Boss Lady

Thank Claudia Nemat when Germany gets broadband internet

Deutsche Telekom, Claudia Nemat
Or blame her, if she fails. Source: Picture Alliance

Germans just want good internet service, and it could be Deutsche Telekom’s chief technology and innovation officer, Claudia Nemat, who delivers it.

Ms. Nemat, who came to Telekom’s exec board from consulting firm McKinsey in 2011 and took on her current role in January 2017, has been working towards a massive transformation of the Bonn-based company since Day One.

It is Ms. Nemat’s work that may make or break Germany’s attempt to expand broadband service to the level seen in other parts of the world. It’s an important task not just for Deutsche Telekom but for the executive’s career trajectory: How things play out in the next two years will determine whether Ms. Nemat has what it takes to one day become the company’s CEO and the first woman to head a company on Germany’s DAX index of 30 leading companies.

“She not only fills both the divisional and functional board positions within a DAX company, but of course also has potential to be a CEO,” said Thomas Sattelberger, who previously served as chief human resources officer of three DAX companies: Telekom, Continental and Lufthansa. Mr. Sattelberger is now a parliamentarian for the pro-business Free Democratic Party.

Essentially, Ms. Nemat has to turn a firm with 220,000 employees innovative, agile and competitive enough to fight off rivals Vodafone, Telefonica and Orange, as well as tech giants like Amazon and Google. Ms. Nemat, however, took on the role during a time when pressure on Deutsche Telekom keeps rising: mobile communications markets are saturated, growth is only possible by crowding out competitors, and the fixed-network market is in decline. Since last year, the company’s share price has fallen nearly 25 percent.

Of Ms. Nemat’s two-pronged title, the innovation part focuses primarily on products, like the recently announced Smart Speaker and an improved Entertain TV. More important is the technology part where she also works closely with Deutsche Telekom board member Dirk Wössner and CEO Timotheus Höttges on expanding broadband and services — a much-needed infrastructure investment in Germany.

Telekom announced a €12.1 billion worldwide investment in fiber-optic networks, including €5.4 billion in Germany.

Ms. Nemat is well aware that Deutsche Telekom’s technology and network are “the basis of everything,” but Germany has one of the lowest rates of adoption for fiber-optic cable in the world. As of 2017, the country had only 455,000 kilometers of fiber optic cables, according to Deutsche Telekom. Since then the company announced a €12.1 billion worldwide investment, with €5.4 billion staying in Germany to help expand the fiber-optic network.

To help put that money to good use, Ms. Nemat tailored a nine-member team that she described as the company’s “rebels” when she took the job. She reduced hierarchies where possible, made internal structures more lean, and created “tribes” of programmers, software developers and product managers who are on standby, ready to work on an idea at a moment’s notice. The goal is to ditch closed project teams in favor of those that can discover more quickly which ideas are marketable innovations and spend up to 36 months working on ideas.

“I’m really enthusiastic about this job, but if I do not have it tomorrow, for whatever reason, it will not kill me financially or emotionally,” Ms. Nemat said. “As my grandfather said, live and work so that you are independent.” If she delivers broadband internet and impressive innovation during the course of her tenure, she needn’t worry; after all, that’s what Telekom’s CEO wants.

For now, it’s too early to tell where she’ll wind up after this: “Now I’m making a difference in technology and innovation. And then we’ll see what happens.”

Tanja Kewes is Handelsblatt’s chief reporter and author of the column “The Human Factor.” To contact the author: kewes@handelsblatt.com

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