Interviewed by Anna Marin
Meet Bożena Leśniewska, Executive Vice President Business Market at Orange in Poland. In this interview Bożena talks about being a part of transforming a company for the digital era, her own experiences as a leader and her mission to support others to succeed.
You are the Executive Vice President (VP) in charge of Business Market at Orange, a huge company in the telecom sector. Could you tell us about your responsibilities and what a typical day in the life of an Executive VP at Orange looks like?
I oversee the business market here at Orange Poland. This means the entire activity of Orange, starting with the business customers, biggest enterprises and ending with smaller companies. They are all under my responsibility. Here, in our country, we have already expanded ourselves from being the telecom operator to a digital solutions provider and I really appreciate that I have a pleasure to supervise this transformation in B2B. Today, Poland is one of the leading countries in this market.
But you also asked about a typical day - for me it usually means a lot of meetings, making decisions and building the plan for future growth. It is an interesting and challenging job. Personally, I really like meeting customers. I like the direct communication. But each day is different.
You mentioned that communication is an important part of the job, and a part that you enjoy. Digital communication has expanded dramatically over the last few years. In your role at Orange, where you have been for 16 years, you have contributed to the company's transformation to become more agile and digital. How did that transformation unfold and what challenges did you and your team face on this journey?
I would say that the company and the telcom sector have been in a phase of transformation for many years. For us, at Orange, it started several years ago, when we shifted from being a state company to a private one and then continued with the digitalisation of the market. Since I have been working at Orange, we have been in a state of transformation. And today we belong to the most well-advanced companies with many processes fully automated and hundreds of robots doing the repeatable jobs. We are aiming to be a paperless company and we are making this change step by step. Many of our customer service calls are now answered by artificial intelligence, but I could give you many more examples – including the growth of e-commerce and our fully digital operator product, Flex. However, in my opinion, our most important transformation is the transition from providing telecommunications solutions to delivering our customers the full value chain. From connectivity to integration, security, software and customer relation management. This has been a huge change and 30% of the revenue today comes from these new businesses. I am very proud of this. It started in B2B, and it has been very successful.
I should also mention our green strategy, which is an important part of our development, and we have a huge focus on sustainability and responsibility. This is not only in terms on the climate but also diversity.
You co-created the Academy of Leadership Postgraduates Studies for Women at Kozminsky University, which is about to enter its fifth edition. Congratulations! Can you tell us more about this initiative and why you embarked on it?
This is something I am very proud of. A few years ago, in collaboration with friends from different businesses, we sought to create a place where women could connect and communicate. We felt that as successful women we should share our experience with younger women, who are on their journey towards management and leadership positions. So, we created the postgraduate one-year studies with our partner Kozminsky University, which is one of the leading Polish universities. The classes are run by people like me, and I am running a digital transformation module.
The idea of the postgraduate course is to support mid-level leaders so that they can grow and advance their skills and knowledge. We want them to learn how to build a professional brand and how to position themselves in business. I am very proud that we managed to do this, while having a lot of other engagements. We work on the initiative on a voluntarily basis and will be starting again in October. We usually have around 30 participants and we already have around 100 alumni students.
We felt that, as successful women, we should share our experience with younger women.
But as well as doing the postgraduate studies, you are also an active mentor in various mentoring programs, especially for women, including Vital Voices Foundation and Perspektywy Foundation. Why are you so passionate about mentoring?
I am very passionate about mentoring and the programmes you mention are just some of the tools to be able to do this. We also have a project here, internally at Orange, which supports women-lead organisations. This is something I created a few years ago to help women within Orange to find their place in the company.
I believe that mentoring is a very good way to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. It is a unique meeting of two people, which can help them see themselves in a different light. I am very happy to be involved in this. I also see the results and the progress. My mentees are promoted, they are starting to build companies and change the world. There is no bigger satisfaction than that. It is my mission for this second part of my life, to share my experience and knowledge. For the first part of it, I did everything by myself. I was not privileged in any area and everything I did was done without support. So, when I started to think about what I could do with the power, knowledge and competence that I have been building for years, I decided that my mission was going to be to support people. Share my experience and energy, so that they can reach their full potential. I have been focusing on women for a long time, though not only. I feel that women need it more and that I could give them more.
Mentoring is a unique meeting between two people, which can help people to see themselves in a different light.
You mentioned that many of your mentees are successful, they are starting companies and getting promoted. What do you think makes a mentor-mentee relationship successful?
I think that trust, confidence and no judgment are the key. When the relationship is open, there are no bad questions or answers, the mentor-mentee relationship can go very smoothly. The mentor is the servant in this case, listening and guiding the mentee. When the relationship is successful, it allows us to overcome obstacles and break barriers. It builds confidence which helps the mentees to pursue their ambitions.
Christel Heydemann recently joined Orange as its new CEO, making her the fourth female head of France’s largest companies. As a fellow senior female leader at the company, what impact do you think there is of having more women in senior leadership roles in male-dominated industries, and what advice would you give to women striving to become the leaders of tomorrow?
I was delighted when Christel joined the company. I appreciate her way of handling the transformation that we are going through, and I believe that it is fair to have women in top-positions. For many years the business was dominated by men, so now we are trying to open up and have more diverse representation. This is important, because the products we are making are for everyone, not just a part of the population. I believe in the power of diversity, especially now, when times are so uncertain. Diversity helps us achieve better results and be more efficient.
I think that the most important thing for women striving to become leaders is to not be afraid. Try to learn and be bold. Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. It is not a shame to fail and make mistakes, it is learning, and that is what is required to be successful. The more you know and the more times you try, the more adaptable you become to an uncertain future.
Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.
You are an avid traveler and even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 2013. What was your most memorable trip to date and what are some of the benefits that travelling the world have brought you?
I love to travel and be in the presence of other cultures. I always look for new and interesting business ideas on my trips, things that are not present in Europe or in Poland. I bring those ideas back to my team.
One of my most inspiring trips was the one I did with other executives in Orange, to China. A great deal of inspiration came from seeing how they work over there - it was eye-opening. But from the more personal travels I really appreciated the coasts of Australia. The blue sky and the blue ocean were second to none.
Video edited by Marella Ricketts