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Surviving In A Global Borderless Economy in a Multicultural Country

Updated on September 4, 2013

Powerful Business Leadership Lessons from Digicel Papua New Guinea

Beware. And be ready…………..

Papua New Guinea is changing much faster than our ability to manage it. For companies to thrive, they must learn to excel in a multicultural society. More than 800 languages spoken in PNG implies over 800 different cultures that pose more challenge to doing business in PNG than in any other neighboring Asia-Pacific countries.

Businesses must learn how to cross the new invisible borders of national and international cultures. Digicel PNG has proven that statement without reasonable doubt. It has gone to the valleys and mountains of PNG never reached by any previous mobile company. Leaders of Digicel can be thought of as being globally and locally literate, having known the geographical and business terrain of PNG, coupled with their quick adoption to Melanesian culture placed them in forward position to outplay their competitors

Doug Ivester, CEO of Coca-Cola, a multinational company successfully operating in PNG, discovered in 1999 “Coke Scare” in France and Belgium that as economic borders come down, cultural barriers go up. How often do we see vagrants or opportunists taking opportunity to break into Asian shops around PNG and loot mindlessly when certain national issues arise? How often do we see a white Australian or American woman tourist being dragged into the nearby buses and raped? All this turbulence and confusion make us nervous and defensive weather we see it or not. It is the animalistic instinct to fight to defend territory to inject his influence over his kingdom as Dr. Myles Munroe said. Our sensitivities are heightened as competitors and collaborators emerge from unlikely places. Many are responding by becoming more ethnocentric and nationalistic. But even in the mids of this chaos, new challenges and opportunities for business arise. Believe it or not! There are more business opportunity arising like never before

As we stand watching, there is a backlash to globalization, one born of our lack of knowledge and readiness and exacerbated by the economic pinches we feel. Not everyone is equipped to run fast, but some are—and they respond by opening up, soaking up cultural differences in order to maximize their own awareness and learning and become more profitable in this highly volatile 21st century borderless economy. Perfect example given is Digicel PNG. My survey on several CEOs of multinational companies in PNG reveals some leadership universals. I have just started the CEO survey and would finish the study soon. The findings will be published as a business leadership book with powerful lessons for the 21st century business leaders in PNG and other third world countries

Leadership lessons from Digicel PNG

In a world exploding with information, companies must be transparent. Their leaders must be open, honest, and committed to learning. Motivated by principles, they must face challenges with passion and confidence.Looking from outside, there are leadership traits possessed by Digicel PNG that its close rivals lacked. Let’s explore some of these leadership behaviors

Aggressive insight

Leaders of this multinational mobile company possessed what I call aggressive insight. They are committed to intentional self-awareness and renewal. Tell a mobile company that it’s impossible to erect a 100 meters tower in the most remote and rugged location in PNG and Digicel PNG will tell you it’s only a myth.

Digicel PNG leaders display insatiable curiosity about their company and the environment around them. They are aggressively aware of who they are, what they can and can’t do. They understood the market potential by understanding the culture of PNG. PNG is a collective society and tribal bloodline and relationships run strong in mind, body and spirit of every member of the society. One thing that can keep them connected is communication. Something other mobile business in the past brutally ignored. The fact that about 80% of the population of PNG live in the rural areas, it only needed a confident and visionary leader to see the market potential by connecting the rural mass to those in town and cash come flowing in. Digicel did.

Their market research team certainly does a brilliant work in asking, identifying and strategically guiding the forward movement of the company with their market research data.

Confident Humility

They can be the most aggressive mobile company in PNG, with the widest coverage but they are full of humor. Confidence was needed to take this massive risk. What if no one on the villages wanted to use mobile phones for some unknown reasons? Millions of kina would have been lost. But Digicel PNG took calculated risk and everything today is history. Now I can call my mum at home. Just few years back when I was University of Natural Resources and Environment, it would take few months before my hand written letter reach my mum. We ask. Why didn’t anyone see this massive opportunity? In business, anyone can see greater business opportunities buts it takes confidence and intellectual insights and determination to pursue these opportunities.

But then you can’t be, white-collared, clean feet, muscular executive all the time to break into new markets. There are times you must be willing to wear the shoes of your prospective customers to know what is really needed so you can tailor your products to meet the daily need and customer satisfaction is key. If you can provide that vital ingredient in your service or product, you will be in PNG for a long time. The reason is that PNG is a collective society and word of mouth marketing is very effective and can go viral within matter of minutes.

A few months ago, a friend of mine on Facebook in boxed me and said “Ian, are you using Digicel phone?” I replied yes. Then he said to me “Just send two messages to any body and get 18 free texts for the whole day. I tried and received a notification from Digicel that read something like “Congratulation, you have received 18 free texts”. Out of excitement I unintentionally told five friends who called me that day. Imagine if those 5 friends told another five friends and then friends of my five friends told another five friends of theirs and on and on it goes…That is the culture Digicel PNG perfectly understood.

Confident humility is having a healthy ego without feeling self-important. Digicel PNG engages fun and excitement to drives its key messages and build a much stronger brand. Their promotion teams walk the streets with dramas and plays. They involved active young handsome and beautiful men and women to attract more customers. They sponsor disadvantaged social groups. They sponsor corporate events. They are ubiquitous. Full of fun, excitement and flexibility, a true model of 21st century business.

Reflective Decisiveness

To lead we must measure our leaders by the results they produce. Digicel PNG leaders have demonstrated this behavior of reflective decisiveness by the being bold and forceful but with healthy dose of confidence humility.

Digicel PNG leaders understood the communication constraints faced all across PNG. They are what I call “Matter-of-Fact Thinkers” who tested ideas and grasp situations quickly.

Ours is a reflective culture. Endless consultations and it’s a slow process to go through. Ours occur in a cyclic fashion as described by Mr. Kamene, an ingenious knowledge scientistand linguist of University of Papua New Guinea. We are quit slow in reaching consensus unlike the Westerners who make swift unilateral business decisions. Digicel PNG merge successfully merged these two behaviors and so exponentially enlarge its leadership and brand across more than 800 cultures in PNG.

Realist Optimism

While we marvel at the by the inspiring work of Digicel PNG leaders who demonstrated their passion for possibility and giving us the impression that we can achieve impossible things. We are left to understand that these leaders who bridged hope and reality had one foot in the future and one in the present. Understanding them requires understand the dynamics behind their decision making abilities of their leaders. They leaders are honest about business drivers, competition, and opportunity. They also comfortable giving true, direct. They are being realistic.

On the other hand they greatly use their imagination to imagine the unimagined opportunities by the rival mobile companies. They travel in the unknown and see possibilities others didn’t see. They gad great capacity to dream, break with tradition, envision a better tomorrow and excite its users about the benefits of its service.

In a country bombarded by globalization, Digicel PNG leaders proved to be idealist yet optimistic. Result speaks of itself.


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    • Ian Dabasori Hetr profile image

      Ian D Hetri 5 years ago from Papua New Guinea

      That's it aggressive insight as I described. They need local as well as international knowledge about PNG. Dr. Robert Rose described it as Cultural, personal and business literacy. 21st century business leaders need to be globally literate but act locally. Thank Gordon and I assume you are a from PNG. Top day.

    • profile image

      Gordon 5 years ago

      "Local knowledge" is an important factor for foreign investors wanting to establish something in PNG.

    • Ian Dabasori Hetr profile image

      Ian D Hetri 5 years ago from Papua New Guinea

      always exploring

      You said it so well. Technology is making the world small...oh yes and even smarter..Thanks for reading and commenting

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Very interesting article, seems the world is getting smaller and smaller and smarter and smarter. Good for you...

    • Ian Dabasori Hetr profile image

      Ian D Hetri 5 years ago from Papua New Guinea


      Very insightful comment there. Appreciate much the bit on India that should add some width and breath to this article. Top day.

    • pramodgokhale profile image

      pramodgokhale 5 years ago from Pune( India)

      I think Singapore is a example how to operate a multicultural nation and prosper by utilizing abilities and skills of different communities.

      Singapore houses Chinese, Indians and Malays. I have been to Singapore long back and was very much impressed by their success and co-existence and thriving in harmony.

      PNG should be more complex and but successful development model to my knowledge.

      I am an Indian, plural Indian nation has had problems but democracy has roots in our country and we are advancing as a large emerging nation.

      To my view, future of small nations entirely hinges on dominant powers and their will and cooperation, international understanding should be the key factor to resolve these issues.

      thank you for highlighting situation in PNG

      pramod gokhale