The connector: Her fiber optic broadband offers a new gateway for growth
By: Converge Admin | 12 Apr 2021
“By digitizing our whole country and uniting our people, we want to see the opportunities of what a connected nation can do.”
We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational and so disciplined they can be free.
The quote aptly describes Maria Grace Uy, co-founder, president and executive director of Converge ICT, the first and only 100 percent fiber-optic player in the local ICT (information and communications technology) market. The company went public last year and raised P25.3 billion ($523 million) in the country’s biggest initial public offering in four years. As we celebrate Women’s History this month, it seems fitting to spotlight women’s achievements and celebrate Uy, who, together with her better half, Dennis Anthony Uy, form the “power couple” behind Converge ICT.
Uy’s story began when she was born the youngest and only daughter of a middle-class, third-generation Chinese family. She recalls growing up, enjoying simple pleasures like watching movies, playing outdoors and enjoying merienda (snack) at Good Earth department store in Manila. She studied at Immaculate Conception Academy in San Juan City and graduated in accountancy at De La Salle University. As a child, she always wanted to be a successful businesswoman. She says: “I knew that I was a very detail-oriented and thorough person. Thus, numbers and accounting were a natural choice.”
Uy worked at IBM Philippines, later becoming chief financial officer of Savers Mall in Angeles City, Pampanga province. She met her husband Dennis, fell in love, got married and in 2001, started a small business, Comclark Network and Technology Corp., which “was just a small office at the back of Mimosa Hotel in Clark,” she says. At first, Comclark served the cable television requirements inside the former US airbase-turned-freeport zone, later graduating to handling system integration, as well as the distribution of IT (information technology) equipment. “We’ve come a long way” says Uy. The company evolved with the technology and moved to cable modem. Eventually, Comclark became the parent company of Converge.
Uy (second from left) with husband and Converge founder Dennis Anthony Uy (third from left), Comclark Network Director Jaime Uy (leftmost), Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez 3rd (second from right) and Philippine Stock Exchange President Ramon Monzon (rightmost) at the listing of Converge on the stock market last October
The Uy couple enjoys quality time with their three daughters
Converge’s power duo
Asked to narrate an “aha moment” in her corporate journey, Uy says: “Sometime in 2013, I was at a friend’s house to plan for a trip. I was surprised at how slow their internet was, but what was even more shocking was that they were okay with it.” The next meeting was held in Uy’s residence, which had fiber optic connection. This time, her friends marveled at the speed of her internet service. “That was the start and it became a chain reaction,” Uy says, smiling as she recounts the birth of Converge. “We found ourselves installing fiber broadband for our friends, their friends and their relatives.’’
Converge’s start-up phase was fraught with challenges, especially since it faced three major obstacles led by weak brand recognition. Uy says: “We remedied the situation by focusing on our service. With excellent service and happy customers, referrals followed.” The buzz (about Converge) began in earnest when a gamer posted his positive experience with the company, stirring a flood of inquiries.
Next, the business required intensive capital, which Uy says, they addressed by not spending on advertising and expanding their customer base through referrals. “We reinvested our earnings, so it took three to four years to slowly grow our network and footprint,” Uy adds. Finally, to solve operational constraints in building their network infrastructure. Converge created Metroworks, which brought in top-of-the-line equipment and technology, hastening the fiber connection of the Luzon area. Today, Converge is close to completing the national backbone by connecting the Visayas and Mindanao.
Partnering with a strategic investor was always in the cards, Uy says. In 2018, that came in the form of New York-based, private equity firm, Warburg Pincus. “They brought more than just investment, but also strategic and operational expertise like identifying the right skills and the key management team needed to handle the current exponential growth successfully,” Uy reports.
Then, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, creating major chaos across the world. At Converge, the lockdown made a huge impact and business came to a virtual standstill. But with the pent-up demand for high-speed internet and the sudden shift to work from home and online classes, it soon had to quickly transform the way things were done. So, while other businesses ground to a halt, reduced workforce and suspended operations, Converge grew and adapted well to address the sudden surge of subscribers and continue their massive expansion.
Uy says: “We were also planning an IPO with the tremendous growth of the business amid the pandemic. We wanted to secure our five-year capex (capital expenditure) plan. We did the international roadshow through Zoom, and met with at least 50 potential investors in a week! With the successful IPO, Converge is now fully equipped for stronger growth over the next five years.”
Clearly the partnership of Grace and Dennis Uy works like a dream. “Dennis is my life partner,” the wife reflects. “We complement each other very well in all aspects of life and leverage each other’s strengths in the daily operations of the company. I believe our dynamic has enabled us to grow Converge into what it is now.”
Uy’s family is her refuge from the daily stress of working in the competitive ICT industry. She says: “One of my biggest struggles is balancing my personal life and work. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s definitely doable. For me, family always comes first.” The couple has three girls: the eldest graduated last year and currently works at a fintech startup in New York; the second is an economics major; and the third is still in high school.
“After over a decade of hard work and dedication, Converge and all the people in it have become second family to both Dennis and me,” Uy adds.
The Uy couple chose the brand name Converge for their company because it means “to come together,” which captures their dream of uniting the Philippines. “We want to see the opportunities of what a digitally connected nation can do,” its president muses.
Converge is positioned as the best value brand that aims to reach both unserved and underserved markets, Uy stresses. Currently, only 30 percent of Filipino households have internet connection, and only about 10 percent have fiber optic broadband. And while the bulk of their current business are residential customers, the company also wants to grow the SME (small medium enterprises) and enterprise segment.
Commenting on the future of Converge, Uy says: “I often think about the urgency to wholly adopt a stable and secure internet for the country, because that would open the Philippines to so many possible gateways for growth. Ultimately, Converge’s vision is for the Philippines to be at par with the best in the world.”
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