Abraham Foss: "you reap what you sow"

Growing up on a farm taught Telia Norway's CEO Abraham Foss much about the hard work behind having an idea to actually realising it. That mentality and approach has kept with him through learning Russian in the Norwegian army and abroad whilst leading large organizations in Germany, Malaysia, and USA.

Straight off from Asia, after approximately two years leading the enterprise division of the Malaysian mobile company Maxis Berhad, Abraham Foss made his comeback in the Norwegian telecom industry as CEO of Telia Norway – his former Norwegian employer´s fiercest competitor.

Since the start of his tenure in June 2015, Foss and the Norwegian team has changed the company´s name from Netcom to Telia, made Telias coverage the best in Norway, launched unlimited download speeds for all users, and recently initiated an acquisition of Phonero at an enterprise value of NOK 2,3 billion. On 1 January 2017 Foss also became a member of Telia Company's group executive management.

And Foss has no plans of slowing down:

You came to Telia Norway directly from Malaysia. What was it like being a leader over there?
“The structure is hierarchical to a much larger degree than what we are used to in the Nordics. This is especially true for Malaysia, although I have experienced similar working environments in both Germany and USA. My impression is that the importance of hierarchy is much lower in Norway than in many other countries; we put more trust in people making their own decisions and taking responsibility for their own work.”

Which culture do you like the most?
“The Nordic one. In the IT- and telecom industry things move at a pace you rarely see anywhere else. You need to continuously learn new stuff, otherwise you´ll fall behind. Working in such a rapid environment makes hierarchical thoughts inexpedient for a company.”

You grew up on a farm. How did that shape you as a leader?
“It may be a bit of a cliché, but growing up on a farm gets you accustomed to thinking that one must sow before one can reap; you need to invest time and effort to see results. Take the forests as an example: If you plant something, you probably won´t be able enjoy it fully now. You might even have to wait a generation or two before you can truly enjoy it. The same goes for large organisations, since you must understand that change takes time.”

It is often discussed whether a good leader can manage anything or whether a professional expertise is necessary to manage a company successfully. What is your opinion on the matter?
“I would say I am a bit schizophrenic when it comes to this: It can often be beneficial to have insights in certain disciplines and areas, since it makes you able to understand the whole picture and guide people towards the right direction. But, at times, knowing next to nothing about the nitty gritty details may be just as good. The most important part is to have sufficient knowledge and experience to ask the right questions at the right time. In a small company, detailed knowledge is important. But for big companies, it may slow down processes.”

What triggers you in your line of work at Telia?
“I thrive working in teams with ambitious people. Every day I am surrounded by colleagues of all ages with brilliant mindsets, who dare to take new initiatives that bring our company as a whole forward towards becoming a new generation telco. Who can possibly not be triggered by such an environment?”

As a kid, what did you dream of buying as a grown-up? And what did you actually end up buying?
“I dreamt of buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle, but ended up with a Ford Fiesta ... A Harley is cool, but I did not have sufficient funds to actually invest in a motorcycle at that time. On top of that, the Ford Fiesta was grey, so boring and pretty far from a Harley.”

Name: Abraham Foss
Position: CEO, Telia Norway
From: Hvittingfoss, Norway
Lives: Oslo
Years in Telia Company: 2