A strange trend since the beginning of 2012 is the amount of telecoms corporate venturing heads who have left their positions, with at least four departing, according to research carried out as part of our annual utilities sector feature out this coming week in our August magazine. It has been more common in recent years in most other sectors to see units creating new units, and leaders, than to see departures. 

The list of top departures includes the head of Deutsche Telekom’s T-Venture, Georg Schwegler, who left in May, Peter Barry, the head of Vodafone Ventures, who left last year, Yvonne Kwek, at Singtel Innov8, the corporate venturing unit of the Singapore Telecommunications, who also left last year, and Deena Shiff, of Australia-based Telstra’s Application Ventures Group, who left in January. 

One thing to note, even if there is no direct link to any of the departures, telecommunications groups in developed markets are relatively difficult places to work at present. 

It is fairly common to hear executives in corporate venturing groups in the sector talk of dealing with a low/to no growth revenue environment, even if margins are still strong. One former telco corporate venturing executive also expressed a fear, developed during the person’s stint, that corporate venturing strategies in the sector were often knee jerk attempts by management teams to tick a box “what are we doing in innovation”?

Another executive said groups would do better investing more heavily, cutting dividends and re-educating their shareholder base, who had come to see the sector as a low risk, income investment area. The executive felt companies should be more focused on growth to better address the complications of meeting rapidly growing data demands of consumers, without increased costs. The rich profits and the revenue head-winds arguably point to a sector ripe for disruption, he added. 

Investment activity from telecoms groups still seems high, so it is probably wrong to read too much into executives moving on in the sector. Why the revolving door at telecoms group corporate venturing units seems surprisingly busy at present is a question worth raising. Any thoughts on the topic are welcomed at tlewis@globalcorporateventuring.com.