If you live in Scandinavia or Asia, chances are you’re a customer of Telenor, a Norwegian, majority state-owned, multinational, telecommunications company headquartered close to Oslo.
Its 20,000 employees, who are based across both regions, are tasked with delivering a myriad of mobile, broadband and TV services to their 170 million customers. Among such employees is Thomas Bennett, the company’s Security Business Development Director, a role which is the latest chapter in a career which began in a data security start-up firm.
“Working with data security was not a planned move” he recalls. “But my bachelor’s in economics and master’s degree in marketing science turned out to be a good starting point when discussing the cost benefits of security solutions with customers.”
It was his first taste of cyber security and it whetted his appetite for more. “This was a ‘good against the bad’ – a battle which seemed meaningful and inspirational,” says Bennett, “and being part of the security awakening across all industries was great fun.”
Turning technology into opportunity
Teaming up with skilled technicians also helped him develop an understanding for how to create a balance between security and organisations’ business needs. “For me, I like it best when new technology is turned into new business opportunities, and where I can work closely with both the business side and technicians – and security is something that lets me do both,” he explains.
And that’s why his next role also involved security, this time in the financial services sector, where he worked for Norway’s Banks' Payments and Clearing Centre – a clearing house – where he, as part of the core team, was responsible for setting up a common operational infrastructure for Norway’s banks. The system for secure online identification and signing he and his colleagues developed is still the default solution in Norway and remains frequently used by most of the population.
The next move for Bennett was into telecommunications. During the next 10 years, he was improving Telenor’s B2B broadband, wan and security portfolio. Their company’s customer base includes most individuals, as well as private and public entities, increasing its attractiveness to a wide variety of attackers.
And then four years ago, he switched to the group’s central cyber security team to do business development and sourcing. “By protecting ourselves we also protect our customers, and our internal use competencies and capabilities have proven valuable in the dialogue with customers and solution design,” he reflects.
Last year, he joined a new “Nordic Hub” security business function in Telenor Group. As a Nordic business development director, the focus for him and the team has been to explore synergies and accelerate the security capability build-up across the business units in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
“Working with security requires tapping into new technology as you need to understand their role in the cyber security ecosystem. You also need to stay ahead of your customers’ questions about risk, probability and consequences”
Thomas Bennett, Security Business Development Director, Telenor
“I really like what I’m doing – learning new technologies and make use of it in an effective and profitable way. Working with security requires tapping into new technology as you need to understand their role in the cyber security ecosystem. You also need to stay ahead of your customers’ questions about risk, probability and consequences.”
It’s a comment which says much about Bennett. His optimism and excitement about how digitisation can benefit the wider population consistently shined through our conversation. Certainly, he’s not one to look back and regret his decision to choose cyber security as his career.
Talking up Telenor
Now, though, Bennett is very much focused on the world of telecommunications but, of course, the pandemic has provided its own set of challenges, as it has for all of us.
“COVID-19 has effectively emptied the Telenor headquarters, and a lot of effort has been put into making both the practical and psychological transition to the new normal,” he says, adding that the past few months have been both good and challenging. “Being a Telco has helped as everyone here had the right mindset to make this work, as well as being familiar with digital communications.”
“I have only been to the office three times since March and for me that has not been a problem. But we should also take into account the psychological challenges – at the beginning we thought this would only be for a short period, but now we know differently. This means we need to work out how to replace the interactions of office life, like the everyday chit-chat by the water cooler. So, while we await the return of normal times, the social part is likely to come more into focus as part of a sustainable work routine.”
“We need to work out how to replace the interactions of office life, like the everyday chit-chat by the water cooler. So, while we await the return of normal times, the social part is likely to come more into focus as part of a sustainable work routine”
Thomas Bennett, Security Business Development Director, Telenor
Even without the pandemic, Bennett’s current role involves far less travel as it is focused only on the Nordic region itself. “Four months after the new unit was established, I haven’t actually met most of my new colleagues,” he says.
Telenor’s footprint is in the Nordics and Asia and joint projects across the regions can lead to some interesting cultural dynamics.
“Working across both regions involves a lot of listening and cultural interpretation,” explains Bennett. “Being respectful of different ways of thinking and working is key to developing efficient collaboration across different cultures and mindsets, such as sharing key takeaways to make projects run more smoothly. All our colleagues are usually open minded about recognising the differences and combining each other’s strengths.”
He cites the example of hierarchies to illustrate his point. “In Asia, they normally include a lot of colleagues on every decision – there is a high degree of hierarchy – and so you have to go into it with your eyes open and the knowledge that lots of stakeholders will be involved. It is also a bit different when it comes to internal transparency. In the Nordics, it is very common to share very freely but you have to earn that trust when working with Asian colleagues.”
Of course, such cultural issues are easier to overcome when you’re face to face with your colleagues, as opposed to connecting via video screens. When asked about the probability of a return to frequent business travel after the pandemic, Bennett says that the enforced acclimatisation to digital communication will probably mean less travelling in the future – “I think travel activity in general will go down as we are now all experienced in working more efficiently digitally.”
Working within security
Bennett’s roles – both at Telenor and throughout his career – have placed him at the heart of efforts to understand and predict the coming efficacy of new technologies, akin to an air traffic controller directing the flow and course of multiple aircraft at the same time. It seems pertinent, then, to learn how he stays up to date with so many different technologies.
“Working with security over an extended period you find your favourite spots for gathering intelligence and information, understanding which courses to take and how to engage with your network,” he replies. “But it’s a joint effort. You need to have a security conscious team in your organisation to help gain the insights and understand how to put it to use.”
This is relevant for most strategic initiatives and projects and makes it possible to contribute with the necessary insight and execution – an opportunity which, he says, explains his optimistic disposition to his work, despite the backdrop of cyber threats and adversaries of all types.
“Working within security has always provided interesting and challenging tasks. The ever-increasing importance of security guarantees professionals a key role in most transformation projects across every industry, touching on different tech,” he concludes.
“If you like technology and problem solving, as well as a meaningful job and purpose, cyber security will not let you down.”
About the author
Nadia Doughty is a Technical Pre-Sales Consultant with BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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