‘Connectivity is now seen as a digital human right’

14 May 2019

Niamh Hodnett. Image: Three Ireland

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Three’s Niamh Hodnett tells us how her law background set her up for a career in the telecoms regulation field.

Niamh Hodnett is head of regulatory affairs at Three Ireland.

Hodnett qualified as a solicitor in 1998 and, prior to joining Three, she was a senior legal adviser with ComReg. She previously worked in law firms Matheson (Dublin), Mayer Brown (Brussels) and Allens (Sydney).

Hodnett lectures at the Law Society of Ireland and is a member of the EU and International Affairs Committee of the Law Society. She is also a qualified mediator and a member of the German-Irish Lawyers and Business Association.

Describe your role and what you do.

As head of regulatory affairs with Three, I have responsibility for all regulatory matters including telco regulation, consumer law regulation, competition law, cybersecurity regulation and data protection regulation. It’s a rewarding role and I get to work with some great people, both on my team and from other parts of the organisation.

I also work closely with my counterparts in other Three operators. We are all part of CK Hutchison Holdings Group, a renowned multinational conglomerate and a great source of expertise in the regulatory field.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

We are a very busy team, so organisation and prioritisation is crucial. We work from a WIP (work in progress) list and prioritise all the projects we are dealing with, and assign a priority ranking to them. So, matters which are both important and urgent get priority 1, and matters which are neither urgent nor important are assigned a priority 4. This helps to focus our efforts in the right direction and ensures that we don’t get distracted by things that are less important.

Personally, I live by my diary. As a working mum, I keep both my work and personal schedule in the same place, so it works logically and stops me from trying to be in two places at once – most of the time!

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Connectivity is now seen as a digital human right. Ensuring that there is sufficient investment in networks to deliver connectivity against the backdrop of the erosion of revenue by over-the-top (OTT) providers, and by regulation, is an ongoing challenge.

Also, with 5G, while the benefits are almost limitless, it will present a challenge from a regulation perspective. We need to ensure that 5G regulation does not stifle innovation and allows a financial return, which is imperative if we are going to see continued investment from the industry.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

We are involved in a number of exciting projects in the internet of things (IoT) space. Earlier this year Three was appointed to provide the ICT network for the ESB’s smart meters project. The initial phase will see the installation of 250,000 smart meters by the end of 2020 and will help customers make better choices about their consumption.

There are other exciting IoT opportunities in the area of connected cars, connected homes, agriculture and healthcare. This is a truly global market and the technology emerging is cutting-edge. I really enjoy the challenge of applying existing regulation to new, futuristic opportunities.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I studied law and German at UCC and completed a master’s in law at Universitat Passau, Germany. I qualified as a solicitor and obtained postgraduate diplomas from King’s College London and the Law Society of Ireland. As a stagiaire in the legal service of the European Commission, I became very interested in European law and worked in Brussels doing European, competition and regulatory law for a number of years. I gained increased expertise in the area of regulation from hands-on experience in my career to date. I also completed the senior executive programme with the IMI and have learnt a lot from being a people manager for more than a decade.

‘It doesn’t matter what stage you are at in your career – starting out, in the middle or at the pinnacle – we all make mistakes’

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I lecture ethics to trainee solicitors at the Law Society of Ireland, where I delight them with a litany of mistakes that I have made and what I learnt from them. The key learning is that it doesn’t matter what stage you are at in your career – starting out, in the middle or at the pinnacle – we all make mistakes. I think the best approach is to admit to it, take responsibility for the mistake, present a proposed fix, then implement the fix right away and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I think it’s important to spend time with your team. We have regular team meetings as well as individual one-to-one meetings. I appreciate them and ensure that recognition and credit is given for their successes.

I also try to ensure they have autonomy and work on interesting and challenging projects which are in their field of interest. They are all subject-matter experts and so it’s important to recognise that expertise and foster a working environment where we are all learning from each other.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

At Three there is a 50:50 gender split, which is really encouraging to see in an industry that would have been, in the past, traditionally male-dominated. There is also a great spread in terms of nationalities and age groups amongst employees, which brings a valuable diversity of thinking and perspective to Three as an organisation.

There isn’t a gender diversity problem in access to becoming a solicitor either, where the majority of the profession is now female. As a working mother with two amazing daughters and whose mother always worked also, I have so many thoughts on inclusivity! It is tricky to balance the competing priorities of family and work. To be more inclusive, we can recognise our reality, be upfront about it and have a plan as to how we are going to deliver on both important roles, to the mutual benefit of home and work. I am lucky to have a super co-parenting husband and a great, reliable childminder.

The benefits of diversity are clear. Ultimately, decision-making is stronger and better, more issues are spotted, and the decisions are made to a higher standard – subject to the checks and balances of diverse scrutiny.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career? If so, how?

I am fortunate to have had many mentors who have been pivotal in my career. They believed in me and gave me a chance. I owe the biggest debt of gratitude to my parents, who have always encouraged me to go for it.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I recommend European Law published by Oxford University Press and Regulatory Law in Ireland published by Bloomsbury Publishing, since I have co-authored these books! I am currently working on the sixth edition of European Law.

I am reading and enjoying Becoming by Michelle Obama.

I would also recommend all the Harry Potter books.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My phone is essential so that I am connected to my emails, calls, messages and diary. I also have a great team and helpful colleagues who are generous with their time and who I am learning a lot from. In addition, Three has an impressive learning and development programme with eLearning, which allows for flexible access to a wide variety of tools and resources.

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