Vodafone CEO Anne O’Leary discusses leadership, teamwork, the telecoms industry and the ‘gigabit society’
As CEO of Vodafone, Anne O’Leary is responsible for the firm’s operations in Ireland and a 2,000-strong workforce across the country. It’s a pivotal role in a complex industry and marketplace, so it’s no surprise that she has thought carefully about leadership style.
“I like to work collaboratively and actively engage my senior leadership team in day-to-day planning and decision making,” she explains. “At Vodafone we work as one team, and I respect and encourage that. We have such a wealth of experience and diversity and I want to ensure that everyone works to the best of their ability, and importantly, love what they do.
“As Ireland’s leading mobile communications operator with 2.4 million customers across mobile, fixed, broadband and TV, we are operating in a hugely fast-paced and exciting environment and our customers are at the core of everything we do. We strive to anticipate and respond to their ever changing needs. We enable them to connect to what matters most, and to live a better today and build a better tomorrow. I really feel privileged to be CEO of such an exciting, innovative, future-focused business.”
Teamwork and success
Teamwork is important, and here a focus on diversity is prominent in O’Leary’s leadership: the company’s strength is in its people, she says. “In order to deliver on our ambitious strategy, it is important that we clearly reflect the diversity of the customers and communities we serve.
“Our view is that every employee should be able to ‘bring their whole selves to work’. We take a broad approach to diversity and inclusion and very much celebrate our workforce. The knowledge, experience and different ways of thinking they bring to work every day makes Vodafone what it is. We encourage everyone to make a contribution to the success of the company.”
She and her colleagues have also been hard at work on gender equality, she reports. “We are now leaders in corporate Ireland in this regard with women making up 63% of our SLT, 39% of senior leaders and 48% of middle management.”
As for motivating one’s team, culture is the key and O’Leary has implemented a number of initiatives with that goal in mind. “As a business our objective is to generate a culture that empowers employees to think, feel and live well by providing a holistic and accessible approach to wellness. We have therefore created an innovative wellness programme that puts our employees at the heart of our organisation and enables them to live a balanced life.
“We are also embracing new ways of working by trying to knock down barriers to limit isolation in the workplace and create employee inclusion. Our successful wellness programme covers mental fitness, physical health, emotional wellbeing, and we have created a programme to help our employees get involved in activities that suit them. It is hugely important to me that our people feel valued, that they feel their roles are meaningful and that their daily work is intrinsically satisfying that way they can bring their whole self to work.
Challenges and opportunities
Vodafone is a major player in a complicated and fast-moving sector of the economy: the telecoms market is highly competitive, she acknowledges. “We are constantly being challenged to review our business and make sure we have the most attractive products and services that truly benefit our customers.
“In doing so, we work hard to understand our customers and we put them at the centre of everything we do. Customers’ needs change rapidly and we must always be ahead in terms of what we are delivering.”
Since entering the Irish market, the company has made significant investment in its network and in supporting technologies and infrastructure, she says. It has also prioritised its strategic investment plan to ensure that customers receive a seamless connected experience.
“In the last year alone we’ve completed our nationwide network upgrade, improved our existing voice and data services, as well as further increasing our 4G footprint to over 95% of the population,” she says. “We will provide higher speed services, and will soon launch voice over 4G, where mobile customers will experience ultra-high definition voice calls, alongside a much faster call setup time. In the coming weeks the company will also be trialling voice over Wi-Fi.
“We no longer see ourselves as just a mobile company. We are the total communications provider of choice in Ireland.”
So what does success look like to O’Leary and Vodafone? “Driving innovation and creating technology solutions that truly impact how our customers live, work and play is massively important. This underlines success for me,” she says. “We have the challenge of ensuring that we stay at the cutting edge of technological advancements as an organisation, while at the same time adapting to the needs and wants of our customers and how global society is changing.
“It is incredibly exciting working in a pioneering organisation, doing daily battle and being thrown into the frontline and working with a group of incredibly talented people – this drives me every day to succeed.
As for the future of the business, access to services is crucial. “In June 2016 we launched our Connected Futures Report, which focused on Ireland’s digital divide. The report showed that one in five rural dwellers can’t get access to broadband. We found villages that had no access to broadband whatsoever, where people had to drive to neighbouring towns to study, or work in places like libraries or other Wi-Fi-enabled locations.
“Vodafone strongly believes that wherever you live or work in Ireland – from the biggest city to the smallest village or beyond – you should be entitled to top-quality high-speed internet access. This is a key priority for us.”
Hence Vodafone’s part in creating what she calls a ‘gigabit society’ in Ireland: bridging the urban/rural digital divide by ensuring that all citizens have equal access to 1 gigabit broadband speeds through 100% fibre optic broadband.
“This means investing in and empowering local communities through connected technologies. It also means continuously investing in our network and delivering innovative, converged solutions that suit our customers’ changing needs and demands.
“The gigabit society in Ireland is within reach and Vodafone will be at the heart of that transformation. With the structures and supports in place and stakeholders working together, Ireland can become one of the most digitally advanced nations in Europe,” says O’Leary.
Business & Finance, A View from the Boardroom
A View from the Boardroom, in association with Irish Life Health, features Ireland’s leading decision makers in business – those who provide effective leadership and are capable of understanding potential risks.