WIL board member Isabella de Michelis di Slonghello is Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs at Qualcomm EMEA. In this role, she leads the public affairs and regulatory agenda for the US giant semiconductor company in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, including EU Affairs in Brussels.
WIL Europe: Originally from Italy, you are now based in Switzerland, where you lead the public affairs and regulatory agenda in EMEA countries, including EU affairs in Brussels, for a global US company. How do you integrate this international dimension into your daily work? What factors and qualities do you regard as crucial for success in a multicultural corporate environment?
Isabella de Michelis di Slonghello (IMS): It’s a constant challenge which I take on every day since I started back in 1990. Without a bit of humor, combined with meticulous planning and third party help, it would never work. Currently I’m an expat in Zurich, but I have also been based in Brussels and Rome for different companies.
Fluency in foreign languages and experience with multiple corporate cultures are important success factors, which allow you to constantly improve your adaptability, but it’s a never-ending process. I worked for large European and US companies with global offices and a very diverse workforce. Each one had its own management culture, gender culture and career development culture. You need to familiarize yourself with these alternatives to be able to extract the best from each. In doing so, you will develop your own approach to management and enrich your experience through diversity.
Developing strong analytical and communication skills is also an important factor for success. When you move up the career ladder and more people depend on your decisions, you need to be able to base these decisions on good analysis. You have to make sure to communicate well internally and externally to have your vision endorsed and not merely executed. I always stress the importance of knowing how to communicate and I have put extra effort into that, because I consider it an important leadership factor. Ultimately, the key is to passionately love what you do and dedicate a lot of your time and energy to putting it into action. Driving change, inspiring change – these are values I would like to pass on to others.
WIL: What are currently the main challenges for large technology companies in their dialogue with the European Union?
IMS: The single market, as defined by the treaties and the European Directives, is still in its infancy. We have made progress in Europe over the last decades, but the barriers to market access are still significant, especially the legal and regulatory ones. This constitutes a challenge, especially for technology companies seeking to scale their strategies and their products’ commercialization. US companies have understood that in order to be successful in Europe, they need to work in and with the Member States. I see a lot of companies initially finding it difficult to accept these circumstances, but this is the only way to operate successfully in Europe.
WIL: In your opinion, what directions will the EU follow in shaping its data protection and privacy policies?
IMS: This is a very controversial policy field, with important ramifications for other policies that the Union is considering, including consumer policy and competition policy. Our connected society is calling for new rules, but we need a proportionate approach as to who should comply with these new rules. Finding the right balance is not easy, as the value chain is a lot more complex than 15 years ago, when mass internet access started to kick off but was incommensurable with today. Taking into account that internet data is like a giant goldmine (yet to be explored and exploited), the new rules will have to be designed in a way that preserves horizontal policy goals and objectives, e.g. competition policy and consumers’ interests, while also preserving the neutrality of the net and its openness towards new business models. We are not there yet.
WIL: You have worked in the telecom and technology sector for more than twenty years, for companies such as Cisco Systems and Telecom Italia. From the perspective of a woman executive, how would you describe the dynamics of women’s presence in this area?
IMS: Unfortunately I would describe it as sporadic. Women are still a minority in tech companies, and executive positions are usually difficult for women to attain and to maintain. The pressure on private life is enormous, especially if your job responsibilities require covering multiple jurisdictions over multiple time-zones, and you are called upon to frequently travel internationally and to work late and over the weekends and holidays. Tech companies are fast-moving players in a highly competitive global market. They require managers that are capable of anticipating competitors’ moves and changes in external dynamics much faster than in other industrial sectors. Keeping up with such a rhythm can be very demanding.
WIL: Within the European Network for Women in Leadership you are not only a board member, but also a Role Model, supporting emerging women leaders in shaping their careers. What advice would you give to young women who begin their careers in technology?
IMS: My warmest advice is to keep being persistent. Find your own way and look for something intellectually rewarding rather than career rewarding. Recognition will come at a later stage, but meanwhile you will have the advantage of not feeling frustrated or demotivated. Avoid depending on someone else for the development of your career. Avoid staying in the same company too long, unless you change roles and titles, in order to gain a broader experience. If offered, accept foreign and new assignments. Don’t be afraid to challenge internal decisions/projects/processes/policies if you find them to be non-constructive. Never give up on a good idea. And finally, when you are the one hiring, always hire the best and don’t be afraid to hire excellent people – even those more skilled than you are. Your team and the company will ultimately benefit from that.
WIL: You are a member of three different networks: WIL, the European Women’s Competition Network and the Alumni Association of IUHEI – “Graduate Institute of International Studies”. What are the advantages of belonging to multiple networks, and how do you manage your involvement to make the most of it?
IMS: Networking is important and constitutes a serious engagement if you want to do it right. It’s also about passion and the desire to share with others your ideas, thoughts and experiences. You never expect others to be interested, until you realize they actually are. By making yourself available, you learn, develop ideas, and mature new projects. Human interaction is one area we should not forget to continue developing, especially in a world where virtual life and experiences are gaining traction over real life. I’m not a big fan of social networking, but I certainly believe in professional networking.