GSMA CEO Conway steps down, and successor is not apparent

On the surface, GSMA's announcement that Rob Conway is resigning as CEO of the trade group might appear normal. But news that the organisation is only now starting the search for a replacement indicates that Conway's departure was unplanned and unexpected.

The former Motorola lawyer will rightly be praised for having spent 12 years heading an organisation that has become the dominant trade body in mobile communications. However, those close to the situation believe that Conway was coming under increasing pressure to reshape the GSMA's strategy back towards its Western European roots.

"On behalf of the GSMA, I want to thank Rob for his many years of service and leadership in the mobile industry," Franco Bernabè, chairman of the GSMA board and CEO of Telecom Italia Group, said in a statement announcing Conway's departure. "Rob has led the GSMA during a period of tremendous growth as we have moved from 500 million mobile connections to nearly 6 billion connections today, and has nurtured the Mobile World Congress into an extraordinary yearly event where the mobile industry convenes to do business. We wish Rob well as he looks to the future."

The success that the GSMA has achieved in establishing GSM in developing markets--its emerging markets handset programme being a notable success--may have been the point of conflict between the more global outlook Conway held and members of the GSMA board keen to refocus on the needs and concerns of more established operators.

The organisation is thought to have been preparing a large expansion of programmes aimed more at emerging markets, which may have been difficult for the GSMA board, and especially for the recently appointed Bernabè to accept. There is also speculation that the influence of Craig Ehrlich, the former long-time chairman of the GSMA, was another factor behind Conway stepping down from being CEO.

Ehrlich, often perceived as the power broker behind Conway's throne, was seen as setting the agenda within the GSMA with the CEO then being the front man, or agent for change, when it came to implementing strategy. With Ehrlich's authority now diminished, Conway's major supporter and mentor may not have been able to protect the CEO from the GSMA's board calling for its resources to be turned back towards Europe.

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