ANALYSIS: Wholesale telecoms in urgent need of fresh talent

ANALYSIS: Wholesale telecoms in urgent need of fresh talent

Carriers looking to fill senior management positions on the wholesale side of the business need to take a far more diverse and imaginative approach, or risk the pool of available talent running dry.

Carriers looking to fill senior management positions on the wholesale side of the business need to take a far more diverse and imaginative approach, or risk the pool of available talent running dry.

An executive consultant specialising in filling senior management roles in wholesale telecommunications has said the industry suffers from being a closed and inward look-ing community.

“If you recruit from another company just like your own, you’re taking from a limited pot of people,” said Erin Santos, executive consultant for fixed-line carriers with headhunter Wenham Carter International.

“You’re better off funnelling talent from lower down the organisation, working to develop people at grass roots level. But if you want to bring someone in from outside the company, you should be prepared to think outside the box.”

Santos believes wholesale would benefit from management recruited from other types of company in the wider communications and IT ecosystems, namely ISPs, managed service providers, software developers or equipment vendors.

She indicated that carriers should be looking for candidates with extensive commercial experience who can find a way for them to increase wholesale market share in what is often a saturated market.

“People are needed who can differentiate the brand in other ways than just price. This is where someone brought in from outside wholesale can add value,” she said.

There has been growing concern that wholesale is being under represented at board room level. This view was first aired by Chandan Ghosh, head of business solutions at Aircel, to Capacity in August, when he urged companies to bolster top-level management expertise in wholesale as an urgent priority.

Santos admits it is rare to find a C-level executive with a specific wholesale focus, which begs the question of how wholesale interests get heard within organisations?

While wholesale remains an important part of a carrier’s business, it often contributes only a small profit margin to the overall organisation.

To maximise this margin demands management with a diverse range of capabilities, more diverse certainly that was required in the wholesale market of 10 years ago when profitability was high.

“Diversity of skill sets matters, as it’s not just about providing historic services any more,” said Mike Hollin, CEO of Alium Partners, a recruitment consultancy that specialises in interim management positions. “You need to think differently these days. The wholesale minutes manager is history.”

Hollin notes that “seasoned” telecommunications executives are finding their skill sets – either on a permanent or interim basis – more hotly demanded in emerging markets, “where their expertise plays a role in helping those markets to catch up”.

There is a concentrated demand from Asia, Africa and the Middle East for senior-level management, which he says can help offset the limited opportunities in their home markets.

Such jobs are typically niche, and in areas where there is no local talent in a particular technology area.

Recruitment consultancy Glotel sends people all over the world to work on various communications projects, on behalf of organisations from across the telecommunications industry, including equipment vendors and systems integrators.

The company’s managing director, Lee Wilsher, says markets in Africa and the Middle East are hungry for contractors and permanent staff for “everything from 4G networks to IP backbones”.

“An operator wins a licence in a new market and needs to assemble a board as quickly as possible. Sometimes this will be a fixed-term contract with the job to transfer to someone local at the expiry of a period of time,” he said.

Wilsher also identifies a shortage of properly qualified talent for many of these roles, and attributes that to a lack of intelligent expertise coming through the ranks.

“The age of telecommunications management talent seems to be rising,” he said. “It’s only the older senior-level management that has the variety of skills our clients require. Around 90% of those clients specify they want someone with a customer-facing background and a mix of technologies they’ve worked with, particularly on the backbone side because interconnection is so important in these emerging markets.”

Plainly, a limited pool of ageing management experience is not a situation that can go on forever without consequences.

Carriers must act with immediate effect to boost the size and quality of this pool, or wholesale risks becoming a marginalised and under-resourced part of the industry.