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Dianna de Sousa

High tech leader at the helm of national development

By By Renée Cummings

HIGH speed data transmission, preservation of data quality and integrity, minimal interruptions, megabits per second, that's her world. Her life is a unique blend of technology and tenacity. Her mind carries its own national download speed. On any given day, the storage capacity of her brain can compete with the best SIM card. For the last three months, Dianna de Sousa has been at the helm of technology, in Trinidad and Tobago. She's the new acting chief executive officer of telecommunications provider TSTT. "When you're in business, your focus is always the bottom line and the return on investment. But technology goes beyond the bottom line. It is about a good public perspective, bridging the digital divide, and putting information technology into everybody's hands." Our conversation navigates a terrain of services, spectrum and performance requirements; the ability to use the natural resources of wireless communication as an economic driver and a social developer. The wireless industry is her domain.

We're in her office, on the executive level of TSTT's building, on Edward Street, in Port of Spain. Her office is modern just like her thinking. "Technology must be used to empower. Beyond the profit, there's a greater social responsibility to use technology to change the lives of nationals." She doesn't stop there. "Trinidad and Tobago's development as a competitive and innovative nation is critical. There are statistics that show widespread access to broadband technology can increase the GDP of a nation." Committed to accelerating the pace of national development, she's excited to be a game changer in the way we experience technology. She's eager to outline the essential and interrelated marketplace and regulatory dimensions needed to support a new generation of information and communication technologies. "The potential of technology to develop a nation is tremendous. It is about access and opportunity. Access to ideas allows for the transmission of knowledge that builds the intellectual and creative capabilities of a country. It is about national growth." In the same breath, she hastens to add, "But technology is also about allowing people to stay in touch."

Her climb up TSTT's corporate ladder has been swift but steady; gaining executive traction on every rung. She was the executive vice president of Blink Sales, Services and Operations when she took a chance and applied for the position of acting CEO. Before that, she was vice president of Corporate Marketing and Customer Care and prior to that she was vice president of Customer Services. To that list, add early positions such as head of Business Effectiveness and head of Top Quality Management (TQM). She knows her stuff. What she didn't know was that she would actually get the job as acting CEO. "My husband was the one who encouraged me to apply," she laughs, shaking her head in disbelief that the man she calls her "rock" and the "centre of her existence" actually convinced her to do the unthinkable. "I really didn't want to." She's been married 11 years. "He's very proud of me," she intimates. "Even though, I give a lot of time to the job and send emails during our conversations. But I won't have had both, my career and my marriage, without him." She met her husband, 12 years ago, on a yacht, in Jamaica, where she was expatriated at Nestlé Jamaica Limited as Information Services Manager.

She spent five years at Nestlé in Switzerland. She left the company as Regional Business Excellence Manager. "Nestlé developed me as a leader. It was an MBA in real business and real life," she laughs. But she's dead serious. "Nestlé had its own university. It taught me how to appreciate different cultures and how to embrace diversity. It really contributed a lot to my leadership and professional style." Soon after, she joined TSTT. Energetic leadership is what she brings to the boardroom. "The team, at TSTT, has been very supportive. As a team we are committed to seeing TSTT through to major success." Her optimistic spirit is contagious. It could even run you over. If you're negative get out of the way. "My vision for the organisation is to remain the market leader and to find new ways and unique opportunities to grow in revenue and reputation." The long term evolution of the organisation is top priority. "We must continue to create an environment where there's that energy for innovation."

Energy is in her DNA. "Growing up, I envisioned myself as someone who was going to get to the top of my career and be the best at what I did," she laughs, reminiscing about her early life in the South. "I wanted to be a medical doctor, until I realised I couldn't stand the sight of blood, and then I wanted to be an engineer in the energy sector. But a male neighbour who worked in the sector discouraged me when he said a woman in engineering would never be able to advance." The advice obviously fell on deaf ears. IBM was her first stop when she graduated from the University of the West Indies (UWI) with her B.Sc., a double major in computer science and mathematics. She began as a programme analyst.

Hard work had finally paid off for the girl from Grant Memorial Presbyterian Primary School and San Fernando Government Secondary School. "Education was very important in our home." She's channeling all the ambitions and expectations that came with growing up working class in Debe. "Our parents taught us to work hard." But she also had something very special: encouragement. "My parents were committed to making the best life for their children." She's the eldest of four and with that came a great responsibility; to be an inspiration in the lives of her siblings. "Each of us has been able to achieve something the other hasn't. But in all of us, there is determination and passion." Her brother is an educator, one sister is an engineer who lives in Houston and the other is a lawyer at a prominent local firm.

She whips out her smartphone and with the click of a finger takes me on a journey into her childhood. Old Polaroid photographs capture moments and memories of a wide-eyed child wondering what the world holds and imagining life outside the enclave of a small community and beyond the protective cultural and social barriers. "My parents were very protective." Her mother was a homemaker who eventually opened a small shop selling food. Her father was a city council labourer who drove a taxi as a second job. Her mother didn't think the new acting CEO position and the media exposure (or over-exposure) that came with it were worth the headache. "My mom is always concerned about my well-being, the stress of the job, about me being in the public eye." But her father said stick at it. "He has always pushed me."

She's ready for bmobile's launch of "the real 4G technology" which she claims is "much more than 4G." She explains the impact of this new technology will drive national development to far-reaching dimensions. "TSTT's 4G network is a vital national infrastructure. From doing business on the road to machine to machine technology, our new 4G network will enhance self-service ability to do business from anywhere and pretty much everywhere and generate new business opportunities and connections between consumers and producers." She's very passionate about steering the overall direction of the company. It motivates her. She's also adamant that under her stewardship progress is the only option through business integrity and a solid commitment to corporate governance. "Strong governance, ethics and an adherence to the rules and regulations, process and procedure, and a strong commitment to always providing a supportive environment," she adds in spirited tone. She knows that's a very tall order in a very tough job. "The wind blows harder the higher you climb."

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