Women must adapt, says Sprint’s O’Brien

08 March 2018 |


Sally O’Brien, head of global wholesale at Sprint, speaks to Natalie Bannerman about gender disparity in the telecoms industry and Sprint’s refocus on federal and public markets

sob 350As one of the 20 women named in this year’s Women to Watch feature and with over 25 years’ experience in the telecommunications industry, Sally O’Brien – who is head of global wholesale at Sprint - is considered a veteran in her field.

O’Brien, who is one of only a handful of women in senior positions in the industry holding her own agency, spoke to Capacity back in October about her experiences as a woman working is such a male dominated field. She described a very subtle type of discrimination that exists in the industry, one that is often hidden under ‘the guise of jest’ but she would handle it “largely with humour and in a way also making it clear that it wasn’t acceptable”. I ask her about the obstacles she faced in her career that might not have if arisen if she were male, to which she replies: “Perhaps not an obstacle, but in our industry it is common to be the only woman in a meeting, so it is important to be comfortable in that environment and for some folks they will need to overcome that.” 

But ever the optimist, she adds: “Thankfully, I had a lot of male friends in college so it doesn’t bother me.” In her own way O’Brien said she was counter-acting this lack of female representation by creating increased networking opportunities for the women that work with her. When questioned on the progress of this in informal initiative she very honestly says: “Candidly, our travel schedules have made it very difficult for the core group to meet monthly (when some folks are in town, the others are out of town).We will be looking at expanding the group so there will be enough folks to meet each month regardless of travel schedules.”

Back in October O’Brien said that mentoring would provide invaluable guidance and leadership needed to help more women progress and not just from female executives, but male executives as well. While mentoring is still a good idea, she adds that training and starter roles are of great benefit as well.

“I do know that when many of us got our start it was when the telecom markets were just opening up in the US and around the world as part of telecom deregulation, so entry level opportunities and training was widely offered. In today’s tight telecom budgets, this could be a limiting factor.”

But whatever the solution, O’Brien believes there is one key skill all women, perhaps all people, need in order to succeed in this industry and that’s the ability to adapt. “The good news is that the foundation of the wholesale industry is based on strong relationships and trust,” she explains. “Wholesale is a peer-to-peer relationship and the key to success is in the partnering that we do with one another around the globe to bring solutions to our enterprise customers. Therefore, even in the face of constant change, as long as we can adapt, we can rely on these partnerships to come up with solutions that drive success.”

This ability to adapt is a skill O’Brien seems to apply regularly to her own role. When we asked what the most challenging part of her job is she says it is managing the constant change. “This is a fast moving industry and navigating the alignment of customer needs with service offerings and support requires a lot of time and attention,” explains O’Brien.

Turning our attention back to Sprint, the company recently announced its re-investment in federal and public markets, and I was curious to know how this news will impact the wholesale side of the business and unsurprisingly this shift in focus appears to be company-wide. 

“Our focus is to provide mission critical converged solutions for Federal Agencies,” explains O’Brien. “We work with our wholesale partners when it’s appropriate to deliver unique value. Just like in enterprise and small business, there are appropriate times for Sprint to sell directly and there are appropriate times for our wholesale partners to take the lead. “

Looking ahead for 2018, Sprint’s wholesale roadmap will be a continuation of its network expansion work started 18 months ago. “On the wireline side, we’re expanding our US and global IP/MPLS footprint, enhancing our global CPE/MNS offering, adding SD-WAN, cloud and LTE fixed wireless services. On the wireless front, expanding our IoT capabilities and diversifying our MVNO offerings,” says O’Brien.