Founded in 2000 in New Jersey, Verizon has become the leading mobile service provider in the US market. Frédérique Liaigre – President of Verizon France since 2018 and General Manager for Southern Europe and Benelux at Verizon Business since the beginning of July – shares her insights on the future of work and the technological innovations to follow closely.
Can you tell us more about your early career in communications?
Frederick Lieger: I have spent most of my career in communications after studying international business. I am not an engineer by training but my background shows that it is still possible for a profile like mine to work in technology. It is also important to emphasize this to inspire more women to get started.
I first joined France Telecom, when the group was just getting off the ground in the mobile business. At that time, GSM had just arrived and the competition was very tough in this segment. I was a consultant responsible for explaining to the executive committee what technology or marketing trends were and then making recommendations on new services not to be missed.
We started building databases to be able to position ourselves in other sectors and expand our GSM coverage by obtaining licenses abroad. The first target market was Belgium, and that’s how Mobistar was born – now Orange Belgium.
You have to imagine the beginnings of cell phones, which really heralded a great race. We had the requisite knowledge but in hindsight it was mainly a matter of tinkering as it was the first time we had embarked on this sector. Then the giant AirTouch arrived in 1994 and was present on all invitations to tender. So I joined this group to do the governance of the already existing subsidiaries.
and then? How did you come to Verizon?
FL: I went to live in the Netherlands and it was kind of my dream job. We were entering the first stage of market consolidation and then AirTouch was acquired by Vodafone in 1999. Then I left for Hungary for 6 months to open a new subsidiary, and then returned to Vodafone headquarters to manage SFR activities. I held the position of SFR President’s Office Manager for 6 years, until a new leader got his hands on the group and announced waves of layoffs.
That’s when Verizon approached me to become General Manager for the commercial part and sales for France, Italy and Spain. Verizon represents approximately 3,500 employees in Europe and has the ability to support customers in 150 countries around the world with Verizon Business solutions designed to work anywhere. Our clients are generally large companies with an international dimension. In France, these are usually the CAC40 and SBF120 companies.
What is your analysis of the hybridization of the world of work that the health crisis has started?
FL: For our employees and customers, the crisis in general has reinforced the certainty of the need to feel comfortable with uncertainty. During the health crisis, Verizon has prioritized the health and safety of its employees, which means our buildings have remained closed for two years. We’ve budgeted so they can work better at home, by financing furniture and computers. Managers were also sensitized to identify difficulties, particularly psychological ones, as it is a rather complex thing to detect remotely. We have also organized virtual breakfasts every week, mainly to discuss daily life topics.
After the crisis, we opened new renovated offices in Paris and employees returned to face-to-face meetings en masse. Our policy is now very flexible because everyone organizes their own schedule as they like.
When it comes to our customers, there have also been significant changes in the way we meet them. The first thing was making sure everything was running smoothly and reminding people that we were there if needed. Our partnerships go beyond sales volume because sharing values is also important.
What promising innovations are you following closely?
FL: Technology is part of our DNA, and in the first quarter we invested at least $6 billion in our networks, solutions and innovations. In the US, Verizon has also decided to take a clear lead on 5G, investing $53 billion to acquire new licenses.
For businesses, the 5G private network is also an important transformation factor. It is used in connected industry, logistics, but also in sports and entertainment – such as in connected stadiums. Recently, we also invested in a center in London to promote B2B innovations in 5G. We’ve already had this type of structure in the US, but this is the first time it’s been replicated in Europe.
AI is also one of our priorities and we didn’t wait for the hype around ChatGPT to develop many internal use cases. It helps us with predictive maintenance of mobile networks or to increase productivity and make customer services more efficient. At the same time, the topic of AI-threatened jobs is very popular and systematically crops up with every new technology milestone. Personally, I don’t believe in transhumanism, and technology always has its share of transgressions and opportunities. So AI may eliminate jobs, but other jobs are also created at the same time.
So the goal is to make the technology desirable and reassure the public?
FL: We have often heard that “mobile networks were better before” but that phrase never works. When I worked on my first GSM mobile phones, they weighed 500 grams and offered a maximum connection time of 30 minutes. Today, the mobile phone has become an everyday essential thing that no one can predict. I think artificial intelligence will be in the same line and we don’t see what’s inside and what’s outside yet. I share a positive and optimistic view of technology and artificial intelligence will definitely make life easier for all of us. Many illusions persist but we must remember that we created them and that human intelligence will always be necessary no matter what.
Another challenge that caught your eye?
FL: A cyber security challenge is also essential in my opinion and we strongly advise companies to use SD-WAN wide area network in SASE, which is a zero-trust model that is controlled in the cloud allowing for better system reliability. On the other hand, technology is not enough because humans remain the weak link in performance. To find out more, we’ve published the latest Data Breach Investigations Report, a kind of bible for all the cyber threats, common attack methods, and the practices to follow to protect against them.