Q and A with Primus Canada’s new CEO, Michael Nowlan

Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. has announced it has a new CEO – Michael Nowlan, formerly CEO of Marketwired, a news wire service that provides press releases, with an eye on the social media space.

As Primus is one of the biggest alternative telecom service providers, many consumers and small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are looking to it for a different way to get the broadband access they need – and Nowlan says Primus isn’t going to shy away from that any time soon.

IT Business.ca caught up with Nowlan to ask why he took on his new role, what he plans on doing with the company, and where he sees the telecommunications space heading in the next little while. This interview has been condensed and edited.


IT Business.ca: What prompted you to make the switch to Primus from Marketwired?

Michael Nowlan: That is a great question. I had actually finished up with Marketwired a few months before, and I was thinking about what was an interesting opportunity. And what appealed to me about Primus was that there were a lot of similarities about where Primus is as an organization, and where the industry is as a whole, to my experience with Marketwired over the years. Let me explain that.

Marketwired, when I got involved with it, it was a distant, smaller competitor against some well entrenched, larger incumbents in the press release business, in a traditional line of business. And it was a very competitive marketplace, and there wasn’t a lot to differentiate on the features and functionality of any one product that was in that marketplace.

(Image: Primus). Michael Nowlan, CEO of Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc.
(Image: Primus). Michael Nowlan, CEO of Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc.

So how did we differentiate and what did we bring? Well, it took a number of years to execute upon a strategy that focused on a few key elements, and one was really focused on service excellence and how to build an incredible reputation for putting the customer first in everything.

And in the Marketwired situation, very early on relatively speaking, in early 2008 or late 2007, we identified the growing role and potential of social media, and we made a very big move to transition and adopt social media, probably earlier than a lot of other competitors.

So if I look at that, there’s a lot of analogies to the Primus situation, in that Primus is Canada’s leading alternative telecommunications carrier, but it’s distant behind the major incumbents that are out there. You can describe the telecommunications marketplace as a market where any one product that you have, its features are well-defined.

And it’s technology – it’s fairly consistent, so you’re going to have to really focus on excelling at the service delivery component for your clientele, and focusing on those technologies and services that make the most sense for growth and meeting the needs and really understanding your customers, what they truly want from a service provider. I look to bring a lot of that same mentality into Primus and how we approach the marketplace.

ITB: You mentioned at Marketwired, the big transformation there was not just focusing on the press release business, like a lot of well-established incumbents were doing, but also embracing social media and really understanding how that played in. Where do you see opportunities like that for Primus – where competitors aren’t doing something, but Primus can fill that role?

Nowlan: Yeah, I think that first of all, it’s early days for me here at Primus. It’s been just a few weeks in the seat, so I’m just getting up to speed on everything … What I do see is a tremendous opportunity for the small to medium-sized business segments, is really focusing on that.

So we’re really focusing on certain elements – there’s a huge component with the rise of IT technology, VoIP, and its adoption by Canadian business at all levels. And the hosted PBX solution, which is a great solution that really meets tremendous needs at all sorts of small to medium-sized and larger entities.

But we’re looking to bring essentially that enterprise-class service and that whole level of service for the small to medium-sized business. So adopting leading Internet access components, the carrier Ethernet, those sorts of higher-speed access for clients to the Internet, VoIP, IP technology – those wrapped around simplistically understanding those customer needs … If we can achieve all that in the very near term, that’s a great foundation to build upon.

ITB: This isn’t the first time Primus has made an SMB play, but why do you think SMBs make a good customer base for Primus?

Nowlan: Here in Canada, the SMB marketplace is extremely large. And in a market where we have large incumbents that have historically focused on the enterprise-level clientele, the SMB is a segment that is ripe for bringing that level of enterprise service to them … We have multiple locations across the country, and we can serve them tremendously.

ITB: Is there any particular strategy to reach consumers or residential users?

Nowlan: The requirements for the SMB market are not that different from the residential and the consumer marketplace. People are moving away from the traditional landline. If they’re not mobile, it’s IP-based. So those Internet connections – the speed of access in the household, they’re demanding higher and higher access speeds … As we get more into the age of the proverbial Internet of Things, and as more units in the household become connected to the Internet, speed, bandwidth and speed of access will become more and more important, whether you’re a small business, an enterprise business, or a household. Like my kids and their gaming online, they have as much demand for bandwidth and speed as any small business.

ITB: Primus sold its Blackiron data centres to Rogers this past April. Now that you’ve taken over at Primus, do you see the company moving towards data centres any time soon?

Nowlan: Obviously that was done long before I came on board, but I look at the data centre side – that’s a very capital-intensive business market.

As with any business, you can either build something yourself, you can buy it, or you can partner with somebody. Well, the building and the buying are very capital-intensive at this time, and it’s not in our plans at all.

Doesn’t mean we couldn’t partner with somebody, but that’s going to be based on what our customers are telling us. If that’s integral to our customers, then our product team will take a look … but as  it is right now, that whole strategy and concept I want to get so focused upon is letting our customers tell us what we need – what problems can we solve for our customers, and that will drive our strategic direction to a large degree.

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Candice So
Candice Sohttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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