Carmen Bruce-Annan recalls that it was a lecturer at her college that advised her to take up Public Relations as a course of study. Seeing her, there is no difficulty in finding out why the seventeen year old impressed her instructor thus. The head of Corporate Communication at Vodafone Ghana, the local operation of the global telecommunications behemoth is a natural people person – charming and personable.
Born in England, Carmen studied up to her Common Entrance in Ghana before returning to the United Kingdom. She describes the experience of growing up in Ghana as one of the most enriching of her life. It was this experience that led the mother of three to her homeland, convinced that her children had to have the benefit of the same experience.
Armed with a degree in Public Relations from Leeds Metropolitan University, experience from stints at T Mobile (a telecom firm) and the UK National Health Service as well as the cultural literacy and sensitivity gained during her formative years in the country, Carmen arrived in Ghana, initially taking up the task of leading the communications campaign that accompanied the local launch of Zain (now Airtel). Her immensely successful tenure included such high points as the Odumase school rebuilding project and documentary and the “Touching Lives” television show that was then adjudged by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Ghana as the television show of the year.
At Vodafone, Carmen has overseen a bold and strategic communications campaign that has seen the initial suspicion that attended Vodafone’s entry into the market replaced by respect from the industry, increased usage by customers and the conversation move on to the point where a newspaper normally unfriendly to the firm would dedicate a full editorial to paying tribute to their efforts and successes. The second paper to do so in a year!
For Carmen, there is a “simple science” behind this success. “It’s about understanding our people – what they need; what makes them tick – and then delivering initiatives to meet those needs”.
It is thinking like this which drove the runaway success that is Vodafone’s flagship corporate social responsibility initiative, the “Healthline” television show. Aware of the difficulties that many Ghanaians face in accessing healthcare, the show is an attempt to deliver this for those in dire need while at the same time, empowering them to make the necessary choices and changes that will improve their lives and health.
Innovation and boldness are traits that one soon senses, are key to Carmen’s approach and delivery. “If something has been done before, then I’m not interested in it. If you don’t do anything differently, no one will remember you for anything. And that’s how you make your mark. I definitely want to be remembered. “
Thankfully, such an attitude is not only accepted, but actively supported at Vodafone. Carmen is happy that management will provide all the support for her bold initiatives once she has provided the needed justification. “That’s the great thing about working for a company like Vodafone and I have to say I am really grateful to work for a company that empowers you to perform your role”, she says.
Vodafone, it would seem, are in the business of empowerment. True to its brand promise – Power to You – the operator, Carmen says, is driven by a desire to enable its customers be the best they can. This, she says, they are doing by providing great value for its customers, investing into the network to continuously improve the user experience, delivering superior customer service and giving back to the community in ways that are unique and meaningful.
“When you put all of that together, combined with execution that is flawless in each of those areas, customers will come to you.”
The unspoken aim, of course, is to be at the head of the pack. And it is quite a pack. “We have fantastic competition here in Ghana”, Carmen says, “the best of the world is here and when that happens, you sit up.” But it is competition that Vodafone does not shrink from. Their response has been to continuously innovate, continuously improve and continuously seek ways to deliver what customers want.
And the market has noticed. Users are beginning to warm to the network and competitors have been seen taken a leaf – or three – from Vodafone’s book of innovation and service delivery. Over at Vodafone, this has led less to annoyance than pride in the recognition of their successes and a determination to deliver even more.
If the initial ruckus over Vodafone’s controversial entry has subsided, quite a sizeable part of the credit must go to the team that Carmen heads and who she confesses, she drives really hard. Driven by a passion for her job and the brand itself, Carmen says her approach is to get the team to share the passion for the bold projects they undertake and it is a source of joy to her that the strain of effort is constantly replaced by the smiles of achievement and satisfaction when the plan comes together and the results are seen.
It is also not her style to boss and hector. She says a personal principle: “the worst thing you can do when you’re coming from a country like the UK is to come back with the wrong attitude which is the feeling that you may know more than anyone else because you’ve been abroad. My attitude is yes, I have something to contribute but I have great people around me from whom I can learn a lot. I work in a spirit of collaboration; I may know some stuff that the next person doesn’t but they also know things that I don’t. So when you bring those together I think you are on to a winning formula.”
And winning is something that Carmen should be used to. But is there any restlessness? Is there another challenge sought? To put it simpler, what will she do next?
“I don’t have any idea where I’m going next”, she replies. “But what’s for sure is that I’m always thinking about how to make my mark. So If I launched a PR campaign last month, my thinking is how I can make the next one better. Everywhere I go, I like to leave a legacy and the way I do that is by breaking that mould with everything the team does. And that’s what drives me.”
So while it may not be clear where Carmen’s path will next lead, there can be no doubt that she will be bringing her passion, innovation and boldness along; and that behind her will be a mould broken and a legacy left.