Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
February 19, 2021

Telco Leaders Seize the Moment

Even as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, leaders are taking stock of what has changed and plan for the future. This is particularly true in the telecommunications industry, where leaders have pivoted from the survival mode of the pandemic’s first months and have powered ahead on plans for future growth.

To discuss this shift, we recently convened several top leaders from the world’s leading telcos covering a wide range of geographies — a group of companies (from non-competing markets) who combine for more than 225 million customers worldwide. While a tumultuous 2020 was top of mind, the focus was on the future. After all, telcos had emerged immediately as a trusted provider of critical infrastructure to a global population working, learning, shopping and keeping connected from home. The industry focus on customer wellbeing is reflected in reputational scores that have risen markedly and sustainably since the pandemic began.

Below we look at three insights from our discussions on how the industry can keep the momentum in 2021 and beyond:

  1. Solidifying the gains

    When the pandemic forced the world into shutdown in March, work programs that were part of multi-year digital transformations were successfully delivered within just a few weeks. The industry made rapid strides in efficiency gains, productivity improvements, customer service innovation and the transition to remote work that, in just months, helped fundamentally change elements of their service economics.

    The industry has laid the groundwork for further transformation and post-crisis growth. Can leaders embed the flexibility they embraced during the crisis? Can they turn the gains into a long-term cost advantage? Can customer experience and reputational improvements be solidified and extended over time?

  2. Maintaining — and fortifying — customers’ trust

    In the confusing first days of the pandemic, as society grappled with a scary and mystifying disease, confusing and often contradictory messages from public authorities, and the fear of severe economic pain, telcos were beacons of relative certainty in an uncertain time. Service quality and reliability have largely held despite huge spikes in demand. This is due to rapidly deployed capital expenditure programs that ensured network infrastructure was up to the task as whole economies moved to work from home.

    The next step is to understand these reputational increases and solidify them through strong customer-centered execution so that they can continue to build trust in more normal times. Much as they did in the crisis, telcos can continue to partner with consumers, industry and regulators to ensure that they are delivering essential value to the economies and communities in which they operate.

  3. Cultivating tomorrow’s leaders

    Throughout the tumultuous change of 2020, unheralded leaders emerged from the crisis and showed potential while others struggled amid the uncertainty. The leaders in our discussion said that the crisis had given them a new set of insights on the people who work for them and will help them as they build out development plans to bring out the best in their high-potential talent. How can telcos strengthen their talent development efforts to build the C-level leaders for the future that have a broader range of capabilities and the agility to thrive in an uncertain world?


Few could have imagined the depth of change they would see in 2020, but telcos’ success in rising to the occasion has industry leaders optimistic about 2021 and beyond. With further transformation ahead — in particular, the 5G revolution at our doorstep and associated expenditure and innovation — industry leaders are seeking to build on the momentum they have established to solidify and grow the operational, financial and customer service gains as we emerge from the pandemic.