Russ Matulich is the Founder and Group CEO of RTI, a leading independent undersea cable owner and operator providing large-scale network solutions across a wide variety of industries including cloud companies, network operators, regional carriers, global enterprises, content providers, and educational instutions collaborating on research and development. Prior to founding RTI, Russ was MD, Asia Pacific Region, with TE SubCom (formerly Tyco Telecommunications), where he led the market, facilitating multiple cables across Asia, Australia, and the United States. Those cables—including TPE, UNITY, PPC-1 and SJC—were valued at $2 billion. In an exclusive with iG magazine editor-in-chief Jasmine Bedi, Russ Matulich, the Group CEO of RTI Cables, shares his journey, from being turned down by more than 250 banks to securing $500 million for subsea cable infrastructure.
Please share RTI’s genesis and the highlights of your journey.
The first RTI entity is RAM Telecom International, and RAM is my initials—Russell Alan Matulich. Before starting RTI in 2013, I was the MD for Tyco Telecom (now TE Subcom). Tyco led the market for constructing undersea fiber optic cables. It was a great time in our industry and so I call it the Golden Years. I’m still amazed that subsea cables transmit 99 percent the world’s content at the speed of light and that takes a staggering amount of capital. Still, it’s the people that are the most fascinating. Every meeting is like a United Nations assembly. Early on, it became clear: getting cables over the finish-line has less to do with money and more to do with people—yes, you need capital to build but when all’s said and done, money doesn’t get cables built; people do.
My journey isn’t a success story, it’s a failing forward story. It’s also our family motto. There were at least 250 banks that turned down our CFO, Brian Mass. Ultimately, world-class Japanese financial institutions came through. In addition to our cables, we have two combined Data Center (DC) and Cable Landing Stations (CLS): one in Los Angeles (LA) and one in Guam. In our LA DC / CLS, we currently land $2B of trans-pacific cables. In Guam, we are landing $300M of cables. While every cable adapts to the changing environment, one thing remains constant: obstacles, and it takes experts from around the world to solve such problems. So whatever success we are having is attributable to the relationships we’ve built along the way.
What made you select Guam as the hub for your Asian cables?
Our first cable is the Southeast Asia—United States (SEA-US) Cable System. Around 2013, it was becoming clearer that geopolitical issues were accelerating Guam’s importance to Asia. Guam is geographically perfect, geopolitically neutral, and has rule of law. We saw Guam as an essential and reliable hub for connectivity between Asia, Australia, and the United States. As an example, prior to SEA-US, the Philippines (Globe Telecom) and Indonesia (PT Telkom / Telin) had no direct connection to the US West Coast. Cables are essential to all economies as they increase trade, expand education / distance learning, and improve communication – they’re also critical to security. For a variety of reasons, including some of the items reasons that I mentioned, Globe and Telin needed a direct connection to the US and SEA-US provided that. Completed mid-2017, SEA-US continues to bring prosperity and security to the Philippines and Indonesia.
“Money doesn’t build cables, people do”, can you elaborate on that?
Building a cable is incredibly complex. When you add it up, the cable’s repeaters alone house thousands of piece parts. Now picture building multiple cables simultaneously and add-in a combined DC / CLS in Guam that, due to delays, started after SEA-US’s installation began! Between September 2019 and January 2020, RTI successfully completed five different landings—two in Australia, two in Guam and one in Japan. RTI’s CTO, Masahiro Soma, and our permitting guru, Chris Brungardt, SVP Regulatory Compliance, were instrumental in getting our cables built on-time. The relationships they built and respect they earned prior to joining RTI is what got the job done. The obstacles we overcame were because of the relationships built across the globe; many people lifted us up, helping us slay the many dragons we encountered. As I see it, we are standing on the shoulders of Giants. We may be small compared to others, but that doesn’t matter as we are real, and we love that we do. We know that our work helps to make the world a better place.