20 women to watch in telecoms

In celebration of International Women's Day, Capacity shines a light on 20 of the most prominent women in the wholesale telecoms business.

Every such list is necessarily subjective, and it was a challenge to pick just 20 from the many, many we could have included. We did not consider regulators and politicians – so Margarethe Vestager from the European Commission or Sharon White, the UK regulator, for example. There’s only one banker and one equipment vendor. So, with apologies to those who are not included, here’s our list for 2018. 

Mayra Arevich Marin , president, ETECSA

An engineer, Mayra Arevich Marin has been president of Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA), the Cuban fixed and mobile operator, since 2012 – a dramatic six years in the history of the company and the island.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) permitted direct phone connections with the US in 2015 and a number of US operators set up roaming deals. In April 2016 she was chosen as one of the 100+ members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and later in the year Eric Schmidt, then chairman of Google parent Alphabet, met her to agree an internet access deal. 

ETECSA’s mission is “providing telecommunications services that meet the needs of customers and the population, as well as support the requirements of socio-economic development of the country with the results that the company demands”.

Catherine Birkett, CFO, Interoute

Catherine Birkett has been leading Interoute’s finance department since the end of 2004. She joined the company in 2000 to head up the financial planning and analysis department and was an integral part of the team that drove the restructuring of the group in 2003 and the acquisitions of Ebone and Cecom. 

A graduate in maths and economics from Durham university – which she preferred to a pure maths course at Cambridge – she joined KPMG, where Birkett gained extensive experience of financial and commercial due diligence, before joining Interoute.

During her time as CFO, she has helped complete a number of acquisitions, most recently Easynet’s global managed services business in 2015. She has helped drive the business through a high growth period to become a cash generating business. 

Rhonda Cook , president and CEO, PS Lightwave

Rhonda Cook founded Texas fibre company PS Lightwave in 2010. The PS in the company’s name means “pure speed”. She started nearly 40 years ago as one of four staff members of Phonoscope Enterprises Group and became president in 1991 before selling off the cable TV operation in 1997. At PS Lightwave, Cook has initiated, reviewed and overseen numerous generations of innovation, including technical hardware, network management, and CRM software platforms to create a more efficient and scalable organisation.

Julia Fraser, VP sales, UK and Ireland, CenturyLink

Julia Fraser joined Level 3 Communications in 2012 as commercial director to lead on new opportunities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and then progressed to be vice president of access management – responsible for the commercial relationship with all network providers. She then returned to the sales division in Level 3 as vice president of professional services and specialist sales to lead on growing the company’s strategic product set, including security, voice, UCC, content delivery network and professional services across EMEA. After the CenturyLink takeover of Level 3 she was named VP of sales for the UK and Ireland in October 2017. 

Gagun Gahir, regional manager, voice, EMEAA, Telstra

Gagun Gahir has worked in various capacities covering operations, relationship management, sales, business development and management. She came out of university to a role in a call centre for IDT before moving up to corporate level, where she became director of carrier services for the Middle East and Africa. 

Telstra’s regional manager for voice in EMEAA since 2015, she now leads a team of account managers in a mission to consistently exceed targets, she says. And she is passionate about helping members of the team solve long-term challenges with solutions designed to help their businesses. 

Keri Gilder, VP and general manager, Ciena

Keri Gilder became Ciena’s vice president and general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa in 2016, having been with the company since 2002. She focuses on high-bandwidth applications and services, such as those needed for data centre interconnect, cloud-based services and video. 

Throughout her career, Gilder has been heavily involved in facilitating mentoring and career development programmes, most recently helping to establish Women @ Ciena, a global internal networking initiative that aims to encourage diversity within Ciena through motivating and inspiring women in the company at all levels and across disciplines.

At the start of her time at Ciena she headed sales to CenturyLink, before becoming VP of global account sales

Katia González Gutierrez, head of fraud prevention, BICS

Katia Gonzalez Gutierrez has more than 10 years of experience in the mobile and wholesale telecoms industry, and she has held different positions in the wholesale carrier business – including trading manager, pricing manager and now fraud operations manager.

She chairs the i3Forum’s fraud work stream, which brings together the communications expertise of more than 49 telecommunication providers, representing a combined retail base of over 1.5 billion customers across more than 100 countries. González Gutierrez holds a computer science engineer degree from Deusto University in Spain and started her career as consultant in the supply chain industry. 

Caroline Yin Yin Htay, CFO, Telenor Myanmar

Caroline Yin Yin Htay is CFO of Telenor Myanmar. She joined Telenor in November 2013 as head of accounting and tax, and has more than 15 years of finance experience working across different value chains in the telecoms sector. 

She started her career at StarHub in Singapore, and later at Motorola, where she held various roles, ending with the position of senior regional financial analyst responsible for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

Born in Myanmar, she studied accounting and finance at Singapore Polytechnic and then accounting at the Singapore Institute of Management before joining StarHub. She returned to Myanmar in 2013 as head of accounting and tax as Telenor set up its new operation, and became CFO less than three years later. 

Stephanie Lynch-Habib, CMO, Colt 

Stephanie Lynch-Habib joined Colt in December 2016 as CMO, after a spell with Level 3 Communications – where she was head of specialty and professional service sales – and 16 years with AT&T, in a series of roles that took her from finance to sales and from North America to Europe. 

At AT&T Lynch-Habib was a founding board member of the AT&T European Women’s network and was nominated twice to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Generation conference. She is a frequent contributor to Huffington Post on issues of gender equality.

On International Women’s Day last year she wrote: “Women need to feel empowered to have a seat at the table, both figuratively and literally, in order to contribute strongly to their respective fields. Being bold also means that we take the time to mentor and lift up women around us who show signs of greatness.”

At Colt, Lynch-Habib is helping to define and execute Colt’s marketing strategy, ensuring the build of a robust, customer-centric, go-to-market plan.

Katrina Luna-Abelarde, VP and head of international and carrier business, PLDT

Kat Luna-Abelarde is the first vice president and head of PLDT’s international and carrier business, and is president and CEO of PLDT Global, which operates in key destinations across North America, Europe and Asia, serving the needs of Filipino global enterprises, and overseas Filipino communities. PLDT has an expansive global cable network and strategic partnerships with over 600 carriers from across the world. Having started in equity management with Standard Chartered, Luna-Abelarde joined PLDT in 2000, and since then has managed portfolios across large enterprise, SME and consumer, covering various facets of business such as product management, marketing, sales and business development.  

Anne Morel, VP global carrier sales, Orange International Carriers

Anne Morel has been vice president of global carrier sales at Orange International Carriers since 2012. She oversees the global sales and business development of wholesale services for voice, data and mobile data.

Earlier she worked as managing director for France Telecom UK, and actively contributed to the development of the France Telecom group in the UK through partnership and acquisition. She has held numerous positions of increasing responsibility within the International Carriers management team including head of European carrier sales before taking her current role. 

In her most current position, she oversaw the implementation of a new global sales organisation to assemble the regional sales teams across voice, data and mobile products.

Roshi Mottman, CEO, Millicom (Tigo) Ghana

Roshi Motman has been the CEO of Millicom Ghana – formerly, Tigo Ghana – since April 2014. She joined Tigo after almost 10 years with various companies in Kinnevik Group, a key investor in Millicom. An electrical engineer who also studied business development at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, she progressed in a variety of management roles at Tele2 – also owned by Kinnevik – in Sweden covering product management, sales and customer operations. Prior to Tele2, she was responsible for the development of mobile entertainment at Modern Times Group, parent company of TV channel Viasat. 

Gina Nomellini, CMO, GTT

Gina Nomellini has GTT’s chief marketing officer since 2015, leading the expanding company’s brand development, messaging and marketing communications, product development and product management. Nomellini has worked in the telecoms industry for over 20 years: she was earlier CMO for One Source Networks, directing marketing, product and commercial initiatives, having joined from Telstra, where she oversaw the company’s full suite of international products. She earlierheld various leadership positions at Level 3 Communications and Broadwing Communications. 

Sally O’Brien, head of global wholesale, Sprint 

In her current role Sally O’Brien is responsible for managing commercial relationships with over 400 international carriers to enable global roaming, international long distance and IP data services for Sprint. O’Brien has over 25 years’ experience in the industry, holding positions in sales management in enterprise, national accounts, domestic and international wholesale, as well as machine-to-machine. Earlier she was director of international markets for the Sprint emerging and wholesale solutions division, responsible for the growth and execution of a robust suite of international services.

Funke Opeke, CEO, MainOne 

Funke Opeke is founder and CEO of Main One, which built West Africa’s first privately-owned subsea cable system that interconnected Nigeria, Ghana and Portugal in 2010. An engineer with Nigerian and US universities, Opeke worked in the wholesale division of Verizon in New York before joining MTN Nigeria as CTO. Under her management, Main One has grown to become the leading provider of wholesale and enterprise connectivity and data centre services across the region and the company has played a major role in changing West Africa’s internet landscape. The company continues to grow its footprint with investments in regional points of presence and services covering eight countries in West Africa and in building out terrestrial networks. 

Laurinda Pang, President, international and global accounts management, CenturyLink

Laurinda Pang took over her current role at CenturyLink in November 2017, after the takeover of Level 3 Communications, where she had been regional president of North America and Asia-Pacific since February 2016. It was the second major M&A she had experienced in the industry, which she joined 20 years ago as a VP at Global Crossing. At Global Crossing she had a number of roles before Level 3 bought it, including VP of global sales operations and later chief of staff to the CEO, a member of the executive leadership team responsible for the company’s restructuring and the development of a focused business strategy for improved financial performance. She has looked after investor relations and later human resources, a role that took her into the acquisition by Level 3. Pang became chief administrative officer of Level 3, responsible for corporate strategy, corporate development, human resources, communications, investor relations and corporate social responsibility worldwide. 

Philisiwe Sibiya, CEO, MTN Cameroon 

Philisiwe Sibiya became CEO of MTN Cameroon in 2015, where she was appointed to lead the turnaround of the company, looking at quality of network, diversity of earnings, technology and innovation and profit and market share. Leading the executive team, she enhanced MTN’s market presence in the country, building and maintaining relationships at government levels. Before then, she occupied several senior management positions at MTN South Africa – where she was CEO – and in the MTN group, where she worked in finance. Before joining MTN in 2005 she worked for Arthur Andersen, Primedia and South African mobile operator Cell C. 

Ellie Sweeney, executive director, global sales, Telstra

Ellie Sweeney is executive director, global sales at Telstra, based in Hong Kong and responsible for global wholesale and global enterprise sales teams. She has worked in the global telecommunications industry for 20 years and has held key senior roles in consumer, small business, enterprise and government and operations divisions. Earlier, as executive director for global wholesale at Telstra, she was responsible for leading, communicating and executing the global wholesale and over the top strategy. Prior to that, she held the position of executive director of solutions sales at Telstra, leading the domestic and global sales teams across voice, mobile, data, cloud, UC, security, managed services, industry solutions and alliances. With a business degree from the University of Technology, Sydney, and an ambition is to become a better purpose-led leader, Sweeney has successfully moved between sales and operational roles, demonstrated by her varied roles at Telstra over the past eight years. Earlier, she held the position of director of sales at World Directories. 

Nina Triantis, global head of TMT, Standard Bank

Nina Triantis joined Standard Bank in 2005, having previously spent 14 years with CIBC World Markets in London more recently as European head of media, telecoms and technology and – in the early 1990s – in the acquisition finance unit. Triantis has over 23 years investment banking experience, of which 14 years have been spent advising and arranging finance in the TMT sector throughout the world.  She has an extensive knowledge base and contacts of a large number of operators throughout the emerging and developed world and has had responsibility and experience originating and overseeing the execution of financing and M&A transactions, privatisations as well as private equity transactions. 

Mardia van der Walt (Niehaus), SVP, Deutsche Telekom ICSS

Mardia van der Walt was appointed senior vice president of Deutsche Telekom’s International Carrier Sales and Solutions (ICSS) unit in September 2015. As head of ICSS, she is responsible for the international wholesale carrier business of the group. Her appointment came after joining Deutsche Telekom’s Europe and Technology organisation at the beginning of 2015 to take over project lead for the post-merger integration of GTS Central Europe. Van der Walt has been with the group since 1998, where she held several top positions at T-Systems South Africa, including CEO. She has proven her capabilities by positioning and growing T-Systems South Africa in a highly competitive IT business environment – in a challenging market requiring a strong focus on customer experience.