An early pioneer of the mobile telecommunications revolution, Michele Merrell’s career has witnessed the explosive growth of telecommunications in the 1990s to the integration of technology and telecommunications driving major portions of the global economy today. Having witnessed such momentous, explosive growth and change, Michele’s perspective is one of both a veteran and visionary, someone who is able to grasp the here-and-now as well as the never-before-seen.
That partly motivated Michele to start her own consulting firm, but she was also driven by a desire to help other companies drive brand expansion and create value with proven techniques and strategies that build relevance as well as sustainable models for future growth. Of course, a large part of developing strategies for future scenarios is having a deep understanding of current events and challenges that face societies and businesses across the globe. Touching upon that subject, Michele Merrell highlights some of the inequities that could pose challenges to growth in the future, including income disparity and a growing technology gap in certain segments of society.
Michele notes some specific setbacks introduced in the past few years due to the pandemic, such as mass migration to online meeting platforms and online learning, and the strain this has placed on networks and connectivity in general. Shifting the focus to her position within the industry as well as the numerous accolades she has won over her career, the concept of role models and mentorship comes into focus with a discussion of Michele’s mentors as well as her own position within a male-dominated industry. Concluding with a brief on her induction into the Forbes Councils, we round out our discussion with a look into Michele Merrell’s typical day as well as ask her a few questions about herself and her opinions of the world at large.
Michele, how did your career in tech and telecommunications get started?
I joined the mobile telecommunications industry in the early 1990’s and have seen the industry grow from 40-50% YOY in times of extreme growth. We have also seen the consolidation of various mobile operators both here in the USA and abroad. Much of this industry growth has led to better choices in less costly rate plans and more sophisticated mobile handsets and many new apps for consumers. At some point, telecommunications and technology converged and now mobile devices are like carrying a small handheld computer everywhere with us. The global impact of the mobile industry is truly amazing. Mobile technologies are a critical driver of the world economy, generating trillions of dollars in global revenue. The mobile revolution has accelerated innovation worldwide, boosting global GDP and creating new jobs across a vast array of industries. Being a part of this since nearly the beginning has been an amazing and exciting experience.
You have over 25 years of experience with a variety of companies. What led you to start your own consulting company?
I have worked in the corporate sector for a long time for several large global organizations, as well as some start-up companies. Over the years, many people have asked me to help them with specific business projects both in mature business settings and in start-up companies. Eventually, I decided to incorporate and work on the projects that I like the best.
What are the benefits clients have working with Merrell Consulting Group?
My experience ranges from highly entrepreneurial start-ups to private and publicly held organizations. I have held increasingly responsible roles in domestic and international organizations with Business-to-Business and Consumer audiences. My track record shows a proven ability to grow market share, improve demand generation and build brand relevance within various customer groups. Coupled with this, I have a very expansive personal global network across many industries, and this has helped my clients in their business development efforts.
What are some of the issues companies – and society – face in 2022?
One of the biggest issues facing companies is the shortage of workforce talent. The COVID pandemic has created a global “reset” right now with employees that may no longer want to work full-time and/or require flexibility in hours. Others may not want to work in one specific office location, and prefer to work from home remotely, or work as a hybrid model of both office and home each week. Companies are realizing they need to offer better flexibility in their employee offer packages.
Second, there is an enormous lesson we have learned from the pandemic. It is that the full-speed digitization of society is critical and that all people – regardless of ethnicity, geography, or income – must have proper computing equipment, tablets and other devices, as well as access to digital platforms and high-speed internet to compete on an equal basis in the modern world.
Disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” has placed a glaring light on this devastating technology gap, as U.S. school children and others around the world were forced to suddenly participate through “in-home” learning versus in-person learning. And with that, we saw the homework gap of children who did not have laptops, tablets, or basic high-speed internet or even the ability to get online due to lockdowns. This has placed millions of children at a learning disadvantage from which they may not recover. School districts scrambled to deploy online learning platforms – something that many universities and colleges had implemented years ago. In some cases, schools offered live “Zoom” learning sessions, and in others, children were expected to find posted assignments and then access the content, upload completed assignments, and take tests, all with extremely poor learning results. Parents – many who work full time – were suddenly working from home, learning the online teaching methodologies and monitoring homework right alongside their children. Additionally, digitization must take into consideration disabilities, language differences, how individuals will interact with their devices and in what kind of environment, and many other important factors.
Third, adults, who were suddenly forced to work from home and conduct online business meetings and conference calls, found themselves in nearly impossible situations with slow internet service, cyber security concerns, and frustrating reliance on landline phones due to disparity in connectivity from cellular towers.
For individuals and companies to remain at pace with peers and society, access must be guaranteed, not only to the internet, but to crucial services including telemedicine, e-commerce platforms, digital payment methodologies and banking platforms. With all this, there are ongoing cybersecurity issues that must be addressed to protect personal and workforce information.
Clearly, the pandemic has created a dramatic impact on the workplace and society as a whole. With all these issues that now must be considered, it has given the telecommunications and technology industries a great deal to think about as we move forward in a better coordinated manner.
You have won a variety of awards over the years for honors ranging from Woman of Distinction to NACD Board Leadership Fellow. What do the awards mean to you and your career?
My achievements have earned dozens of awards and recognition over my career for my business and leadership acumen. In 2020, I was honored with the Women of Distinction award from the South Florida March of Dimes, a non-profit organization. In 2019, I received the “Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award from Celebrating Women International. In prior years, I received the Women of the Channel Power 50 Award by CRN Magazine, an industry recognition. I was the recipient of the Florida Achievement Award from the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, part of the Office of the Attorney General, State of Florida. The South Florida Business Journal also named me as their “Businesswoman of Influence” recipient. The Diversity Journal named me as the recipient of their “Woman Worth Watching” award. It is always nice to be recognized within your industry or community for very hard work and leadership.
Do you feel that you are a role model for other women in a male-dominated industry?
Although we are still in the minority, I am fortunate to have many senior-level women as my role models and mentors in the telecommunications and technology industries. As a female Independent Director sitting on several corporate boards in the telecommunications and technology sectors, I am extremely passionate about increasing the number of women who hold board seats. As of 2021, a mere 25.6% of board seats were held by women in the 3,000 largest publicly held companies in America (BizJournals statistic). Much like the hiring practices of companies that require a diverse workforce, bringing diversity to corporate boards is a must for better representation and diverse perspectives.
What tips do you have for fellow female entrepreneurs?
Always get feedback to validate and continue upleveling your business. Whether it is feedback from mentors, or from customers, it is important to listen and then act on what you have learned. Keep up with your personal learning – become a “serial student” – of business, marketing, online techniques, finance, etc. The key to growth, innovation and success is knowledge. Every successful entrepreneur I have worked with is an avid learner who reads, listens to audio books, attends industry seminars or takes online or in person classes. Become an expert in your field and showcase your knowledge through speaking engagements, public relations or blogging. Minimize the negative people and doubters in your life. Keep moving forward. And, network, network, network. Cultivate connections and relationships with other successful business people and learn from them. Surround yourself with amazing people who support your goals.
What are some of the projects you are proud to have worked on?
In the world, there are only a few dozen countries remaining that have only one mobile operator for mobile cell phone service, which creates a “monopoly market.” Closest to the United States, the Bahamas was a monopoly market until very recently. As a long-time visitor to the Bahamas, and given my passion for the mobile industry, it was always my dream to break that monopoly, and bring better consumer choice and affordable mobile phone plans, better mobile devices and current mobile network technology to the citizens of The Bahamas. Five years ago, I worked with a team to respond to an RFP to bring a new state-of-the-art mobile operator entrant into the Bahamas, which had been a monopoly market for 25 years. After a lengthy process, we won the bid for the mobile licenses, and launched a new mobile operator company called Aliv, a brand which is the embodiment of the spirit of the Bahamas. The company has become highly successful over the last five years, and I sit on their Board of Directors as an Independent Director.
In January 2022, you joined Forbes Councils. What does this role entail and how will it help you as an entrepreneur?
The Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in business, communications, marketing, and public relations. I was vetted and selected by a review committee based on the depth and diversity of my senior-level global business experience, primarily in the mobile telecommunications and technology industries. Criteria for acceptance includes a track record of successfully impacting business growth metrics, tenure and experience in the marketing and communications field, as well as personal and professional achievements and honors. As an accepted member of the Council, I am invited to share insights and contribute articles on various business topics for publication on Forbes.com. I will also contribute content to published on Q&A panels alongside other experts. I am delighted to join the prestigious Forbes Communications Council as a thought leader and look forward to contributing timely and relevant articles that can help impact businesses and assist them in their mission to achieve growth targets.
Michele, what does a day in your life look like?
Hectic. I am up early every day and usually have a long list of what I need to complete each day. I plan my work, and work my plan.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am a world traveler, and went to school in Athens, Greece for a period of time. My time living there shaped my love of the Mediterranean culture, and I also studied ancient Greek and Roman culture. I go back to Greece, Italy and Turkey as often as possible.
Choose two of your favorite quotes and write them here.
1. “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” The way to manage our fear is to constantly take action steps forward, sometimes out of our comfort zone. Taking risks can help us build our resiliency to manage needless fear. We can create a fulfilling life when we accept that loss, change, mistakes and challenges are a part of life. If you can feel the fear and do it anyway, this changes any doubt to “I can handle it.”
2. “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” If you won’t be a leader, or follow a leader, get out of the way and stop blocking others around you who are trying to move forward.
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world, what would it be?
Most recently, the situation regarding the shocking invasion of Ukraine by Russia weighs very heavily on me as the horrendous news and humanitarian disaster unfolds day by day. Never in my lifetime did I imagine we would once again witness again the genocide of a people, along with the mass destruction of an entire country and infrastructure. It is utterly reprehensible.
If I could change just one thing in the world, it would be that we forever rid the world of these despotic totalitarian leaders who advance their own destructive personal world views with a goal of destroying the well-being, lives and countries of others. We see this time and time again throughout history in many countries, and history never looks kindly upon those who commit such atrocities.
For more information, please visit https://michelemerrell.com