Women in telecoms: 10 to watch in 2013

29 January 2013 | Richard Irving


If, as Capacity magazine argued throughout much of last year, a lack of representation at board room level is failing the wholesale industry at large, then a lack of female talent is even more damning. Here, for the first time, we highlight 10 women that everyone in wholesale should seek inspiration from over the coming months.

 

Yijing Brentano

vice president of international wholesale and business development, Sprint

A 15-year veteran of Sprint, Brentano has seen pretty much every facet of the business, from investor relations to cash management. Her current role, which includes overseeing the launch of Sprint’s crucial 4G-LTE network across the US, was specifically created for her, prompting some Sprint watchers to speculate that she is being groomed for even greater things. A vocal proponent of the burgeoning machine-to-machine (M2M) market, Brentano was involved in a groundbreaking tie-up with France Telecom-Orange last year. Brentano is at the forefront of arguably one of the fastest growing sectors in the telecoms universe: as the M2M market gains traction and moves into profitability, all eyes will focus on her determination to turn the car into a portable communications device.


 

Mignon Clyburn

commissioner, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

One of the last things President Obama signed off before hitting the election trail last summer was the nomination of Mignon Clyburn to a second term at the FCC. While her father, the powerful House Democrat Jim Clyburn, has often sided with AT&T, Clyburn junior ploughed her own furrow, voting to adopt controversial new net neutrality rules despite fervent lobbying from AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. She also took a hard line against AT&T’s ultimately doomed bid for T-Mobile. Watchers on Capitol Hill say she has worked consistently to highlight the difficulties of the broadband initiative, dispelling the notion that she would take her political cue from her father. She is hotly tipped to replace Genachowski if, as expected, the current FCC chairman steps down this year.

 

 

Carmen Perez

president, FPL FiberNet

The burning question among metro watchers is whether the seemingly unstoppable Zayo might soon come knocking at Carmen Perez’s door. The FiberNet president is herself no stranger to M&A, persuading Grande Communications Networks to part with 2,900 miles of long-haul fibre in early 2011. Perez joined FiberNet in 2004 and was appointed president in 2007 after stints serving as VP of sales and director of accounting. Under her stewardship, revenues have more than doubled – a point that is unlikely to be lost on Zayo’s inscrutable chief, Dan Caruso. Perez has only a small window in which to strike a deal: as a final wave of consolidation washes over the metro market, the synergies to be gained from smaller bolt-on acquisitions will undoubtedly become less attractive to predators such as Zayo.  


 

Svetlana Smirnova

head of group international IP and data wholesale, MegaFon

The distractions of MegaFon’s $1.7 billion share listing in London and Moscow might be behind her, but Smirnova faces a busy year as Russia’s second biggest mobile operator ramps up its efforts to unseat rival MTS from the number one slot. Speculation has been mounting in the national media that MegaFon might try to stitch together a deal with Tele2 over its Russian assets after the Swedish company failed to win a 4G licence last July, and MegaFon recently snapped up a 50% stake in Euroset, the phone retailer, to bolster its distribution channels. Analysts say Smirnova, who worked at rival Rostelecom for eight years before joining MegaFon in 2010, is particularly admired for the relationships she has built up among the carrier community and has big plans to expand the operator’s network internationally. 


 

Funke Opeke

founder and CEO, Main Street Technologies

Funke Opeke topped a successful 2012 by winning CNBC’s All Africa Businesswoman of the Year Award, but in truth she holds a cabinet full of similar accolades – a testament to her tenacity in raising $240 million in financing to lay Africa’s first broadband cable linking Nigeria and Ghana to Europe. Born in Nigeria, Funke moved to the US to complete a master’s degree at Columbia University in the mid-80s. There she joined the fast-growing telecoms sector, rising to become executive director of Verizon Wholesale. She returned to Nigeria in 2005, before setting up Main Street Technologies in 2007. Two years after successfully lighting up the Main One cable, the company claims to be breaking even and is on target to meet obligations on its $120 million debt pile. Now Funke is looking to build data centres throughout Nigeria and Ghana as part of a concerted effort to bolster cloud services. 



 

Kristin Rinne

senior vice president, architecture and planning, AT&T

Rinne might not be the most senior woman at AT&T, but with more than 30 years’ hard graft behind her at the cutting edge of network design, she will certainly rank as one of its most experienced. As head of network architecture and planning, Rinne is responsible for the second largest mobile network in the US. High up her ‘to-do’ list this year, will be to figure out how to combine Akamai’s industry-leading content delivery platform with AT&T’s own IP network – a task made all the more sensitive because of AT&T’s existing relationship with another CDN provider, EdgeCast. Rinne took charge of operations at Southwestern Bell’s mobile offshoot, before going on to develop technology strategy at SBC Wireless. She served as CTO for Cingular Wireless before moving to AT&T to take up a similar role.



 

Sun Yafang

chairman, Huawei

Since joining Huawei in 1989, Sun has held just about every major executive title going at the Chinese telecoms equipment manufacturer and she may soon get a chance to sit in Ren Zhengfei’s venerated seat if the company’s founder holds good on a promise to rotate leadership responsibilities among his inner sanctum. Last year was not exactly a highlight for Huawei – Ren’s military background continues to plague the company’s efforts to break into the US and the latest financial filings highlighted a surprising 22% slump in profits. That said, it is Sun who is credited with establishing Huawei’s prolific R&D pipeline – the company holds more patents than any other multinational in the world except one, and she continues to be the brainpower behind the group’s impressive sales drive. 



 

Larissa Herda

chairman and CEO, TW Telecom

By her own admission a risk-taker who is unfazed by failure, Herda has built one of the most successful broadband network operators in the US. During her tenure, TW Telecom’s footprint has swollen from 17 markets to 75 and revenues have surged from $26 million to $1.4 billion. Herda got her first full-time job at the age of 16, but didn’t find her true calling until her early 30s. Now she is feted by politicians – in 2011, President Obama asked her to join the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee – and bankers. Speculation is rife that Herda might be lining up a sale of the business following a strong run in the company’s shares, which have surged fivefold since October 2009. Potential suitors include either CenturyLink, which has been relatively quiet since picking up Savvis, the data centre operator for $2.3 billion in 2011 and Level 3.



 

Kate McKenzie

group managing director, innovations, products and marketing, Telstra

McKenzie is one of the few executive board directors at a top-flight telecoms operator to rise through the ranks of wholesale. The former lawyer was plucked from Telstra’s public policy group, where she had worked since joining the company in 2004 by the hugely controversial Sol Trujillo when he took over the running of Telstra in 2005, and from 2006 to 2009 McKenzie was responsible for building Telstra’s wholesale operations. Trujillo’s successor, David Thodey, was also quick to spot her potential and in March 2010 a new board-level role was specifically created for her spanning the “three ‘p’s”: products, promotion and pricing. She is credited with turning around Telstra’s mobile business and recently spearheaded a drive into cut-price telephony and internet services with the purchase of Adelaide-based Adam Internet for an estimated A$60 million.



 

Jayshree Ullal

president and CEO, Arista Networks

When Jayshree Ullal suddenly left Cisco to work with Andy Bechtolsheim, a founder of Sun Microsystems and early investor in Google, on a new start-up that would go head-to-head with her old firm, the sense of shock was almost palpable. Since then things have got a lot worse, culminating in Cisco chiefs addressing stock analysts last year in an effort to reassure Wall Street that a new technology being pioneered in part by Ullal, will not leave the San Francisco-based giant without a future. Since Ullal joined Arista in 2008, revenues have doubled each year and the company is now at the forefront of software defined networking – a game-changing technology that will make much of Cisco’s expensive network gear redundant. Her task in the coming months is to stay focussed as the company heads for an inevitable IPO.