International Relations


This was an unusual week. Aren’t they all? I was in Cape Town on the weekend, playing tour guide for some of my friends from Mobinil, an Egyptian mobile carrier. Lunch at Sandbar, peninsula tour, penguins, Societi, De Grendel, lunch in Stellenbosch, Starke-Conde, Jeremy Loops @ Kirstenbosch, and a final round of drinks on the rooftop bar. Whirlwind!! Joburg on Monday (quick trip made quicker because my flight was oversold so they rebooked me, oddly enough, onto a flight with a telco exec I’d been meaning to reach out to … fate has a sense of humour it seems), back to Cape Town Tuesday and Wednesday then to Hermanus on Thursday to see the guys from Mobinil again who were there for a telco conference.

These guys, only one of whom I knew before the Cape Town trip, were just the highlight of my week because firstly they are just so incredibly nice, and secondly interesting. It also doesn’t hurt to really get to talk to a mobile carrier about what challenges a mobile carrier faces. Most mobile carriers face similar problems; what is interesting to me is the ones that actually understand where this is all going and how they are approaching the problem ….. and those that seem to be sticking the head in the ground.

Wine country

Wine country

Take, in this country, MTN. It seems to care not much about customer service, and innovate even less. While in other countries, it’s almost a different beast. Now Vodacom is a Vodafone clone, whose key differentiator is brand and service. That’s about it. Now in the U.S. you have good old AT&T (which is actually doing some cool stuff with Wi-Fi!), Verizon (meh), Sprint (….. John Legere is right, “framily” isn’t a noun, it’s a typo), and then the guys in magenta, who are the interesting ones to watch the next few years.

Back Friday, then a late dinner with one of my absolute favourite people that I’ve met through this job. Between telling me how he’d surely eaten cat since he’d eaten Chinese food, predicting the death of the mobile carrier as we know it, and using “disaster” every third word, often to mean anything but, we managed to reach a few understandings. This guy used to play games with me whereby he’d ask me a really pointed question after I’d just *just* enough to drink that he’d catch me off guard. I love that. Now, I can return the favour by making some suggestion that he just cannot resist commenting on, and in so doing reveals perhaps more than he intended. THAT is what you look for in a relationship, no? Affection, and paying attention enough to the person you’re dealing with that you can pick up on subtleties of mannerisms.

Not on the menu. I hope.

Not on the menu. I hope.

People are fun, huh?

Also happening this week, I was trying to get funds to the country, and in these days of international banks and wire transfers you would think that these things could happen nearly instantaneously. Indeed, not.

I firstly nearly killed E*TRADE for being unable to process an international wire transfer properly despite 2x verbal and 1x written instruction, Currencies Direct for cancelling a contract on me despite not giving any written or verbal indication that such a thing might happen (the contract date was already passed when they told me it was ok to try again), Currencies Direct again for not bothering to pick up the phone to Barclay’s to trace down a CHIPS reference and not even understanding that USD to USD transfers might happen to use a protocol other than SWIFT, E*TRADE for being unable to put a trace on a wire they sent, and at the end of the day, anyone and everyone related to the whole thing. Including E*TRADE, again, for improperly cancelling my wire transfer cancellation when after eight business days I finally threw in the towel.

After all this: Custom House, I am so sorry I ever tried to save a few percent by going another route. Lesson learned.

Horse country

Horse country

If you thought telecommunications was bad try banking! Finger pointing galore;  I have never in my life wasted so much time because two banks refused to talk to one another, and secondly? I now know what an IBAN number is, and the differences between SWIFT, CHIPS, and Fedwire. So it wasn’t all a loss.

Difficulties aside, it was a good week. I met a VAS company at the telecoms conference (after it, technically!), and the guy I met from there came out with possibly the most insightful thing I’ve heard in this industry. He said that there are three things:

  1. Expertise
  2. Connections
  3. Trust

Let’s explore those, shall we?

Penguin country

Penguin country

Expertise – do you know what you’re doing? Note that this is different from experience. You may have years of experience and still not know what you’re doing. To me, expertise is ‘Do you have enough background knowledge and context that you can think on your feet and come up with a good plan?’

Connections – do you know the right people, or know the people who know the people who can get you in the room? It’s kind of straightforward but also not … connections have different qualities. There are certain connections I have that are strong, and certain other people I don’t trust further than I can throw!

Trust (also Reputation) – do I trust you? Do I like you enough to want to hire you, partner with you, work with you, buy from you? In this particular case, the sentence was followed up with “If you are trusted by the person who introduced us, that’s more than enough for me.”

Sandton City

Sandton City

Then again, trust is a funny thing. Hard to gain, it can be lost very easily (like respect). The most crazy thing has got to be when you know you’re trustworthy and later find out someone didn’t trust you.

On the other hand, trustworthy is not so black-and-white, firstly, and secondly: other people’s trust issues, like anger issues, are their own issues. And BOY is there a lot of anger in the world. I was telling someone recently who was mentioning all of these closed-door meetings in a company with an open-door policy, how the difference between a lot of what I’ve seen in business and how I actually work is that when I have big plans, I don’t keep them a secret. Keeping secrets from your staff then announcing the next day that you’ve got a new partner or a new deal or are reselling a new product smacks of lack of trust, and lack of trust of disrespect. Great article from Forbes about bad HR practices most of which come down to not trusting staff.

Good heavens. Hire good people. Let them go. Trust but verify. My favourite quote from the article? “Don’t trust your employees? Why not? Don’t you trust yourself to hire adults?”

Just pretty ... & also, windy!

Just pretty … & also, windy!

Speaking of quotes, the O.J. Simpson Oscar Pistorius trial has been full of them! Someone wrote a great blog post with the best of them, and how to use them in sentences. You really must read the original post, but my faves?

  • “After that long argument, do you remember my question?”
  • “Why are you emotional now that the question is difficult?”
  • “Sorry is not an answer to why.”
  • “Your version is a lie.”

The last one is possibly the best. Telling a story doesn’t mean it’s true; and while it is true that there’s always some relative truth (i.e. my truth is not the same as your truth), some versions just are lies.

And some versions are just so distorted that they may as well be!

Two of my faves in one shot!

Two of my faves in one shot!

Speaking of craziness, the weather!! After a week or so of winter in early autumn we wound up with about 10 days of Indian summer and by Indian summer, I mean 35-38 (aka 95-100). I know I live in Africa, but this is meant to be autumn.

The guys from Egypt are really very cool. I miss them now that they are gone, but what they leave in their wake is most definitely some more service provider context. Love the industry acronyms. Service provider. So generic … but yet it means something very specific. Like “capacity.”

I wonder what is going to be the DNA of the next wave? Not dumb systems, that’s for sure.

  • “Bassem’s going to commit suicide after talking to his bank.” – Maged (I know the feeling!)
  • “Just so we’re clear: when you come to Cairo, we cannot match this.” – Maged (#loopsbosch)
  • “You look too relaxed for a Monday morning.” – Sheraan
  • “I guess I should congratulate you.” – Phil
  • “You guys are made for each other. I don’t know why I’m in this room.” – Ellie
  • “I started all the trouble.” – Jens
  • “There’s a bunch of finger-pointing going on.” “Time to break some fingers!” – Ellie & Enrico
  • “If you were here, I could hug you!” – Benjy
  • “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I’m not saying you’re an enemy.” – Ellie
  • “Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve. It’s leadership.” – Andrea
  • “Thank you for trusting me.” – Anita
  • “You drink a lot of wine and you can talk to anything.” – Bassem
  • “So that’s obviously not your house, right?” “That’s a grocery store.” – Maged & Ellie
  • “That’s natural?” “Yes.” “No.” “Yes.” “No!” “Yes!” “No!” “Yes!” “Really???” – Bassem & Ellie
  • “This is not a very secure road.” – Bassem
  • “It looks like a cat and it walks like a cat. But it’s not a cat. ” “It’s going to be a long night.” – Bassem & Maged
  • “You’re the one who said something stupid, not me.” “I think that was the wine, not him.” – Bassem & Maged
  • “So I just wait for 30 minutes because it doesn’t make any sense for me to go to the police station asking for my car keys.” – Maged
  • “It’s an OTT world.” “There is no hope.” – me & my favourite telecoms exec
  • “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” – best reaction to seeing a web page EVER

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