The Amrop Digital Interviews: Mats Granryd, Director General GSMA

Collaborative leadership and its role in global sustainability 

Despite intense discussion and momentum toward net zero, we are not yet on track to meet the Paris Agreement. It is now clear that, to reach our sustainability goals, we cannot only depend on domestic politics to accelerate innovation and deployment at scale of climate technologies, but must also depend on wise leadership, technology, responsible companies, and collaboration.

Bo Ekelund, Partner at Amrop Sweden and one of our leaders in Telecom, met in London with Mats Granryd, the Director General of GSMA, to discuss the work of GSMA and the path forward. Steven Moore, Head of Climate Action at GSMA joined the discussion and shared examples of concrete work.

Their discussion revealed significant synergies between private companies and governments in accelerating the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and how the mobile industry serves as a growth platform for other industries.

Amrop GSMA 2024

The GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) is a global organization unifying the mobile ecosystem to discover, develop and deliver innovation that helps business and society thrive. This organization represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, has more than 750 mobile operators as full members and a further 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem are associate members.

Mats Granryd is Director General of the GSMA and a Member of its Board. In this role, he leads the GSMA in supporting its global membership through a range of industry programs, advocacy initiatives and industry-convening events. Mats is a strong proponent of sustainability and led the mobile industry in becoming the first sector to broadly commit to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016. He is now spearheading initiatives to amplify and accelerate the mobile industry’s impact on all 17 of the SDGs, across both developed and developing markets. Mats has a long leadership track record from successful corporations in mobile networks, infrastructure and today holds a range of important non-executive director roles in leading international businesses, one of them as Chairman of Vattenfall, a leading European energy company. 

In our discussion, we wanted to explore the path towards net zero and the role of digital inclusion, the leadership opportunities that this inclusive connectivity offers, and the ways we may now think differently about leading work and organizations across value chains. 

Bo Ekelund: Speaking of SDGs, what opportunities lie in your work as an international Board Member and CEO, in leading digital inclusion to address global issues?

Mats Granryd: The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) have moved away from being ‘just’ the SDGs. Your approach to them is now going to be an important part of your credentials when it comes to doing business. Board members and CEOs need to understand that…and fast. They need to hire and develop leaders that integrate sustainability in everything they do. It is no longer a side-issue – it’s not that there’s the profit and loss statement here, and the sustainability agenda there: now they’re fused together. I can see many companies making use of connected technologies and focus on sustainability to an increasing degree – to the point where it’s a given.

When we started this journey in 2016 one of the SDGs, which was about gender equality, was not a given; it was difficult to get it moving. Now it’s easier – far more people are starting to understand why inclusion is so important, and the direction of travel is positive. We are seeing more women in leadership roles in member firms and on the Board of GSMA, and there are so many changes which have happened over only the last couple of years, not only in our sector.

Bringing people online is another aspect of inclusion. Even though we keep talking about how today, access to a mobile-broadband network is available to 95% of the world population, meaning 3G, 4G and 5G, only about 57% of us use mobile internet - meaning that there’s a 38% gap, which we call the usage gap. 38% of all people live beneath coverage, but don’t use it. In Sweden it’s about 10%, in the UK - 10-12%, in the US - about 14%. It’s 59% in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 52% in South Asia, Pakistan, and India. It is critical that everyone gets to be online, because otherwise you cannot be part of the digital economy.

Yes, we have our Open Gateway initiative, which aims to transform telecommunications networks into developer-ready platforms, but at the ground level it’s about everyone being online, because without it there are millions and millions of people who cannot access information, banking, healthcare, education and so many other crucial aspects of everyday life. We’re working on that extensively, and the barriers generally are the same - there’s the lack of device affordability, and affordability of subscriptions; secondly, it is a matter of skills, because a person might have the funds, but no knowledge or skills to use the device, which, in my opinion, is an obstacle relatively easy to remove; thirdly, and, more importantly, it is a lack of relevant local content

Mobilizing local entrepreneurship is really important and you cannot sit in Stockholm or London and develop an application relevant in Kigali, Rwanda - you have to be there. Fourth factor is related to the stigma around negative things happening on the internet. A usage gap among young women and girls in certain countries have been found to be due to risks of online sexual harassment and revenge porn. It’s serious and needs to be addressed. Therefore, to really tackle the usage gap we need to work with governments, NGOs, businesses and, of course, with mobile operators.

“While access to a mobile-broadband network is available to 95% of the world population, only about 57% use mobile internet.”

Bo: What would be the consequences of not having digital inclusion?

Mats: We would have a world that’s fractured, and the chasm between those who have and those who have not, would be all the greater. The ones who have, are starting to talk about AI, quicker and more advanced technologies, and are doing more and more things online, while the ones who lack the access, are still on a paper and pen level - in such circumstances destined to remain less fortunate and more isolated. And I think that this is a very strong business imperative for working to close the usage gap. Besides, it’s not only Africa and lower-middle income countries that are at risk of being fractured; it’s within developed countries too, like the US, the UK, Sweden.

Bo: Being an industry leader today, seeing opportunities related to connectivity for your business and for your role in advancing society, there’s what we could call a double-balance one must find: you have the responsibility both towards the society and towards your shareholders. How does one find this balance and what advice can you give to other industry leaders?

Mats: Though this is always a very difficult question, we can see that the progress rate during “the good years” before the COVID-19 pandemic was quite good. After the pandemic things have somewhat slowed down, and I think that’s because of the pressure that CEOs are feeling towards their Boards to deliver short term profitability. My advice would be to have respect for that but also understand that we’re in a transformative period where we’re not going to be looking only at EBIT anymore, but rather have a more complex outlook. As we now say, it takes more than two to tango - it takes partnerships, it takes a longer-term vision and patience from the board, understanding that we’re moving into a new era, a new way of doing business. We need to make sure that it all links together, otherwise we’ll do injustice to SDGs. It’s better if we take it easy, incorporate the SDGs in the P&L and continue at a speed that allows the business to sustain this, because it’s in the long run that we’ll see the change.

Bo: How may the services of GSMA or its members shape and change the ways of working of a CEO of a progressive industrial company going forward?

Mats: We have many new tools, many new ways to connect our businesses, and it’s all about seeking out partnerships. So, when you don’t know how to bridge a particular gap, there is, and of this I’m absolutely certain, someone who does know, so it’s about reaching out to them, it could be through GSMA and other organizations. We need to rid ourselves of the notion: “I can do this myself.” It’s no longer like that, it takes three or more to tango in a connected world, and we should work together and make sure we seek advice from the best.

Bo: Even at a professional services and advisory firm like Amrop, we see many new ways to collaborate to create value. We also see that you need have a much more open mind as the CEO in this connected world, to become much more curious. Is your view as well that it requires collaboration and a readiness to evolve?

Mats: Yes, because it’s too complex, and the only way we can achieve things is by getting experts in the room to help and guide us.

Bo: I would like us to dig into the industrial and enterprise perspective and its leadership challenges in this. We know new technology is expensive, complex, and it takes time for an industrial company to adopt, devise and generate benefits from for example 5G, but what are your priorities and abilities to spearhead development? 

Steven Moore (Head of Climate Action at GSMA): When it comes to the integration of new technologies and the material impact they have both on people, business and environment, one of the things GSMA focuses on is around opening up conversations with governments, because it’s very much a team game. Among the levers that the governments can pull there’s a large number that can have meaningful impacts on the ability of industrial organizations to integrate the technology and drive it - like, for example, the European Union working on the GIA (Gigabit Infrastructure Act) and future DNA (Digital Networks Act) legislation, which is about easing access and lowering the unnecessarily high costs of the electronic communication infrastructure deployment, as well as finding new ways to support the market and allow investment. It’s about working with taxation in Central Africa - mobile taxation and sector specific taxation, which can have a material impact on mobile operator’s ability to deploy new infrastructure, and so on. That, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the ability of organizations to then leverage that infrastructure and to transform their business models. So, there’s lots of industrial complex interdependencies between the private sector and governments, and that’s what we spend a lot of time working on. 

Bo: Can you maybe share an example of GSMA collaboration and facilitation from your work with SDGs? 

Steven: We, globally, of course, now have the net zero ambition - to reduce all the emissions, and then effectively sequester whatever is left. Every single sector is thinking about this - about their net zero roadmap, and they know that the ideal timeframe of when to get there is the middle of this century. But we have our own ambition, which Mats set with the GSMA board back in 2019, and in this sense we’re ahead of anyone in the G7 - and that comes from the research we’ve done, but we also see that there’s possibly more opportunity to help other sectors. So, we are looking at about 10 times the impact - we measure 10 times the impact of our own emissions that we’re saving when it comes to other sectors. We need to halve emissions by 2030, which is an enormous challenge, and probably between 10 and 20% of those reductions can be achieved through or supported by the deployment of connected digital technologies. Now, there’s a clear role for our sector to play as part of that value chain - through understanding who we can partner with and what we can offer other industries. And at GSMA we talk about engaging with other industries in terms of business opportunities. We’ve worked on identifying what’s already happening - for example, we published a research paper on Smart Energy Systems, and it’s exciting to see how things we put down on paper a couple of years ago are now coming to life, as things like vertical grid and dynamic pricing are no longer just theory, they’re being put into practice. And that’s our role - we highlight these opportunities to the members and showcase what they’re doing to other members. It’s about expanding our markets in different countries, and also about the enterprise segment of what digital solutions we can offer and how they’re going to help solve the bigger challenges that everyone is aware of, like the net zero transformation.

Mats: Another thing that strikes me is that we often hear that “the technology needs to develop a bit more before we can do this”.  However, 99 times out of a 100 there’s an abundance of technology, and it’s more about just putting your mind to it and doing it. It’s as Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify said when asked about becoming an entrepreneur - that it’s just about doing, because if you do something, you are already doing more than 90% of people. It’s a very simple way of putting it because the technology is by and large already there - so it’s just a matter of making it happen.

Bo: We see what you are doing, and we find it very inspirational. To all the industrial and energy sector leaders out there these are significant challenges, but, at the same time, maybe it all begins with the decision to try.

Steven: What’s interesting is that at the MWC conference in Barcelona we will see that more than 50% of participants are actually not from within the traditional telecom sector, but rather from vertical industries - and that just goes to show the relevance that the mobile industry has as a platform for growth for all these other vertical sectors, and the fact that they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is, and exhibit and play an active role in conferences, proves it all the more. 

“At the MWC conference we see that more than 50% of participants are actually not from within the traditional telecom sector, but rather from vertical industries.”

Mats: As an industry we’re very much aware that, while we’ve pushed SIM cards everywhere, there’s still billions of people left which presents an opportunity for us, and that requires other activities. So, yes, it comes down to us leading the way and adding other services. And we’re able to show that there are lots of other industries and companies, like the energy sector, banking and finance, automotive and aviation sector which are involved. I’ve recently spoken to the leaders of the world's largest airplane manufacturers and banks, and the interest is most definitely there - as is the technology for the most part. The issue to solve is around integrating it into their systems, and that’s not easy. Which is why I also want to say that we need to be patient, whilst still giving this constant, relentless push. Let’s not give up if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, because it’s about changing the business imperative - we’re on a fully transformative journey here.