With over 20 years in the telecom industry, Asiacell has a major role in Iraq’s new era of telecom and digital transformation. In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, we have spoken with the newly appointed chief commercial officer Chra Hussain about her professional journey, the company’s contribution in the growth of the country’s telecom market, and her stance about gender equality in the ICT sector.
Can you give us detailed information regarding your 17 years of experience within the telecommunications industry?
I started my career with the marketing department as the Product Manager for vocal services, where I started to learn the GSM fundamentals and be a part of launching many new added services back then. Then I was exposed to different roles within the same department like marketing project manager and senior manager for planning and research, where I learn analytics and understanding customers. Then I got extended responsibilities to all segments, products, digital, sales and customer touchpoints when I assumed the position of consumer marketing director until I became the deputy CCO and, shortly after that, the chief commercial officer.
I joined telecom and ICT with a rich set of talents, knowledge, and ambitions. Yet, I quickly realised that the fast-changing industry required me to adapt and stay on my feet and keep going. Being commercial result-oriented with a track of business impact helped me achieve my goals. Many times, I am keen to test services myself to make sure that we deliver up to the customers’ expectation. All in all, I can say that this was a learning curve, and the environment I was in was rich and giving. I learned and grew; that is why I can humbly say that I succeeded in what I do and why Asiacell saw something in me and opened new doors for me to be where I am now today. Being empowered to challenge and given a chance to move through different roles throughout my journey made me grow and feel valued. My goal is to help Iraq commercial organisations and businesses reach the next level.
I must admit, those past 17 years have not been easy. It has been a struggle all the way to where I am now today. More women are entering the telecommunication and ICT world that used to be a “man’s world” for a long time, but they still face challenges. However, with hard work and dedication, we would show that no one should expect less from women than from their male counterparts.
Asiacell is a leading provider of quality mobile telecommunications services in Iraq. How were you able to achieve and maintain the company’s integrated commercial success?
As you mentioned, Asiacell is a leading mobile telecommunications services provider. This makes our job harder to maintain a healthy, positive, and successful relationship with and best in class services to our customers. Today, we are facing a complex and fragmented landscape. With the inflation of different markets, channels, and products, consumers are becoming desensitised by the constant exposure of ads. So, we had to answer the question: how do companies — particularly direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, like Asiacell, break through the noise?
Within Asiacell, we ensure that mobile experience voice and data are best in quality backed by the development of the correct infrastructure. We ensure that we provide simplified channels for our users on both traditional and digital channels. Demand is helped by our strong brand, high-quality content out there – sports, games, and entertainment as we continuously search for exceptional partners to work within this domain.
Our Tier 3 data centres are unique in Iraq, giving an array of unparalleled services to businesses from all sectors in different areas in Iraq. This, in return, reinforced our relationship with our corporate clients and enhanced our commercial success.
In addition, we are not only a telecommunication company in Iraq; we are the best socially responsible company in Iraq; we have invested in the community itself. Asiacell believes that a sound community will give back positive vibes to all stakeholders.
We also believe that we should be part of the country’s digital transformation. We recently sponsored the first Iraqi Digital Transformation Summit, which introduced government officials to the benefits of digitalisation and how it can better the lives of Iraqis and make the work of both the governmental and the private sectors easier.
How has the telecom market in Iraq grown over the years? What is the major contribution of Asiacell to this?
The telecommunication sector in Iraq was very primitive and primordial when we arrived at the market. Services were limited to a crippling level which pushed us to work harder in a hostile environment that did not help. Asiacell, over the years, has proven to be playing its pioneering role as the first Iraqi telecommunication company working for over 20 years in providing the essential needed service. I will not go into what is happening internally inside Asiacell in terms of technology innovation and plans for Iraq in terms of telecommunication advancement. I will, however, talk about the infrastructure which I mentioned earlier that has enabled us to start a new era of telecom in Iraq and will allow us to play an active role in digital transformation through more than 6,000 communication towers providing coverage to over 99% of the inhabited areas in Iraq and provide service to over 14.7 million subscribers. With the launch of the 4G/LTE at the beginning of this year, Asiacell has committed to providing internet within the best-known standards and through 65% of its towers and has ambitions to grow the 4G footprint in the country.
During the pandemic, Asiacell, like any other industry, was impacted. Fortunately, with the availability of the whole infrastructure that is needed to offer digital services that Asiacell has in place, and in its efforts to focus on B2B solutions, it supported the business and customers as they moved online through E-top up, online purchase and post-sales services. And since cybersecurity or information security is an essential factor in achieving that, Asiacell was able to also provide cybersecurity services through partners famous in the field of cybersecurity like ‘Kaspersky,’ ‘FireEye,’ ‘SMT Group,’ and more, to offer a multitude of solutions in that field.
As you see, the leap we made was big, and by the grace of God, coupled with arduous work, we were able to make a change and an impressive record of accomplishment.
These accomplishments didn’t go unrewarded or unnoticed. In addition to all our clients who are our major asset and can all testify to the quality of our services, Asiacell received international recognition in the form of prestigious awards such as the International Finance Awards and the Stevie Awards.
In line with your latest appointment as the chief commercial officer, what has been your motivation to continuously climb up in your professional journey?
Well, it has been a bit over a month, and I honestly feel ecstatic. As I told you, it is not easy for a woman in this sector to climb the corporate ladder, especially in our side of the world where telecom and big corporations tend to be male-dominated. Glass ceilings face many women who, in my opinion, are very competent women who can achieve a lot with commitment and hardworking.
My motivation has been the job itself. I love what I do, and I love where I work. Asiacell has been inclusive from day one. I also was not a passive person in my career. I have always leaned in, listened, and said my opinion without hesitation or fear. There is nothing like a concrete life plan to weigh you down. Because if you always have one eye on some future goal and track the results, you stop paying attention to the job at hand, miss opportunities that might arise, and stay fixedly on one path, even when a better, newer course might have opened up.
As a woman, what is your take in the advocacy of gender equality within the information and communications technology (ICT) sector?
More women are entering the business world, but they still face challenges operating their businesses. The telecommunications industry is even more hostile towards women; women struggle to survive in the business environment given the challenges they face. On the other hand, I have been blessed to be a part of the Asiacell family, where being a woman had a minimal effect on my career and my advancement in the corporation.
However, let us be honest; we are not in Silicon Valley. Whatever advocacy being done for gender equality is not enough. At the same time, we need to be optimistic. My presence, as a C-level executive, in the position I am in now, is solid proof that change is happening, and that gender equality is becoming part of the corporate culture. I have full confidence that more women will be proving themselves as essential assets to their own companies.
The change will not come by campaigning and slogans; it will come from women themselves. They need to work hard and prove that they are equal if not superior to their male counterparts, and this is how gender equality will be achieved. I must admit that although my own journey was not easy by any means, it was made easier only by me being in a company that genuinely believes in women empowerment and gender equality.
I read something I loved; that there is a special place in hell for women who bring other women down. We as women should stick together and help each other. I have heard so many stories of smart female business leaders who bring other women down simply because they are women. I believe this is toxic and not right at all. I invite all women to support other competent ladies to reach their full potential. Personally, my door will remain always open to help anyone that needs support, counsel, or advice. And let us not ever think that we are doing anyone a favour by helping them; this is about women empowerment and equality, which is a fundamental human right.