Even before he was sworn in as BCE’s (NYSE:BCE) chief executive, the day before Christmas 2012, real estate baron Hubert Joly gathered all his chief executives at a joint town hall. The discussion at the bar was somewhat awkward, since only Joly was invited.
The gathering kicked off a conference series between BCE and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and announced plans to invest $1 billion in closing its lights-out wireless business.
From that point on, Joly and BCE dutifully announced plans for a $5.4 billion takeover of Astral Media (OTC:ACMEF), the third-largest media-content company in Canada.
Joly played the hobnobber part at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, not because of his Italian heritage, but because he was convinced that his talents would help shape a very difficult merger.
Following its strategy of acquisition and moderation, BCE expanded its reach and presence in the media space in January with the acquisition of Manitoba Telecom Services (OTC:MTUAF) in a deal valued at $3.1 billion.
Integrating one more media company, with its own brand, now that BCE is the biggest by total revenue will be quite a feat. Even if its free cash flow over the next three years is modest at approximately $2.9 billion, that will change dramatically following integration of Bell Aliant (NYSE:BCE), which is expected to have approximately $3.6 billion in free cash flow over the same period. The message to U.S. investors is simple: Nothing is impossible.
Joly is not oblivious to the problems faced by the economy in the United States. Uncertainty and negative sentiment in the stock market are a major reason behind the recent market sell-off, he acknowledged, but BCE will aggressively manage its business.
He pointed out that BCE maintains strong reserves and a conservative balance sheet. A result? Its earnings have grown steadily every year, despite the economic slowdown. That said, BCE is facing the risk of losing a large portion of its wireless customer base over the next few years.
The rapid growth in technology creates opportunity and complicates process, Joly said. He is using his own experience from the integration of Best Buy and hhgregg to become one of those who can navigate it.
Joly comes from a telecommunications background. He also has experience in retail operations and the boardroom. But more than all that, he has a passion for building team spirit and, at his core, being a competitor. Not everyone has that passion, but in the complex business of building a strong business, that’s a critical trait.
Joly constantly reminds BCE employees of the importance of focusing on each other. He expects high levels of energy, high levels of performance and a high level of loyalty among his employees. During the job interview process, when interviewers asked Joly to give a direction for the company, he gave the example of buying an island in the Caribbean.
His words of wisdom: “Don’t think you know what to do, try things and figure it out.” To a tech company, I mean it.