A summary worth knowing!

Lessons from “The 4G Mobile Revolution: Creation, Innovation & Transformation at EE”

By Zahid Ghadialy*“The 4G Mobile Revolution: Creation, Innovation & Transformation at EE” book cover

I am assuming everyone in UK has heard of the newest mobile operator, EE. Surprisingly some people are still unaware of the relationship between EE, Orange & T-Mobile, let alone the new chapter with BT. Last month when the former CEO Olaf Swantee released the book “The 4G Mobile Revolution: Creation, Innovation & Transformation at EE” based on how he managed to make EE a success story, I not only wanted to get my hands on it but also wanted to create a quick summary for  my colleagues, friends and others who may be too busy with day-to-day activities to find time to read the entire book.

This quote from Daniel Thomas, Financial Times perhaps summarises the book best, “The EE story was like a business soap opera from start to finish – from the moment that Orange and T-Mobile merged to the drama when BT bought the company. It clearly wasn’t plain sailing, but it was ultimately a success – and was fascinating to watch and report on along the way.”

It is a well-known fact that that between 40-70% of joint ventures fail. One of the most high profile joint ventures (probably) that is used as a case study in many business schools is one of the failed AOL-Time Warner merger. That merger was driven by a vision, that a combined business would benefit from synergies in technological infrastructure, consumer reach and operations. 7 years later that merger was described as ‘the biggest mistake in corporate history‘ with a one-time write-off of $99 billion, the largest corporate loss ever reported at the time. Interested readers can read more here.

While the combined worth of Orange and T-Mobile at the time of merger was roughly $8.5 billion, the fact that it was sold to BT five years later for over £12.5 billion is a testimony to the successful merger of the third and fourth largest operators in the UK to become the largest . While this merger has always been a bit controversial, with many different parties in the UK not pleased with the regulators decision to allow it to happen, it nevertheless put the UK on technology parity with the rest of the world. Commercial 4G LTE networks started being rolled out in 2009. EE launched the first UK 4G network in October 2012. In November 2013, EE launched the 4G LTE-Advanced network that was also the world’s fastest 4G network at that time, putting the UK firmly back on the 4G technology map.

Coming back to the book, here are a few lessons that I have learned and will hopefully benefit others too.

  1. Every successful business leader has to understand, monitor and influence the company’s ‘machine room’ – its operations and those that require significant change. One cannot transform their business without hitting their targets day in and day out. Perfect execution requires the leader to be constantly sharp & focused.
  2. Communicate, communicate more and if necessary, over-communicate. As a leader, motivate your employees and audiences in the right way. Offer as much clarity as possible to help navigate a story and stamp on any inaccuracies and rumours that may be flying around.
  3. To maintain momentum and reduce demotivation and uncertainty during an integration planning phase ensure and communicate that any people selection would be fair, balanced and based on true performance. Establish clear retention and performance award programmes and point out that that the current work of each individual will go a long way in defining their future.
  4. Try and keep management structures as flat as possible to avoid bureaucracy and unnecessary overheads. More managers create a greater risk of miscommunication. Adding managers and management layers in a mature company undergoing transformation needs to be done purely from a zero-based budgeting perspective.
  5. There is no right or wrong leadership style. Employees will listen to what you have to say but they will also look at how you act and react. Be optimistic with a focus on the future. Encourage teamwork and consensus. Be really clear, repeating priorities and expectations everywhere all the time. Be ambitious and bold – set the bar high and work your socks off. Use target numbers wherever possible as words alone can confuse transformation.
  6. While dealing with governments and regulators remember to ask for something that is good not just for you and your company but also for the country. Build relationships, find allies and learn about the style of government you are working with. Use simple and clear arguments and be prepared for compromises.
  7. Any plan and vision is ultimately a leader’s plan and vision. Don’t let anyone else dictate it. You should be comfortable and confident to deliver it with energy and passion across all available communication channels. While there should be no need to keep updating it frequently, evolve it annually to keep it real, credible and fresh.
  8. Credibility and authenticity as a leader are key. A good leader spends time with the front-line teams, they are the lifeblood of a company. They know the customers better than anyone else, they help identify new opportunities, innovative products and services to better costs and process efficiencies and help improve customer satisfaction.
  9. The performance system should be based on clear simple vision which can be delivered by simple values that are put in place. In case of EE the simple vision was “To deliver the best network and the best service so that our customers trust us with their digital lives”. The three values to deliver this vision were; be bold – lead the way like never before, be clear – make digital lives easy to understand and, be brilliant – make amazing things happen for everyone in the UK.
  10. IT while extremely important for functioning of a technology company, is often ignored and outsourced for cost reasons without much thought about the impact on the company. It’s best to spend time and understand the critical IT functions you should keep in house. IT operations, IT engineering and IT management and business support play an important role and should be kept in house if possible.
  11. Any big transformation project requires the employees to work in tandem with the management. It is important to give more responsibility and accountability with rewards for success and consequences for not getting the results. Constant communication to ensure people knew what was going on and what was expected of them helped drive employee engagement and created a level of mutual respect between the employee and the company.
  12. Finally, employees are the soul of a company. If you do not have motivated employees, you cannot achieve your goals. Employee motivation is driven primarily by clear understanding of the purpose of a company. Having the right people with right motivation at the right place doing the right things is essential in driving business success.

In no way can these lessons and my notes be considered a comprehensive summary of the book. There are many more interesting lessons, facts, guidance, plotlines &  twists that kept me engaged throughout the book and I would very much recommend reading it.  In fact depending on your experience and interests, you may learn completely different lessons that may be helpful to you in the long run. If that’s the case please do let me know what were the highlights from your point of view.

Full Disclosure: EE is a founder member of CW (Cambridge Wireless). EE is also a client of Parallel Wireless for whom Zahid Ghadialy works for.

* Zahid Ghadialy works as a solutions architect for a young fast-moving and innovative US-based young company called Parallel Wireless that is on a mission to make any cellular as easy and as cost-effective as Wi-Fi. He is also a member of the board of directors at CW (Cambridge Wireless). In his spare time, he writes technology blogs at 3G4G or on other social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn & Quora.

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