07 July 2017
The market has never needed clear leadership as it does now, but where will the right talent come from, and how are CEOs adapting their skills and strategies? Sue Tabbitt goes to the top to find out
In any industry, keeping a flow-through of relevant
leadership talent is vital. If vision and momentum
aren’t maintained and driven from the top of the
company, even the most successful business can go off
In the telecoms industry, the accelerating pace of
disruption has placed renewed emphasis on the make-up of the
CEOs have a duty to keep their knowledge current, and to
keep themselves surrounded by the right combination of
experience and skills – taking a proactive role in
ensuring the company adapts its approach to recruiting and
developing next generations of leaders.
At Orange International Carriers, CEO Pierre-Louis de
Guillebon takes this responsibility seriously.
His own background is in engineering, mostly in telecoms:
the majority of his career has been in various roles within
He has been in his current position for about a year. Across
his career he has witnessed great change.
Twenty years ago he led a team of 50, overseeing the rollout
of France Telecom’s long-distance fibre network.
Today his remit is much more strategic, keeping a close eye on
how the market and customer needs are changing, to ensure
Orange doesn’t miss a trick. Innovation,
virtualisation and the cloud, content delivery and security are
all major preoccupations, along with specific opportunities
related to 5G, the internet of things, VoIP and voice over LTE.
Blockchain is a recent interest, as part of
Orange’s plans for mobile payments.
"Fortunately, I am a kind of geek," he says. "I love new
technology, and seeing if there is an opportunity for my
business – trying to forecast the innovations that
will be the most successful, and which we can adapt for our
To stay in tune with the market, de Guillebon spends a lot
of time talking to Orange International Carriers’
large enterprise customers. Before taking up his current
position, he was responsible for growing Orange’s
activities in the business-to-business market in the Paris
area, and headed the technical project for the Euro 2016
football tournament. Spending time with clients as diverse as
UEFA and Hermès has kept him grounded, he says.
"The best way to challenge yourself as a leader is to deal
with customers," he says. It’s also a good way to
observe and learn from what digital transformation means in
other industries, he notes. "You can’t stay in
your own world," he notes. "That’s true
geographically too – what’s happening in
China, Japan, the Middle East and beyond can vary a lot, so it
helps to have the rounded picture."
When it comes to recruiting leadership talent, the unit
faces an unusual restriction. Orange as a group has a policy of
recruiting for top positions only from within the company.
"We’re very limited in our ability to seek senior
people from outside Orange and therefore the [wider] telecoms
industry," de Guillebon says.
Although there’s nothing to say that position
couldn’t be reviewed in future, for now it means
de Guillebon and his team have to be creative about building a
progressive team which reflects a fast-changing
His new head of marketing, he notes, has joined from
Orange’s retail operations in France, and other
senior roles have been filled from different corners of the
business – internationally too – to maximise
diversity of experience and skills.
Strategic partnerships present opport-unities as well.
Orange complements its own 6,000+ strong team of researchers
and innovation engineers with an aggressive start-up programme
through which it incubates and draws on external talent, energy
and ideas. "In return, we help those start-ups develop.
It’s a win-win," de Guillebon says. "Sometimes we
take shares in those businesses."
At Telia Carrier, Staffan Göjeryd has also been in
position as CEO for about a year. But unlike de Guillebon, his
background is in business administration, organisational theory
and strategy, and finance/economics. He graduated with a
bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Göjeryd has held a lot of technical roles though. "In
the early days, all you needed was an interest in the technical
side," he notes. He remembers being part of the team building
out Telia’s internet capability when the web was
still in its infancy, and has been director of network planning
and head of Telia Carrier’s data and
infrastructure business over the years.
Like de Guillebon, Göjeryd has found what customers do
with it is more interesting than connectivity for its own
As the market has succumbed to changing customer behaviour
and the new potential enabled by the latest technology, the
emphasis of Telia Carrier’s business and its
leadership have changed. "At one stage, in the early 2000s,
there was a lot of build-out so the emphasis was on project
management, and organisational and financial control,"
"But now we’re becoming more of a service
organisation and the emphasis is on customer centricity and
Göjeryd can’t comment on what plans there
might be for his own succession: "That’s somewhat
out of my hands," he notes. But he has no doubt that the ideal
qualities for a telco leader today and tomorrow differ
significantly from 10-15 years ago.
"Back then telecoms was telecoms, and everything else was
something different," he says. "That’s no longer
the case: everything is intermingling."
This translates into the need for a broader pool of talent
and experience. When recruiting, Telia Carrier looks to fill
gaps rather than appoint more from the same mould.
"Each person must add value, and specifically in relation to
your current challenges as an organisation. People in the
wholesale telco industry know telecoms very well; what they
understand less well is customer centricity, data abstraction,
better use of data and so on."
While incoming team leaders will need a basic interest in
connectivity and how content and data are distributed, they
could be coming at this from a different angle, Göjeryd
Telia Carrier has brought in people from more of a
consultancy background, for instance, and those with a strong
pedigree in customer service – from the software
industry and beyond.
In common with so many companies, Telia Carrier is on a
major digital transformation journey.
So software skills and experience are particularly
desirable, to take the company towards a future that will
depend increasingly on the cloud and network virtualisation
– as long as this expertise can be applied to address
the specific needs of the business and its customers.
"There’s no doubt we are, and need to be, more
data driven. How we exchange information, ensure it is
accurate, and make this more transparent and share it more
readily – internally and externally – are
issues for everyone at the moment, not just carriers or even
telcos," Göjeryd notes.
And this evolution has to happen at the core of the company,
not out at the periphery. "I wouldn’t want a
separate chief digital officer at Telia Carrier," he says. "The
digital journey needs to be integral, and understood by
everyone – not a side function."
Göjeryd believes internal people can be retrained in
line with market changes, but that existing teams may not be
able to take the business to new places. "They may not be the
catalyst for the changes that are needed. Sometimes you have to
bring in the different philosophy. You can – and
should – teach existing people the benefits of a
different approach though. It needs a balance."
Stay curiousIn terms of his own personal
development, Göjeryd feels it’s important to
"stay curious" – about what Telia
Carrier’s customers’ customers are
doing, and what’s happening in other industries.
"I try to spend time on this; whether it’s enough,
I don’t know," he says.
He looks for this quality in others too. "We need people who
are curious about what’s happening out there, what
our angle is and how we need to evolve to deliver that. We also
need passion. As long as it’s directed and
relevant, that’s almost more important than