An exit interview with Telenor Myanmar’s CEO
TELENOR Myanmar chief Petter Furberg is leaving his dream job to spend more time with his family after three years at the helm of one of the country’s first foreign mobile operators. He spoke with The Myanmar Times yesterday about his future at Telenor’s Asia digital business arm, and about the company he has helped build and is now leaving behind.
What are you proudest of in your three years here? All of it. I am really proud of the company and the culture we have built. We have come very far ... We really struggled [at first] because we had to follow build-permit processes. It was challenging, we hit the rainy season, but now we have more than 5800 towers.
We are getting closer to covering all of the country and probably in one-and-a-half to two years we will be everywhere.
I am also proud that we are very lean. We [have] more than 16 million customers with 600 employees. Thousands of people have been employed and are being employed in companies that either work for us, selling, or are delivering to us.
I do think people look to us and respect that we have managed to ‘do things right’.
I am also quite proud that people [look] to us when we talk about fighting underage child labour. Have we succeeded? No, but we have seen significant improvements. We probably have the biggest set-up of any company when it comes to health and safety – there’s no one bigger in Myanmar.
We have taken stands and confronted corruption, and I am very happy that people internally are proud that we came out with the ‘No gift’ policy.
What is the biggest challenge awaiting your successor, former CFO Lars Erik Tellman? Corruption is still a risk and something we need to be constantly aware of and train [for]. Health and safety, underage labour, all of these things – but what is growing as a risk, given we are expanding into more and more remote areas, is security.
That is something that weighs on your shoulders. We have ... our own employees, but also sub-contractors [and] partners working on our behalf in areas where there is a security risk, though we have [a lot of attention and] ... extensive security operations. We could end up in situations where our own employees or vendors are in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are incidents – luckily no serious incidents so far – but with the fact that there is ongoing fighting in Myanmar, we need to constantly be on the alert with respect to where people are and inform and collect information from ethnic armed groups as well as the military. What reforms are still needed to telecoms laws? There is a law that is required called the cyber-crime law which will deal with cyber crimes and lawful intercept. The previous and current governments have both promised the final draft will be out for public hearing before it goes to parliament. But it was not finalised by the previous government.
We are still running an interim arrangement, which is that I personally approve [requests for information]. There is no direct lawful intercept going on today, so no one is listening in on anyone.
[The law] is in process, we understand, so it is more about government completing [it] and submitting it for public hearing and to the parliament for approval. Is there anything you wish you could have done? I really, really hope that we get the approval for financial services [Telenor hopes to launch a mobile money service with Yoma Bank called Wave Money]. I have been waiting and waiting for that for so long and I really hope – [and] it is my understanding – that we are getting very close to final approval by the government.
We have been patient. We have had an organisation up and running for more than a year now, and we see a lot is happening in the market so I think it is fair for us to be allowed to launch now. [The service] is needed – not only to send money, but also to allow people to start to transact online.
What has been your funniest moment at Telenor Myanmar? There was the guy I met in Taunggyi once ... after we had launched. We were walking and one guy my age approached me and said, “You are from Telenor.”
He was a Telenor customer and very happy. But then he said, “I have one problem ... I am a big Clash of Clans player.
“My wife doesn’t allow me to play any more so now the only place I can play is in my toilet. And unfortunately the Telenor coverage there is not so good – can you do something about that?”
So in Telenor Myanmar we have also talked a lot about toilet coverage. This interview has been edited
Petter Furberg poses at Telenor Myanmar HQ in Yangon’s Yankin township.