
I was pleasantly surprised with the company’s desire to develop even-higher quality products, to build on and offer more and more to its customers. This is very challenging because nowadays there are far greater opportunities for the telecommunications sector than the traditional offers of voice and Internet services. Vivacom is part of the rapidly occurring changes in the way we live and work. We are ‘the heart’ of these changes.
We are already on the high-speed lane of digitalization and connectivity. Where are we headed, where are you leading us?
We are on our way to the digital world. The younger generation is already there, and we are all moving towards the metaverse. The pandemic was a serious accelerator of this journey. The good news for the telecoms in Bulgaria is that the investments made over the years allowed for a rapid transformation. Vivacom was able to effortlessly provide its customers with high quality services, despite the increased traffic during the state of emergency. And as a result, I think we are even better prepared to dive into our digital future.
In the great competition to gain the customers’ trust , which are the biggest challenges you are facing?
The most important thing is to always be on the crest of the wave, to have an adequate level of investments for expansions and improvements, to be able to offer the most desired products and services. An example for this is our product EON – a new generation TV service that was launched on the market in April 2021. Among its key advantages are the ability to customize content by creating profiles, its identical interface on various devices, archiving for up to 7 days, and also a huge library of additional movies and TV series along with a wide choice of channels. In its mobile services segment, Vivacom offers the Unlimited plans, so customers can know exactly what they are paying for and use unlimited services for an unlimited period of time. Here, I can proudly say that during the last year Vivacom is the operator with the most ported in mobile numbers to its network*. Customers are extremely important to us. We don’t see them as revenue-generating units, but as valuable partners, and our goal is to deliver high-quality experience to them. Our offers are focused on overall value, which contains the best products and technologies available at any given moment.
Customers’ age range increasingly broadens but despite this some of them will not enter the digital world...
The youngest live through digital devices, whereas some generations live in a more analogue manner. We understand the needs of different customer categories and work to provide them with the right solutions. We are a fully converged operator and as such we can offer fully integrated services to households, small and medium-sized businesses and large corporate clients. We are building a 10-gigabit fiber optic network of the latest generation for high-speed Internet. It is the first one in Bulgaria and currently – the largest**. We have the largest and the fastest 5G*** network in Bulgaria, with coverage in over 530 settlements . And, of course, EON, which I’ve already mentioned. A platform that provides unique TV experience and meets the needs of fans of sports, cinema, series and users seeking information or entertainment.
What is your offer to the business sector? Have its needs for digital services changed?
The needs of the business sector are not much different from the needs of the individuals. Companies and businesses care about reliable connectivity everywhere. This is not only sought after by large companies, but also by the small and medium-sized ones, which are the backbone of the economy. The hairdresser, the car repair shop, the local groceries can’t survive without connectivity and they need Internet connection to meet their needs. Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important for all businesses since company information must be well protected. We offer data storage, cloud services, great variety of mobile devices, computers and TVs as well as solutions tailored to specific customer needs. This way we make it easier for our customers by becoming ‘one stop shop’ for them. And it is important to note that we offer this not only to large companies, but to every enterprise/organisation.
What kind of novelties do you expect to see becoming a trend?
Smart cities, smart homes, telemedicine, Education 4.0, Industry 4.0… In Bulgaria there is still no enterprise based on Industry 4.0; one day it will exist, but we are not there yet. It will be managed over a mobile network. Such a solution will result from the partnership of an entrepreneur who wants to build such production capacity and a telecom operator. The 5G network will allow all these technologies to develop and become reality. Key points here are speed and latency. In order for machines and medical instruments to be precisely controlled, the latency must be negligible. From now on, these will increasingly enter the manufacturing, education and medical fields as well as our homes. High-speed Internet affects even the quality of entertainment. In any household, a good Internet connection allows its members to do what they want – one can have an online video meeting, another can watch movies, others can play a web-based computer game and no one will experience difficulties with the connection.
How close do you think we are to the first Industry 4.0 enterprise in Bulgaria?
It could become a reality in less than two years.
Do new connectivity technologies offer us sufficiently reliable protection?
The way we build our networks, the suppliers and technologies we use, provide guarantees that our information and our users are protected. We also offer additional cyber security solutions to help our customers.
Looking back, we see how much life has changed and how quickly some technologies have replaced others. How are innovations born in Vivacom and how do new solutions come about?
They arise mainly from the desire and need to improve the quality of human life, to have more convenience, security and comfort. High-tech is here to change the environment and connectivity. If this pandemic had come 15 years ago, it would not have been possible to work or study from a distance the way we managed now.
Who manages innovations at Vivacom? Do you have a special department for that?
We do, of course. The overall process is structured on a group level. For example, EON, as a solution, is a product of our department for the development of new products and innovations. In the frenetic tech race, someone has to measure the pulse of change and we are working so that Vivacom is always on the crest of the wave.
On the labour market, the battle for high-skilled talents is fierce. What is Vivacom's employee policy?
The fact of the matter is that there is a ‘hunger’ for people with good professional training. In the high-tech sphere, more and more new companies are emerging, which makes the competition for quality staff even more aggressive. Vivacom is a company with long-standing traditions, making great efforts to bring its employees through various social programs, development and educational programs, as well as internship and mentoring programs. We partner with universities and educational institutions all over the country because unlike most other companies, our employees are literally everywhere in Bulgaria. We have full coverage not only as a network, but also as human resources. We take care of the motivation and the growth of our people.
Education plays a key role in the development, but also in the use of available technologies. How does Vivacom interact with this important sphere?
For years the company has supported various initiatives related to education. Recently, I even had the honour of receiving the Business Honoris Causa Award, given by 24 chasa newspaper. This award came in recognition precisely of our activity aimed at the digital transformation of education. The “Education 4.0” Vivacom campaign, together with 24 chasa, newspaper began four years ago. Its role was to draw a roadmap and identify the necessary steps for digitization of the education, taking the opinion of everyone involved in this big change. The extensive preliminary work prepared the ground for the rapid switch to distance learning mode. For the company this was a convincing proof that when thinking ahead of time and working in this direction, we can be ready for any surprises that lie ahead.
In recent years you have also focused on acquiring smaller market players. Will you continue to grow in this manner as well?
We are currently completing the acquisition of the local operator NetWorx. We explore the opportunities and shifts in the market and if we identify businesses that are interesting to us, we will take the proper steps.
There are a lot of emerging tech startups . Are you following the development in this sector?
There are a lot of interesting projects and young entrepreneurs and it is exciting to follow their development. But our focus, going forward, is to be the converged operator that offers its users all the necessary telecom services. Any new technology, that we develop one way or another, must be an organic part of the services we offer as a technology operator. Through our Vivacom Regional Grant program, for example, we promote the development of small, local projects.
Is it healthy for the market to have more local and regional internet and TV providers?
Currently, there are over a 100 of them. So be it in the future as well. I believe in healthy competition, however it should comply with the same rules, doesn’t not circumvent laws and doesn’t rely on pirated content. Whoever offers better services at a better price, will win customers’ trust and endure on the market.
What will change at Vivacom now that you have taken over the management of the company?
I believe that we will become even better at everything we do, we’ll work to earn the trust of even more clients and accelerate our development and growth. Vivacom will be the dream workplace for many young talents.
There's a lot of managerial experience behind you. How does this help you in the new environment?
Yes, I've gained a lot of valuable experience from every company I've worked for. Every mistake I've made has also taught me something. I believe in teamwork. I'm trying to reach everyone in the company. The speed with which cases get resolved is important, and this can be an advantage in management.
How do you manage the risks that lurk everywhere?
Good risk management requires us to realize that the risk is there. This implies a regular analysis of the risks that surround us. Newer varieties are emerging, not only the classic threats of fire and earthquake. New risks must be monitored and acted upon in a timely manner.
In this ever accelerating technological development, what keeps you from losing your human touch?
The digital world offers incredible opportunities, but I strive to stay firmly grounded. Personal communication is extremely important.
1* The most mobile numbers transferred according to data in the system of portability between telecom operators for the last year.
2** Speeds up to 10 Gbps in parts of Sofia, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Burgas and Varna. For technical opportunity and more information – vivacom.bg
3*** According to an analysis by Ookla® based on Speedtest Intelligence® data for 01.07.-31.12.2021 valid only for the fastest 5G network. Ookla's trademarks® are used with permission. The largest coverage of the 5G network after comparison according to publicly available information as of 07.01.22 for the coverage of operators by number of localities and resorts. More on vivacom.bg.