Hany Bedair, Chief Technology, Carriers, and Wholesale Officer at Etisalat Afghanistan is renowned for improving business outcomes through strategic leadership and innovation. With expertise in TMT general management, P&L management, business strategy, and market development, he has successfully transformed processes and led various network implementations worldwide.
His notable achievements include establishing Africa’s largest Fiber Optics cables factory and implementing Egypt’s government data centers. Hany’s career spans influential roles in companies like Etisalat Afghanistan, BENYA, Roshan, and Veon. He’s known for building and leading high-performing teams, introducing innovative purchasing models, and driving digital transformation.
Tell us a little about yourself, your early years, how you came to be working in your current position and what you do for Etisalat?
I was born in 1973 in Cairo, Egypt. I hold dual British/Egyptian nationality and I am married with three children. I hold a B.Sc (Hons) in Communications and Electronics Engineering, from Ain Shams University in Egypt; an MBA in Banking and Finance from the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands; and I am currently studying for a PHD in Physics at the Open University in the UK.
My mother tongue is Arabic, but I also speak fluent English and French. From a professional perspective, I’m a visionary and goal-focused professional, with extensive experience in Telecoms, Media and Technology (TMT) general management; P&L management; value-added services; business strategy; market development; disciplined innovation; value proposition; and technical insights.
I have a proven track record of success in revolutionizing processes and procedures, leading DC implementations, establishing mobile/fixed/internet/transport green field networks, leading network modernization programs, and introducing innovative purchasing models.
I’m skilled at introducing fundamental changes to businesses for the achievement of organizational objectives and business needs, in order to optimize processes, technologies, and productivity. I’m an influential leader, skilled in establishing green field operations and building productive teams, while empowering staff to achieve ambitious organizational goals.
My key areas of expertise are business development; team building and leadership; performance management; delivering global revenue growth; digital transformation; due diligence; supply chain management; strategic planning and execution; start-ups; budgeting and cost optimization; program/project management, all primarily in the TMT sector, both with established companies and startups.
I started out as a project engineer for Esso Standard in 1996, but thereafter, for the past 25 years, I have worked almost exclusively in telcos, including Orascom Telecom, Syriatel, Libertis, Djezzy, Tunisiana, Iraqna, Telecom Egypt and Telkom Kenya, working across core network engineering, operation, strategy, technology and transformation functions.
My first C-level role was with VimpleCom (now Veon), where I was Group Chief Technology & Procurement Officer from 2011-2014, responsible for all technology functions within the Asia and Africa business unit, and all operations in countries across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Canada.
At Roshan (Telecom Development Company Afghanistan) between 2017 and 2018, I created and implemented the company’s corporate strategy; steered efforts towards developing and implementing the network and IT strategies; and established and executed technology and product and solution development roadmaps.
Between 2019 and 2020, I was Vice President, Operations and subsequently Vice President & Group Chief Digital Officer at Benya, Egypt’s leading digital and Information & Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure provider. During my time here, I established productive relationships with group businesses to provide services to underserved markets throughout Africa and the Middle East. I led all operations of the Benya Optical Cables Factory, the largest optical fibre cable producer in the Middle East and Africa, and the Middle East, as well as Benya Raqmeya, the first digital operator and cloud services and application provider.
I also incubated a number of startup businesses, including Benya Towers and Benya Marine. That role took me to Etisalat Afghanistan, where, since October 2021, as Chief Technology, Carriers and Wholesale Officer, I have led the company’s strategy, technical, information technology, cybersecurity, carriers & interconnect, roaming and wholesale functions.
Every leader has a unique definition of success. How do you define it and why do you define it in that way?
I believe that the way a successful leader defines success will vary depending on their personal values, the organization’s mission, and the specific context they operate in. However, when it comes to career success, I personally look at the following aspects when defining success:
- Achieving Goals: achieving specific, measurable goals and objectives. These goals are typically aligned with the organization’s mission and strategic priorities. Success, in this context, means reaching milestones and accomplishing what we set out to achieve.
- Impact and Results: I also define success by the positive impact and tangible results my actions or initiatives produce. This could include financial growth, increased market share, improved customer satisfaction, or any other key performance indicators relevant to my organization.
- Long-Term Sustainability: I emphasize the importance of long-term sustainability and growth. Success for me is not just about short-term wins, but about the ability to build a resilient and enduring organization that can thrive over time.
- Employee Engagement and Development: The wellbeing and development of my team members is essential. I define success by the degree to which my leadership fosters a culture of engagement, personal growth, and professional development among our employees.
- Innovation and Adaptability: In rapidly-changing environments like telecoms, success may be defined by my ability to foster innovation and adaptability within the organization. This could mean staying ahead of industry trends, embracing new technologies, or being flexible in response to market shifts.
- Ethical and Values-based Leadership: For me, success is also closely tied to ethical conduct and value-based leadership. Adherence to ethical principles and how my actions align with the organization’s values is key.
Now putting the career metric aside, personal success is not by any means less important, despite being more subjective in nature, meaning a happy marriage, raising the kids and providing for them in the best way we can, as well as having the ability to relax and enjoy spending quality time with family and friends, plus a bucket list of personal targets, including learning, reading, travelling and so on. All this plays in to my own definition of success.
In summary then, my definition of success is not just a laundry list of measurable metrics; it also encompasses objective elements that are not easy to measure but that can be felt.
“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has limit” – A. Einstein
Leading a company or organization to success is not an easy road to take. What inspired you to take the step of faith and join Etisalat Afghanistan?
The level of challenge any company faces plays a major role in my decision-making criteria for accepting a job. Running a mobile operation in Afghanistan presents some very tough challenges. Due to the country’s conditions, all expats operate remotely, so I have to manage corporate strategy, Technical, Information Technology, and the Carriers and Wholesale business without stepping a foot on the ground.
I meet with my colleagues mainly over Teams. We strategize, brainstorm, execute, assess, feedback, report, etc., all remotely. I have only had the chance to physically meet a small number of my colleagues when they are able to fly out for a meeting or an event.
The country is not a recognized regime so far, which has lots of implications for the systems we can deploy, the vendors we are able to deal with and so on. The country is officially unsanctioned, but in reality, it is, so there are lots of restrictions when it comes to the banking sector, remittance, travels, visas, shipping & transportation, etc.
All of these are external factors, but in Afghanistan, we also have a rich list of internal factors that would deprive any executive of sleep. These include spectrum availability, interference, obsolescence, infrastructure, to name but a few. So, in a nutshell, there is a long list of very interesting challenges, that it’s unusual to find stacked up in one single operation, while on the other hand, you also face tough competition, and demanding corporate targets.
This is the type of ride I enjoy.
If you were to choose one trait to encourage within your organization, what would that be? And why?
Challenging the status quo is a valuable trait to encourage within an organization, for several compelling reasons. Embracing this mindset can lead to innovation, improved decision-making, and overall growth. Here are some key benefits of fostering a culture that encourages challenging the status quo:
- Innovation: Challenging the status quo encourages employees to think creatively and find new ways of doing things. This can lead to the development of innovative products, services, and processes that give the organization a competitive edge.
- Continuous Improvement: By questioning existing processes and practices, organizations can identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement. This can result in streamlined operations, cost savings, and enhanced productivity.
- Adaptability: In a rapidly changing business environment, organizations need to adapt quickly to stay relevant. Challenging the status quo fosters a culture of adaptability, enabling the organization to respond effectively to market shifts and emerging trends.
- Increased Engagement: When employees feel that their ideas and opinions are valued and encouraged, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated. This can lead to higher job satisfaction and reduced turnover rates.
- Better Decision-making: Encouraging dissenting viewpoints and alternative perspectives can lead to more informed and well-rounded decision-making. It helps in avoiding groupthink and ensures that decisions are thoroughly evaluated from many different angles.
- Competitive Advantage: Organizations that are open to challenging the status quo are often more agile and better positioned to seize new opportunities. This can result in a sustained competitive advantage in the market.
- Enhanced Problem-solving: Employees who challenge the status quo tend to be better problem solvers. They approach challenges with a fresh perspective and are more likely to find creative solutions to complex issues.
- Cultural Diversity: Encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas is essential for fostering a culture of innovation. Challenging the status quo promotes diversity in thought and can lead to more inclusive decision-making.
- Market Responsiveness: By challenging existing assumptions, organizations can adapt quickly to changing customer preferences and market dynamics, enabling them to meet customer needs more effectively.
- Personal Growth: Encouraging individuals to challenge the status quo can also lead to personal growth and development. It fosters a culture of continuous learning and self-improvement among employees.
In conclusion, encouraging a culture that values and promotes challenging the status quo can lead to numerous benefits for an organization, including increased innovation, adaptability, employee engagement, and competitiveness. It’s a key driver of organizational growth and resilience in today’s ever-evolving business landscape.
“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free” B. Spinoza
What marked the beginning of your career as an influential leader in this industry?
My journey in the telecommunications industry has been both challenging and rewarding. I believe that several factors marked the beginning of my career as an influential leader in this field. Firstly, my passion for technology and communication was the driving force that led me to pursue a career in telecom. I’ve always been fascinated by how communication can connect people and transform businesses.
Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work in various operations across Africa and the Middle East, namely Syria, Chad, Congo. This diverse experience allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of the industry, its various challenges, and the needs of both businesses and consumers.
One defining moment in my career was when I was entrusted to lead the overall Technology and Procurement functions at the group level. At the time, I used to manage mobile and fixed operations from as far as DPRK (North Korea) in the east to Canada in the far west. The success my team and I were able to achieve, which not only required technical expertise, but also strong business acumen and leadership skills, has proven my capabilities as an influential leader.
Over the years, I continued to learn, adapt, and innovate in response to the evolving telecom landscape. I actively sought out opportunities to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies, such as 5G and IoT, and encouraged my teams to do the same. I also prioritized building strong relationships within the industry, fostering partnerships, and collaborating with stakeholders to drive positive change.
Challenges make you stronger. What is your take on this? What were the roadblocks that taught you valuable lessons in your professional journey, and how did you overcome them?
I very much believe that “Challenges make you stronger”. Challenges and roadblocks are indeed valuable learning experiences that contribute to personal and professional growth. Here are some general insights into how I approach and benefit from challenges in my professional journey:
Facing challenges often requires individuals to develop resilience and adaptability. When confronted with obstacles, people learn to persevere, stay focused, and adapt their strategies as needed to overcome the difficulties.
Challenges can be opportunities for skills development as well. For instance, encountering a complex project or problem that is outside one’s comfort zone can lead to the acquisition of new skills and expertise.
Overcoming challenges often involves problem-solving, analyzing issues, exploring various solutions, and making decisions. This enhances our problem-solving abilities.
I would also argue that adversity can build mental toughness. It helps us develop the emotional strength to handle stress, setbacks, and pressure effectively. Also, another related issue is the fact that challenges often involve setbacks and mistakes which serve as are powerful learning experiences.
I can keep going forever, but some of the overt values of challenges are enhanced self-confidence, expanding your network, collaboration and teamwork and leadership skills. Finally overcoming challenges can make success even more meaningful. When someone has struggled and worked hard to achieve his/her goals, they tend to appreciate their accomplishments more fully.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – A. Einstein
Speaking of challenges, what do you regard as your greatest achievement? Share with us your proudest moment as a successful leader.
I will answer this question only from a professional perspective as I have other personal achievements and moments of pride that are probably not of very much interest to the reader.
One of my greatest achievements as an executive was leading a cross-functional team to manage a mega tender in three operations simultaneously. The tender covered full network modernization and the introduction of several new technologies. It was a complex project that required strong collaboration, innovation, and perseverance.
Overcoming the challenges and successfully bringing the tender to a successful award not only contributed to our Group company’s growth, but also strengthened our position as an industry leader in three different markets. It was a testament to the dedication and talent of our team, and I’m proud of the impact it had on our organization.
One of my proudest moments as a leader was when my team received recognition for a successful closure of two very complex projects that took two years of hard work each. It was incredibly gratifying when we received our management and group recognition. Seeing my team’s dedication and the positive change we were making was a source of immense pride for me as a leader.
Speaking of the future, what are the technologies, trends or other factors that you see as potential game-changers for your industry or for the world as a whole?
The telecommunications industry is undergoing rapid transformation due to various technologies, trends, and factors that have the potential to become game-changers. Things like 5G technology (and whatever comes next), Internet of things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, Open RAN, and EDGE computing are some examples of such technologies or factors.
Looking at 5G for instance, this is a significant game-changer for the telecom industry. It promises faster data speeds, lower latency, and increased network capacity. This technology enables new applications like IoT (Internet of Things), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and autonomous vehicles to become a reality.
Edge computing brings processing and data storage closer to the source of data generation. Telecom providers are investing in edge infrastructure to reduce latency and support real-time applications, including autonomous vehicles and remote surgery for example.
AI and machine learning are used to optimize network performance, automate customer service, and enhance cybersecurity. These technologies improve network efficiency and enable predictive maintenance; the ecosystem is still coming up with thousands of use cases.
These technologies and trends are reshaping the telecom industry, creating opportunities for innovation and growth. Telecom companies that can adapt and leverage these game-changing factors are likely to remain competitive in a rapidly-evolving landscape.
From a more global perspective, I believe Quantum computing is a revolutionary approach, offering unprecedented computing capabilities that leverage the principles of quantum mechanics to process and store information in a fundamentally different way than classical computers. While classical computers use bits, which can either be 0 or 1s, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, that can be 0 and 1 simultaneously, enabling them to perform certain functions exponentially faster.
It’s important to note that quantum computing is still in its early stages of development, and large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computers suitable for business applications are not yet commercially available. But it is a work-in-progress and it holds significant promise for the future of computing.
“Cogito, ergo sum” (I think then I exist” R. Descartes
Away from the technology domain, what can you tell us about your personal life?
I believe in maintaining a healthy separation between my personal and professional life, which helps me focus on delivering the best results for the company, as well as enjoying a healthy personal life.
So, while I generally keep my personal life private, I can tell you a bit about it. I’m married, with three children. My wife is also a telecom engineer, and my two eldest kids are studying engineering. Our youngest is in secondary school and he is also crazy about science. I always use to joke about our house and call it “The House of Nerds”.
I used to be an athlete in my youth and competed on a national level in long jump and 100m sprint. I’m originally a squash player but lately turned to Racquetball and Padel tennis as they are a bit easier on the body! I’m passionate about reading, especially around topics related to science, maths and philosophy, which helps me recharge outside of work. I also love travelling and spending quality time with my family.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Well, for me it is a bit more complicated than work/life, I need to also factor study into that equation! Practically speaking, setting clear boundaries is key, I seek to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life.
To the best of my ability, I pre-define specific work hours and stick to them as closely as possible, and I regularly revisit this schedule to be flexible and adaptive enough to changing conditions. I have the habit of checking my phone / email every now and then, so I try to avoid doing that when I’m with family or friends, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Time management techniques are a no-brainer. My calendar is my life, creating to-do lists, setting deadlines, and using time-blocking, to organize my workday efficiently and avoid multitasking, as it can reduce productivity and increase stress.
I also take a couple of days off every four to six weeks and literally disconnect and unplug. This enables me to re-energize myself and come back fresh.
What advice would you give to aspiring technology leaders who aim to reach executive positions in their careers?
In my view, aspiring technology leaders who aim to reach executive positions in their careers should focus on developing a combination of technical expertise, leadership skills, and strategic thinking.
This is my two cents:
- Stay current with the latest trends and developments in technology. Technology is constantly evolving, and continuous learning is essential.
- Acquire business acumen, understand the business side of technology. If you can, get a degree or other qualification in Finance / Investment.
- Familiarize yourself with the industry your organization operates in, including its challenges, competitors, and opportunities.
- Develop strong communication skills, both written and verbal. Technology leaders must convey complex technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders.
- Cultivate leadership skills by taking on leadership roles in projects and teams. Inspire and motivate your colleagues and direct reports.
- Be adaptable in the face of rapid technological changes and shifting business priorities. Embrace change and seek opportunities within it.
- Cultivate resilience to bounce back from setbacks and learn from failures.
- Seek mentorship from experienced technology executives or leaders. Learn from their experiences, and seek guidance on your career path.
- Consider mentoring others, as it can enhance your leadership skills and contribute to your personal growth.
- Remember that the journey to executive leadership in technology requires dedication, a commitment to personal growth, and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Keep your career goals in focus and continue building your skills and experiences to reach your desired executive position.
- And last, but most important, uphold high ethical standards in your decision-making and actions. Technology leaders often deal with sensitive data and complex ethical dilemmas. Promote a culture of ethics and integrity within your team and organization.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers regarding the future of technology and its impact on businesses and society?
The future of technology holds profound implications for businesses and society. Rapid advancements in technology are shaping many aspects of our lives, from how we work and communicate, to how we access information and address global challenges.
My core belief is that the future of technology is full of promise and potential, but it also brings challenges and ethical considerations. Businesses and society must work together to harness technology for the greater good, while addressing its potential drawbacks.
In conclusion, Hany, an influential leader in the telecommunications industry, has shared his insights on leadership, career, and the future of technology. His remarkable journey in the industry has been marked by a dedication to innovation, resilience in the face of challenges, and a commitment to ethical leadership.
As he looks ahead, Hany highlights the transformative potential of technologies like 5G, IoT, AI, and quantum computing, emphasizing the need for businesses to adapt and collaborate to leverage these advancements. The future of technology holds both promise and challenges, and Hany’s experience and vision serve as a testament to the opportunities that lie ahead in shaping a more connected and innovative world.