Interview with Ms. Suzanna Suharju, CEO of imagine
Digitalisation is a cornerstone of the government of Brunei’s vision for the country’s future. And award-winning Bruneian telco company imagine has its vision, too: “to be a force of transformation in Brunei, helping accelerate people and businesses into the future”. CEO Suzanna Suharju explains how the company intends to contribute to making Brunei a Smart Nation.
Nice to meet you, Ms Suharju! Thank you for gracing us with your time. To begin with, how does a CEO like yourself usually start their day?
Hi, there! Thank you kindly for this opportunity to connect with The European Business Review and your esteemed readers from around the world. I am Suzanna, Chief Executive Officer of imagine Sdn. Bhd. based in Brunei Darussalam. Thank you for your opening question! My day starts very early and I’m usually the first person in my home to wake up. Apart from mentally preparing for the workday ahead, I think about what the day looks like for my 14-year-old and 9-year-old girls as I get them ready for school. My husband and I alternate the school runs and there is immense joy during these times of day for me when I get to catch up with my children. Then it’s off to the office, where I align my day with the team and we’re on the go pretty much from there.
Brunei is quickly becoming an increasingly attractive destination for foreign investment, both for advanced and emerging economies. In your opinion, what are the main attractions of the region?
Among the main attractions in Brunei is the advancing nature of our telecommunications industry, especially with the current COVID-19 environment. Like elsewhere around the world, we’ve experienced how important telecommunications is, not just for work, but also for education, business, entertainment, and general day-to-day living. To accommodate the rising demand for broadband and mobile connectivity, Brunei’s telecommunications infrastructure and network continues to improve in line with Brunei’s Vision 2035, which also outlines the national journey towards Smart Nation. Coupled with our natural resources that include highly skilled and educated people who are keen to learn, and our geopolitical stability, Brunei is certainly poised as an emerging economy that holds vast potential for any type of business looking for their next home. The future holds a lot of exciting new things in Brunei’s ICT landscape and we here at imagine are ready to welcome new opportunities. Our predominantly young team, averaging from 30 to 32 years of age, makes us a dynamic and adaptable organisation in a fast-moving industry where innovation and breakthroughs happen on a regular basis. Our strength as an organisation is driven by our imagineers, who are brave to challenge the norm and bring about new ideas.
Imagine sits at the forefront of digitalising Brunei Darussalam and turning it into a Smart Nation. Since its launch in January 2020, what have been some of the most memorable moments working for the company?
Our journey started with our rebranding from our predecessor, Telekom Brunei Berhad, in 2019, during a pivotal time in Brunei’s telco transformation. We were reborn as a sales organisation with the capability to offer affordable broadband, mobile, and bundle products. At the same time, our emergence in the Brunei market as we launched ourselves and building traction was met with the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit our shores towards the third quarter of 2020. We had to shift our marketing strategies especially for our core products and enterprise business, as well as mobile prepaid. Though it was indeed memorable, we didn’t see the onset of COVID-19 as a setback in our plans. It was an opportunity for us to think outside the box, where we continued to communicate and collaborate from home and launched our products based on our designated timelines. Two and a half years later, we have established our presence as the telco that’s best, whether for home, at work, or on the move. We continue to work on building our ‘Beyond Connectivity’ products and services such as cybersecurity, data analytics, as well as MSMEs, to support their own journey towards digitalisation.
Despite its small population, Brunei has steadily advanced its telecommunications industry by leveraging its regional and global network of tech providers. How does this apply to the work your company does?
Apart from Brunei’s Vision 2035, which sets a more general national KPI, we here at imagine refer to our national telco industry milestones under the Brunei Digital Economy Masterplan 2025. As a Government Linked Company, our presence in Brunei is also to serve the national agenda, with the next few years under this master plan focused on digitalising government services for business, education, and healthcare. Through our positive relationships with our government and private-sector stakeholders and understanding their needs for now and the future, we at imagine continue to look for regional and global partners to bring in new tech. We have since signed contracts and agreements with several regional ICT experts and organisations with the aim of expanding our product offering for Brunei’s digital development within the fields of cybersecurity, health, oil and gas, and data analytics, to name but a few. We believe that our investments can support Brunei’s growth and enhance its competitive standing in
Imagine has also recently been named as one of the Sultanate’s recipients of the inaugural ASEAN Outstanding Social Welfare and Development Award (AOSWADA). To what would you attribute this milestone?
Being the first private-sector organisation in Brunei to receive this award is truly humbling, as we have always been in a very fortunate position to make a difference in the lives of those around us without expectation of recognition. I believe this award can be attributed to our continued dedication and drive with the realisation that we play a part in contributing to our local community. As a telco, our scope goes beyond providing accessible and affordable broadband and mobile services, with our community efforts focused on our four corporate social responsibility pillars, namely education, women and children, and the underprivileged, as well as health and wellness. Imagine’s AOSWADA stands on the shoulders of our predecessors, Telekom Brunei Berhad, for the establishment of the National Child Helpline 121, which members of the public, especially children, can turn to if they need help or support. Since our transformation, we at imagine continue to co-fund this public service to support its operational sustainability. We believe that it is important to offer children a platform on which they know that their voices will be heard. We at imagine will continue to advocate this principle, especially for the future of our nation, where no man, woman or child is left behind, irrespective of their social circumstances.
You have shared a vision of every resident in Brunei experiencing the future through next-gen telecom solutions. Could you let us in on some of your long-term goals for imagine?
The advancement of new technology provides Bruneians with endless opportunity to improve day-to-day living. At imagine, we want to facilitate the possibility of staying connected anytime, anywhere, and have all their needs in the palm of their hands, wherever they may be, through their mobile devices. As the imagine team continue to work with other stakeholders to realise a Smart Nation, we are committed to providing the best value-added services in the market, such as e-wallet, to enable a cashless society, fulfilling Smart Home dreams, peace of mind through Smart Security technology, and staying connected with the people who matter.
What opportunities for partnership and/or investment would you like to tell the international community about?
Our strategy is simple: to expand our products and services that can leverage, and go beyond, connectivity. As the premier and preferred telecommunications company in Brunei, we maintain our status as the prominent telco provider for Brunei’s government and corporate sector, thus making us the ideal strategic telco partner for any international investor. Our dedicated team of imagineers embody our core values in that we are brave, we are innovative, and we challenge the status quo to meet a demand and, in some instances, create demand for the latest in tech products available in the international market.
How much progress has Brunei made in terms of its globalisation and digitalisation efforts? What more can be done in the public and private sectors?
As mentioned before, one of imagine’s main goals is to support and realise Brunei’s Digital Economy Masterplan 2025 targets, which encompass business, education, and health. Since the introduction of this master plan in 2020, Brunei has successfully implemented several key milestones that make everyday activities more convenient. As members of the Bruneian community, we as a people have a responsibility to adopt these advancements if we want to realise a Smart Nation together. Enablers, including us here at imagine, can only introduce digital transformation, but the general population will also need to be brave enough to embrace change, jump on the bandwagon, and create a society powered by technology for a brighter future.
Where do you see the telecommunications industry in Brunei heading?
The past few years have seen a significant improvement in our infrastructure, and we are now getting ready for the next evolution in our product offering. Before the end of this year, we will offer plans and packages at faster speeds and higher bandwidths, while at the same time introducing 5G products that will, without doubt, accelerate Brunei’s Smart Nation initiative by leaps and bounds.
With these further improvements in place, we at imagine believe that Brunei’s competitive edge will sharpen on par with our neighbours from the region, making us an ideal destination for international investors.
As the first Bruneian woman to head a telco, Ms Suharju, what single piece of advice would you give to younger women who also want to work in tech?
Dare to dream of possibilities where nothing is impossible. But this also means you must work hard for what you want for yourself and be brave enough to be heard. Often, women tend to shy away from advocating for themselves, but I believe that women are braver than they give themselves credit for. Never be afraid to say what you think and to use your voice to get your viewpoints across; nurture your curiosity; learn and grow by asking the right questions.
Suzanna Suharju is the CEO of imagine Sdn Bhd and one of Brunei’s female corporate leaders. Before joining the telecommunications industry, she held several roles at Brunei Shell Petrouleum and Shell International in the Netherlands in procurement, strategy development and legal. She is a lawyer by background and is a chartered procurement specialist who aspires to support and build organisations in areas of strategy and commercialisation. Under her helm, imagine has marked numerous milestones since its re-branding in 2019 where the company has solidified its position as the preferred telecommunications service provider particularly within the corporates and government. Imagine also allocates investments into into its CSR. Under her leadership, imagine received the inaugural ASEAN Outstanding Social Welfare and Development Award Brunei Darussalam (Private sector) 2021 recognising the company’s CSR work with children. Suzanna also advocates and supports education as evident by their support in supporting data needs of financially challenged students for online learning during the pandemic.
Suzanna is also a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council and a Council member of University Brunei Darussalam. She has been invited to speak in several forums and conferences such as the 6th ASEAN YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS (AYE) Carnival holding the theme ‘Reimagining Business in the New Paridgm”.