Richard Guest, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles Richard Guest, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles

With the changes in the makeup of customers, competitors and business models, telcos need to build diverse leadership teams with broad industry, functional and international experiences, says Richard Guest, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles.

CommsMEA: What’s the current scenario of recruitment in the telecom industry in the region?

Where there have been cuts within ‘Group’ functions, there have also been increased operational needs within OpCo’s and while the core domains of consumer, mobile and voice have been under pressure, needs have increased when it comes to enterprise, fixed, data and digital. As such, there has been an enhanced desire for operational leaders as well as a greater appetite to bring in talent from markets that have already been through the competition, consolidation and product shifts that this region is now facing.

CommsMEA: Which are the areas wherein skill gaps are being witnessed currently?

There have been some clear themes in the last couple of years manifesting in a need to import different skills to the region. Historically, a positive weighting has been given to ‘culture elements’ when hiring executives, coupled with the exposure to similar market dynamics. In the last two years this has very clearly reversed, with an obvious and heightened focus on attracting executives from developed markets, those who have overseen the transformation of telcos facing the same market changes that the region is now encountering.

CommsMEA: What kind of steps in recruitment, training and management can go a long way in enhancing profitability for telcos?

With the makeup of customers, competitors and business models changing dramatically for telcos, the strategies, risk appetites and executive talent profiles within the businesses need to be addressed. It can be considered somewhat counterintuitive to invest in long term ‘bets’ when margins are declining, however, with the core business moving slowly but surely towards that of a utility, it is a necessity.

On the talent front, boards are beginning to decipher what the leaders of the future may look like and start to plan for bringing them in and managing the impact on corporate cultures.

CEOs need to be both operationally strong and visionary. The core business needs to be addressed, requiring an ability to drive operational efficiencies, while key ‘bets’ need to be made and business models and cultures transformed to win in the new business areas. Given that in most cases these skills are mutually exclusive, it is also imperative that CEOs build diverse leadership teams with broad industry, functional and international experiences.

We’ve seen a spike in succession planning and executive assessment activities. Boards are more conscious of the need to be prepared for the future, and wish to see a much more diverse slate of options than has ever been the case before. CEOs are looking to assess their leadership teams against the needs of the future and then develop, augment or transition their C-suites depending on the findings.