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Vodafone for Qatar Today

Vodafone for Qatar Today

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Published by Vani Saraswathi
Interview with Vodafone Qatar CEO Grahame Maher
Interview with Vodafone Qatar CEO Grahame Maher

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Published by: Vani Saraswathi on Nov 03, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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outwith qtoutwith qt
t is refreshing to walk into a
‘corporate’ setup rst thing on
a Sunday morning and see anenvironment that screams ‘busi-ness’ without the predictable
stufness.An open ofce, hot-desking (no xedwork stations), brilliant splashes of redsall over, and staff who are dressed weath
er-appropriate (light jackets and hardlyany neckties in sight), gives an instant re
prieve from the sweltering heat outside.At the in-house cafe,
Vodafone-Qa-tar CEO Grahame Maher
sits downfor a chat with
Managing Editor VaniSaraswathi.
Over a cuppa, he speaksabout business disasters and successes,the journey from baking to mobile tele
phony, dream rides and his family.
As refreshing as the business environ-
ment, is the man who runs the show. His
personal and professional mantras seem
to work in sync, and answers about onecould just as well hold true for the other.
Your career path has mean-dered a long way from bak-ing... you didn’t see a career inthat? No temptation when yousee an oven now?
No, no! When I look at the bakery now, Iam only looking at buying something.I was at school, trying to work out whatto do next, and I couldn’t afford univer
sity. I was working at the weekends in a
bakery to fund my motorbike racing hab-
its. My school’s advice was, rstly you
cannot afford to go to university; and sec-
ondly, you are not smart enough to go touniversity; take a baking job, get a trade.When we were at school, living in thecountryside, getting a trade was impor
tant. So I did that, it was fun for a while,but I didn’t like it much.Then I got into a sales job, selling of
ce products. I applied for it, because Ihad an expense account and a companycar with which I could drive all aroundAustralia. I lied about my age by the way,but I got the job...Then I went back to university andstudied Marketing, Sales and Finance.I was kind of working out what I reallywanted to do. And what I really wanted todo was run my own business.I set up my own business, and I endedup running six or seven businesses over10-15 years.
What kind of businesses?
A couple in ofce products, faxes,PABX... that’s where I had my rst ex
perience with mobiles. British Telecomhad introduced them in Australia. AroundAus$7,000 – about QR20,000 per phone!
Couple of those businesses were disas-
ters, couple were successes. I started therst Mobile Virtual Network Operators inAustralia.
You took your time choosingyour career path. You thinkthere’s more pressure on theyouth now to make a choicequickly?
It’s tough. I have two daughters 25 and 22years of age. Watching them is difcult.They say, “but dad, you did this,” and Igo, “God no, don’t do what I did”.What I’ve observed in business is that
lots of people doing engineering end upworking in something completely dif-
ferent. We sometimes think what westudy is what we should do; whereas Ithink, just studying is important to geta grounding.I think general-ism is better than spe
cialism. You need specialists, but it’sgood you have a generalist, who hasalso got a specialty.People pick something to study, but
underneath that there is a natural style
of the person that comes out.To my daughters my advice is, “Get adegree, and then see what happens.”You don’t have to get stuck on thefact that because you did a HR or an ITdegree you have to work in HR or IT.In business, particularly in a lot of thesmaller countries, you need an under
standing of everything, actually.
How easy has it been for you tocome from Australia – whereirreverence rules, to here,where the environment is rath-er formal?
I came here via Japan – hierarchical andformal; Sweden – egalitarian, but in apersonal sense very formal, you had to
hold the cup the right way and all that;
and Czech Republic – very formal, veryold European, their language has for
mal, informal, real formal, minor formal,semi-formal.I think I am in a better shape to be indifferent cultures than I might have been10 years ago when I hadn’t had those oth
er experiences.And I think some of the fascinating
things about the Arab world is the infor-
mality. When you sit in the majlis there isphysical informality – I kiss men now!The discussion in the majlis is wheredecisions are made – and that’s very in
formal. It’s about opinions, views anddiscussions, rather than the Americanstyle where it’s legal, legal, legal andtough negotiations.Here there’s formality in religion. Then
there is some of the cultural formal-
ity, and the family structure too is reallynice. Some of these things is what I thinkthe West has lost. Europe is better thanAmerica. In each country I spend time in,
“When I say this is what I did for the last 10 years and this is what I should do for the next10, I should retire! Anyone who is trying to protect an old (business) model will lose out.” 
“Being twodifferent people
 at work and home is schizophrenic”
outwith qt
Qatar Today 
I leave better.
What do you hope to leavebehind?
I guess the main thing I would like tothink is that, we are helping Qatar in itsevolution and journey to where the coun
try wants to go. And to have some posi
tive impact with what I’ve done.What I will leave behind, and it’s toughevery time I leave a country, is a bunch ofnew friends. Facebook is really good forthat, to be able to stay in touch. Importantto keep that alive.
And there are those who saytechnology erodes relation-ships...
I disagree. Things like Facebook are prob
-ably recreating relationships that disap-
peared... I think technology enables rela
tionships. People in India, China and Africaare using mobiles, and if that didn’t exist,
they would be limited in who they kept
in touch with. The interesting thing about
emails is how senior citizens are using it tokeeping in touch with their family that has
moved away.If people think it replaces face-to-faceinteraction, sitting down in the majlis andtalking, that’s where I think they are wrong.It doesn’t have to.When I sit in the majlis here, everyoneis on their mobile phone anyway! I am like‘talk to me’...Jokes aside, I think it enhances rela
tionships. And you have the choice ofpressing the red button and switching off.People are addicted to the Blackberry, butit’s not Blackberry’s fault, YOU have theaddiction.
Does Qatar feel like home now?
I’ve been here for 18 months. My wife,Jenny, and I say where we both are, wherewe have with us our stuff, is home. We’vemoved a lot.We sit outside by the pool in the WestBay Lagoon, it’s like a holiday every week
end – it’s a good life. We are very comfort
able here.However, the difference for all countries
that are going through a growth period of
lots of expats is that it doesn’t have thatfeeling of home, as everything is transient.It feels like a bit of Hong Kong and Singa
pore 20 years ago.It’s easy as an expat to come in. The
big challenge going forward is how tomake the transition from a country thatis growing rapidly with a lot of inter-
national expats, to people becoming‘Qataris’. People have been here for 20-30years, and are still not ‘Qatari’.It’s the same in Australia, where therewas nobody there 200 years ago, but allkinds of nationalities went there, and theyare now locals.It’s a difcult challenge for Qatar as to
how to do that without losing its local iden-
tity, without losing control of the core as
sets of their country; because Qataris are aminority.It’s a long answer to ‘does it feel likehome?’; for the country, when they get thatright, when people actually make it home,then it will be stronger.But I’m having a ball and enjoying it.
Career women are often askedabout work-life balance. Youthink we need to address thisto men more frequently?
Work-life balance is a personal thing.When I judge if someone is having awork-life balance, it should not be MEthat’s asking that. It should be US as an
organisation saying we believe in that
balance. But if someone wants to workall the time, that may be their work-lifebalance.I am a big fan of the guy who wrote
The Seven Day Weekend
, Ricardo Semler,who says in his book, ‘why is it ok to sendemails on a Sunday, but not ok to go tothe park with your kids on a Tuesday.’He says work-life balance is doingwhat you like, when you like. If that
means working all weekend and going to
the park on a weekday, it’s ok, what’s the
I would advocate for a balance theperson feels comfortable with, and al
lows them to be themselves. Instead ofbeing someone at work, and someoneelse at home, which I think is difcult.If I act differently in the two places,I am schizophrenic. And the WesternWorld drives schizophrenia, frankly.
That’s why so many people have heart
attacks and break down. If they are atough, demanding b****** at work,and go home and are nice to their kids – it’s weird. If you can just be human, it’sgood... that’s my opinion.
What is the toughest deci-sion you have had to make,in your career?
Probably when I said ‘yes’ to goto Sweden to run the business. My
daughter was in her last year of high
school, and my wife was going to stayin Australia for that year. I was liv
ing alone, for eight months, on theother end of the world. I wouldn’t doit again. For anybody.
Any other regrets you wouldlike to share?
Heaps. How long have you got?!I make lots of mistakes and i’m happyto continue to try and make lots more.I regret some of them, but not to an ex
tent that I worry about them. It’s morelike how do I x that. When my wifeand I were living in New Zealand, my
older daughter was in her last year at
school and was about to start university.We were moving to Australia, and shewanted to stay and nish school. Weagreed. There are times, when we won
-der if it would have been better for her
to come with us. Do I regret it? No. Butwe do talk about it.
Maher turned his entrepreneurial skills to developing and launching one of therst Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) in Australia. He and his businesspartner sold the company to Vodafone in 1996. It wasn’t long before he was lead
ing the team in Vodafone New Zealand. He has travelled on a Vodafone passport,to Australia, Sweden, Czech Republic, and now Qatar.These days when he is not working, he prefers to hit the road with his feet ratherthan on his motorbike; he loves long distance running. He also loves exploring theworld with his wife Jenny and daughters Jessica and Kate.

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