Wassila Zitoune-Dumontet is currently VP Roaming from Orange Group. With over 21 years of experience in the Telecommunication industry and an international background in leadership and executive positions in the Middle East, Africa and France she shares in a 5 minutes with ... interview her experience in managing a large organization, within the framework of a multi-cultural environment while witnessing the strategic transformations of the Telecommunication sector.
WIL Europe (WIL): You have held leadership and executive roles within Orange across the world, in regions such as the Middle East, Africa and France. Do you feel that female leaders are perceived differently in these respective regions, and how did you adjust your leadership style to the different business cultures?
Wassila Zitoune-Dumontet (WZ) : First of all, an international experience is a great opportunity to open your mind, to learn and to grow. From my perspective there are two very important aspects that need to be taken into consideration: a very personal one that implies to make sure your family is willing to take the ride with you and a professional one: being ready to go out of your comfort zone and in a way to “reboot yourself”. Believe me, this is not an easy process at all.
Regarding adaptation, I have worked on two sides:
Adapting my soft skills: investing time in understanding my stakeholders (peers, teams, market, regulator, authorities …). It is a challenging process that requires a lot of listening, observation, analysis efforts and patience before making the first judgement or decision. I realized afterwards, how much this helped in building my credibility and legitimacy. Communication skills were also a part of the needed adaption to the business culture: learning how and when to be sharp or soft, how and when to compromise or not, how to disagree without saying “no” in a sensitive situation, and so on.
The second challenge was related to adapting my management style through intensive one to one practices to make sure everything and everyone was aligned and that all subtleties were capture. I needed to invest also in regular communication to all my management layers, sharing the vision, the ambition, the achievements and challenges. This also helped me to detect talents, with specific attention to female talents (very often too humble and lacking self-confidence), giving them the opportunity to shine, dare, and succeed.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that the executive committees I was part of, had between 15 and 20% of female executives. Figures talk for themselves! Thus, personally, I did not feel that there was a “perception issue” during my years abroad as a female executive. Yet, things were very different below the C level layer, and this became a subject to be addressed for me.
WIL : With over 21 years of experience in the Telecommunication industry, what do you appreciate the most about this sector? What would you say has been the most distributive innovation in the sector so far, and what do you see in the future for telecom companies such as Orange?
WZ : I believe a lot of my peers would say the same about how amazingly dynamic the Telecommunication Industry is, and how it is constantly innovating.
It is a fact that Telecommunication is an important part of our daily lives, be it at home or in the office, and I do enjoy taking part in making this easier, closer, faster, and simpler for our customers.
Besides Mobile Payment which I see as part of the major recent innovations with a huge uptake in Africa, I would definitely speak about Internet usage explosion, and how much technologies like 4G and Fiber has transformed our day to day life into a more and more digital one. Let’s thinks about how many videos are viewed per day per teenager, the number of connected screens in a household, how many clicks to book your airplane ticket and do your check in…and we’re entering the ERA of Internet of everything (cars, watches, clothes, …)
This hyper connected eco system brings connectivity and networks performance on the top priority for Telcos and Orange has clearly set its ambition in our recently presented strategic plan “Essential2020” committing on delivering an unmatchable customer experience, relying on 5 strategic pillars: connectivity, a reinvented customer relation, diversification through IOTs and Mobile Banking, being a digital and human company, and the Digital partner supporting the B2B market transformation.
WIL : As the current Vice President of Roaming for Orange Group, how do you expect the new EU Digital Single Market Strategy announced by the European Commission in May 2015 to affect the roaming market? How will companies such as Orange adapt?
WZ : Roaming regulation is not a new topic for the Roaming industry. For sure, the new regulation will affect both the retail and wholesale market at the same time. There are some technical implementation challenges ahead that we are currently focusing on, and some potential borders’ effect to be properly mitigated.
One important driver for Orange’s strategy has always been making sure customers have access to affordable roaming bundles in a simple and transparent way to enjoy the best roaming experience.
We have been focusing, in Orange, on developing the roaming adoption by our Orange travelers over the past year in Europe, and we are happy to see the positive trends since three years for both active roamers and usage.
It is worth mentioning Orange is in the top 3 leaders on 4G Roaming in Europe.
WIL : Throughout your career you have developed your leadership style and innovative mind-set through various positions in Marketing, Sales, project management and digital technology. What would you say were the main challenges you faced during your career, and how did you overcome them?
WZ : Prioritizing! That is one of my main challenges. My different experiences taught me that part of a leader’s role is to select the top priorities that will make the difference instead of trying to do everything. The 80/20 rule is key for either think / build or run functions and I do pay attention to stick to it.
Managing emotional sensitivity has also been of value for me, especially when leading large organizations and transformation projects. There are some difficult situations that require keeping the right distance. I have to say, this is another great thing about Orange, being a place where you can have access to such a diversity of roles and challenges. I entered Orange as a trainee, and I am still amazed it’s been 21 years now!
WIL : Despite your busy career you are actively involved in corporate social responsibility projects mainly in education, rural development and gender equality, why are these areas so important to you and why do you feel it is so important to engage in activities that reach beyond your ‘typical job description’ ?
WZ : I always considered it is part of the job because Orange has historically been active in corporate social responsibility in many different areas such as fostering access to knowledge, education, health etc.
Knowing how much telecommunication is vital to bridging gaps between communities and societies, and it became quite natural for me to work in these areas. One amazing memory for me was when I was leading the “Broadband Fund Program” of Orange Jordan. The goal was to equip rural schools with internet Labs. This project had a huge impact on families’ trust in Orange as a responsible brand and company, to overcome the safety concern for girls to access the internet. After every opening ceremony, I felt that I was a responsible telecommunication professional and that Orange has done something meaningful.
To conclude, when it comes to female executives, I think we are on the right path but let’s not forget that it has to be done in a sustainable way, and there is still a lot that needs to be done. Mentoring programs for female talents, sharing ideas and experiences, and being inspired by others is worth investing time on, but so too is giving back.