By Ineke Botter
Ineke Botter was born in the Netherlands and studied corporate and international law at the University of Amsterdam.
Her recently published book ‘Your Phone, my life’ starts in communist Kiev and tells us how her work in mobile telecoms took her first to other countries in the former Eastern Bloc and then to Western Europe, Kosovo, Lebanon, Azerbaijan and Haiti. As CEO, she was in charge of mobile network operations in all these countries and managed them through periods of political unrest, war, bomb attacks and other serious obstacles.
There are just under 1,000 mobile networks globally and Ms. Botter was one of very few female CEOs in the mobile industry. Semi-retired now, she works alone, or with her business partner Gavin Jeffery, offering Management Services globally mostly to technology-related industries.
You’ve recently written a book ‘Your phone, my life’, what was the inspiration behind writing it?
About 5.5 billion people switch on their mobile device before they even have breakfast, but they have no clue of ‘how that phone landed in their hand’. The mobile phone is the biggest game changer of the past decade. Plenty of technical books have been written, but strangely enough no-one wrote about the adventures of how we built all those networks.
Everyone just takes for granted that the phone - the mirror of your life - is there, but very few people realise what a miracle it is that the world is connected the way it is, and what the people who made that happen went through - the real adventures.
Without these networks we wouldn't have survived disasters like Covid or been able to find missing persons in the rubble of an earthquake, or kidnapped children. So many people asked me to write a book, but it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic that I finally had the time to sit down and actually do it, with the help of colleagues.
Who does the book help and how?
The book is my account of survival lessons from some of the toughest places on earth. I was leading strategically important telecommunications operations through civil unrest and war, post drastic political changes and the aftermath of natural disasters.
It is my own memoir and I have tried to write it in a way that it can be read by anyone who is interested in international business adventures, and not so much as a woman leading very critical and capital intensive operations in a male world. But I can imagine that women who aspire to have an international career could pick up some useful lessons whilst reading.
Aside from writing the book, how else do you support businesses?
Since I retired as CEO, I help and coach young start-ups, mostly in East Africa. I participate in Boards and offer management services via Wyze2 with my business partner. All these projects are technology related, often in the telecom space itself or industries that use mobile communication as their platform, such as fintech initiatives.
And, of course, I spend a lot of time trying to create more awareness for the ‘mobile history’ via social media, webinars, podcasts etc. also in co-operation with the UK based Mobile Phone Museum, a great initiative that also tries to document and safeguard our mobile history.
We're constantly bombarded with stories of 'instant wins' and 'unicorns' but, for most business owners, their journey simply doesn't work like that. So now, I want to get your real-life perspective of what it's really like to be an entrepreneur today.
I find that young people often have great ideas that could be very successful but they lack the understanding, or experience of how to actually build a business. As Wyze2 we are there to support companies to build and restructure in a way that they will survive, long term. That means that we assist them in laying what I call ‘the foundation of the company’, i.e. financial, legal and HR functions are in place, the IPR is registered and the business processes are clearly described. Next step is to develop all ‘technical’ aspects of the business and only then start the commercial activities. This means that the marketing, PR, sales and distribution activities have a solid base to work from and to enable growth. Many times I saw great ideas dwindle or a young company go bankrupt as the foundation was not in place. Founders of the big tech companies always had business people next to them and followed their advice. Great ideas need great support !
Can you share with us a time when you failed, and what you learned from that experience?
My failures are mostly caused by my optimistic character. Sometimes I have overestimated other people's willingness to do the necessary, probably because we are so seasoned that we almost automatically assume that there is no problem and that all problems can be solved. For example my business partner and I joined some people to start a vehicle that would organise finance and support young companies and start-ups in Africa. That went south…. Promises made were never delivered and my business partner and I became more and more frustrated. The lesson for me was that we should have done more ‘due diligence’ or better never start a cooperation like this anymore.
How do you define success, and how do you measure it in your business?
Success in my role today is different from my success in the past. In the past I had to measure my success mostly in monetary terms. The mobile industry is a very capital intensive industry, hundreds of millions of dollars investment that need a defined return to be able to rapidly expand and reinvest in new technology. Still, my personal measure of success in the countries I worked in was more than just money, it was also the investment in the employees and our CSR programs for children in need. Today I measure my success more in how we are able to make other people successful by guiding them through the pitfalls of setting up and restructuring their businesses.
How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals, especially during the tough times?
In the countries I have worked in - and really everywhere - no solution is no option. In other words, I’ve had to juggle the balls endlessly, but as you take the responsibility for people, you have to try to protect them, that’s a given for me. That also means that you have emergency and disaster planning in place and that you’re well prepared when the ‘shit hits the fan’. Concentrate on your goals.
What do you think are the key qualities that every successful entrepreneur should possess?
Work alongside your employees whenever you can, show interest in what they are doing. Offer them help, training and support as loyal and well trained people are your best chance to succeed.
Be open to advice, as life is the best university. Experienced people are very often willing to share their stories that can be very helpful for you as a beginner, or later when you find obstacles on the road.
Walk the talk; never promise more than you can deliver and always practise ‘KISS’ or Keep it Super Simple.
Now I'd like to look at what makes you stand out from the crowd. What role do you think technology and digital innovation play in the success of businesses and how do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends?
As CEO in the mobile industry I have logically been very close to these developments. The investments are so enormous that you need to be fully updated, constantly. The way I used to do that was to chat with my engineers, participate in conferences, visit suppliers’ labs and read mobile telecom news. Nowadays it is no longer crucial for me to be so close to these innovations, but still, I follow it every day and with interest. Very useful as Wyze2 is active in technology related sectors, like FinTech.
The most important organisation in the mobile industry is the GSMA, i.e. the global organisation that unifies the mobile ecosystems to discover, develop and deliver innovation that helps businesses and society thrive. The GSMA publications are very good as they cover the worldwide developments in all areas of business.
You'll be surprised how much each person is dependent on mobile technology, even those who consider themselves well connected. Fancy finding out for yourself, try this quiz, https://mobileuk.outgrow.us/LiveBetterConnected, from the UK's MNO trade body, Mobile UK, which is part of a wider awareness campaign, Live Better Connected, built to raise awareness about this crucial technology.
What do you think sets you apart from others in your industry, and how do you plan to continue to differentiate yourself in the future?
What set me apart was the fact that for a long time, I was one of the very few female CEOs in the world who moved from country to country, mostly the most challenging ones. Today I am sharing all lessons learned, together with my business partner who was on a similar journey. And as long as we are able to, we as Wyze 2, will be there to support companies with our knowledge and experience and we are happy to share our ‘management lessons’ and open to Board and advisory roles.
Are you working on anything specific that people should know about?
My team and I are busy creating more awareness of the history of mobile communications, by educating people on how mobile phone networks were built, often under extremely difficult circumstances. It’s a story that was never told. You’ll find plenty of technical books, but no memoirs of ‘how that phone landed in your hand’. It was a huge adventure for many ‘mobile telecom nomads’ and really interesting as the mobile industry changed the world as we knew it, in a very short space of time and with enormous social impact that we experience every day.
We are very active on Linkedin. We organise webinars and appear on podcasts to tell our story, increase awareness and encourage interested people to read ‘Your phone, my life’, which can be ordered on Amazon. And, I’m sure my PR lady would love to speak to streaming service providers too!
What does the next 12 months have in store for you, the book and your business?
We will continue to offer management services, and my ‘book’ team and I will continue to attract attention, via social media, for the mobile history and its impact on today's life. We were too busy building networks, but the Covid-19 pandemic gave me time to finally write. The feedback is very good I’m happy to say, from: ‘I never realised’ to ‘The story is an eye-opener, exciting and adventurous. A real Netflix story !’
How should people connect with you to find out more?
For the book, you can follow us via the Linkedin page ‘Your phone, my life’ and subscribe to the monthly webinars ‘Topics from Your phone, my life’.
If you have a business challenge or you meet an obstacle on your way then feel free to contact us via www.wyze2.com . We are there to support.