GTT CEO says LAN opportunity a 'wild card' as it emerges from bankruptcy

GTT Communications has had a rough two-and-a-half years as it wholly restructured its business and worked its way through bankruptcy proceedings. Now that the clouds are clearing, the company has a new vision focused on putting customers first and using partnerships to grow its product portfolio with an asset-light model, CEO Ernie Ortega told Fierce. That said, Ortega knows it still has work to do.

Based in Virginia, GTT found itself in hot water in 2020, after an aggressive acquisition spree left it with $3 billion in debt. The company sold off its fiber and subsea assets to I Squared Capital for $2.15 billion in October of that year (in a deal which led to the creation of EXA Infrastructure) and secured a $275 million term loan that December, but failed to fully recover its footing.

In October 2021, GTT voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure and slash its debt by $2.8 billion, or roughly 80%. Earlier this month, it announced it finally exited bankruptcy, having repositioned itself as a managed services company offering SD-WAN and SASE capabilities over a network that spans more than 600 points of presence on six continents.

“We’ve really transformed the company from an acquisition-type mantra into a managed service provider really focused on SD-WAN and SASE,” Ortega said. “As we emerge from bankruptcy, 2023 will be a year of recovery. As you all know, emerging from bankruptcy – it’s not like a light switch turns on and your revenue’s going to grow double digits. You’ve got to earn the right again, not only with your existing customers, but you’ve got to earn the trust of new logos coming in.”

Ortega acknowledged GTT is stepping into an increasingly crowded market around SD-WAN and SASE but said top-tier customer service will be its not-so-secret weapon to differentiate itself and win over customers. While it slashed its sales force during the bankruptcy proceeding, Ortega said it has higher productivity and better sales numbers now with 180 people than it did with 500. That’s thanks in part to its efforts to put the customer first and ensure each of its clients has the best possible experience. He added GTT is hoping those efforts will eventually help it win over a greater share of enterprise telecom spend.

In terms of product, the aforementioned managed SD-WAN and SASE services will comprise its core offering. But Ortega said GTT is looking to roll out new services later this quarter and has a wild card up its sleeve in the form of a forthcoming local area network (LAN) product.

“Over the past 20, 25 years, this industry, the telecom industry has always talked about convergence,” he said. “Now you’re talking about the convergence of the LAN and the WAN…It’s a pretty significant opportunity in the marketplace today, and it’s a natural evolution.” With both WAN and LAN offerings, GTT will “truly become a one-stop shop” for enterprise telecom needs, Ortega added.

The CEO noted GTT plans to target high-end global enterprise customers, more specifically those with locations spanning three or more continents. But rebuilding and growing its base will take time.

In 2023, Ortega said GTT will continue to focus on stabilizing the business and optimizing both its operations and product portfolio for growth. On the latter point, he stated it doesn’t plan to build its own products but will work with partners to develop the assets it needs – just as it teamed with Palo Alto to create its SASE offering.

Beyond that, “our growth really starts in 2024 and beyond,” he concluded.