Tips for Sustainable Success – the Telenor Experience

I have always found it captivating to listen to highly successful people respond to questions about how they conduct their business, and today was exceptionally so.  I was in the audience listening to  Sigve Brekke Executive Vice President and Head of the Telenor Asia operations respond to some very tough questions, in front of a wide-ranging full house ranging from investors to telcos, as well as the Malaysian regulators of the telco industry.  Talk about being in the hot seat! Beside me was someone eager to hear Telenor’s strategy for succeeding in Myanmar, which has no infrastructure.

He was asked to describe his company’s multi million dollar losses in India; he was also asked what his stand on corruption is and whether it played a part in Telenor not operating in Indonesia; he was asked about how he rates his company’s chances of succeeding in Myanmar.  The topic of the discussion was  ‘Connecting the World’ and the other telco on stage was Dato Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim of Axiata, another seasoned player in the telco industry.  It was obvious as they came on stage that their approaches are different enough for Dato Sri to comment on: he had turned up in an impeccable light-colord suit and yellow tie, while Sigve Brekke presented himself – equally impeccably – in blue denim jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt worn with unmistakable confidence and dignity.

Panelists and moderator of 'Connecting the World'

Panelists and moderator of ‘Connecting the World’

For this piece, I shall only talk about what he had to say, because as an emerging marketplace, Asian players can learn much from hearing his tried and tested opinions about being successful, especially as a foreigner in a local environment. Here are a selection of 5 points he made, which anyone in business, from start-ups to established businesses could learn something from:

1  Distinguish between ownership and management:  the former focuses on long term risks and gains, while the latter concentrates on the local culture. Hire managers who are familiar with the customer base and know how to deal with them.

2  As an owner, take a long-term perspective and be prepared to go through several ups and downs.  Be pragmatic and ride out the tough times.  It is important to stand up when being challenged and stay the course – it is how Telenor got back the licenses which were taken away from them in India.

3  When taking business partners on, maintain in operational control so that you can influence your partner and stay on course of your strategic intent.  Be the majority shareholder.

4  The current environment is highly competitive so don’t talk about creating synergy; instead try to build operational culture as your competitive advantage.  Do this by the way you work; create value for your partners and customers, this is how to transfer/export competencies.

5  Invest in building your people; “Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skills”. Select leaders with an attackers mindset who are driven by perseverance and market share.

Part of the session was dedicated to Leadership, and I’ll write about this separately in my blog on Building Human Capital.