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Andrew Walker: “Two technologies have the power to change our world”

Two technologies have the power to change our world — one a bit older, and the other brand new. The first is fiber — which has been deployed sparingly over the past 15 years, but with the pandemic and digital divide, is at the forefront of the public policy discussions at the moment. What has become abundantly clear about […]

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Two technologies have the power to change our world — one a bit older, and the other brand new. The first is fiber — which has been deployed sparingly over the past 15 years, but with the pandemic and digital divide, is at the forefront of the public policy discussions at the moment. What has become abundantly clear about fiber is that it was often deployed in suburbs and wealthier parts of cities, but that there are many urban and rural areas where it was not … to the detriment of students, families, healthcare and those economies.

The second technology that is very much at the fore right now is 5G — which essentially holds the promise of being able to deliver fiber-optic speeds over wireless networks. This could be a game-changer, as it’s much less expensive to connect homes via wireless than to tear up streets to run fiber-optic cables.

Ultimately, the best networks will incorporate both fiber and 5G to provide optimal coverage and speeds. The benefits will be that children will have access to online schooling and tutors, home healthcare will be a viable option, parents will be better able to work from home … basically, we’ll be able to eliminate the network side of the digital divide.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Walker, Senior Managing Director.

With more than 20 years’ experience, Andy leads Accenture’s Communications & Media Industry group in North America. In his role, he is responsible for setting the industry strategy, offering and IP development, developing and differentiating the business, and managing the network of thousands of professionals who serve the company’s Communications & Media clients in the region.

Working with some of Accenture’s most significant and senior client relationships, Andy’s experience includes leading complex business transformation programs, launching new and restructuring existing businesses, and has advised leaders across the industry on issues ranging from their fiber strategy to the profitability of their customers and products to margin improvement efforts. He has also been a strategic advisor on multiple mergers, acquisitions and divestitures across the industry.

Before his career in consulting, Andy spent four years serving as a policy advisor to several members of Congress. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and has been published in the M&A Journal, the Journal of Telecommunications, CFO.com and WSJ.com.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It was 2008 and the financial markets were collapsing. Businesses were failing, consulting projects were being put on hold, and the world was in a dark place. Amid the chaos, a Chinese High Tech company approached my company for help developing their global growth strategy. My boss at the time tapped me on the shoulder and sent me off to work in the Pearl River Delta of China. As I don’t speak any Chinese, I carried flashcards with basic phrases & directions, as well as a cell phone with my hotel phone number on speed dial so they could translate for me if I was in a pickle.

At the same time, our twins were three years old, and my wife is a high-powered professional. So I commuted to and from China for six months, racking up 450,000 United Miles and an untold number of sleepless nights as I often had to be on calls at 2:00 am with the client in China when I was back in the States for a few days.

The story I remember the most during this little adventure was when my daughter Alaina was stung by a bee at pre-school. Alaina was upset and the school needed my wife or me to come pick her up immediately. The school couldn’t get through to my wife, and they reached me in Hong Kong. I told them I was at work and couldn’t come … the teacher didn’t want any part of my clear mis-prioritization and was quite adamant that I drop what I was doing and get over there right away. Eventually, we tracked down my wife so she could pick up Alaina.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve got several that are near and dear to my heart and that I quote often and try to live by.

  • “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” — Hanlon’s Razor
  • “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — The Golden Rule

In any sort of intense work environment, it’s easy to misunderstand and misinterpret the actions of others. This in turn leads to conflicts and mistrust that can undermine and distract the team.

I’ve found that strong leaders focus their teams and the people around them on their shared purpose and goals, rather than getting weighed down by parochial issues and distractions. They also diffuse tensions created by misperceptions and keep people focused on the common goal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Exactly right. I started out as an analyst at a strategy boutique when I finished my MBA. I had no real business skills at the time and needed to catch up quickly. I was truly fortunate to land on a team run by a brilliant manager and consultant named John, who invested a ton of time and energy in helping me develop my professional skills.

John gave me tough assignments analyzing piles of data and reports and then would spend hours going through my approach & conclusions pushing me on my hypotheses, analyses, and reports. He read every word I wrote and suggested edits. He was meticulous and detailed, and I would spend hours every night after work re-writing reports and re-analyzing data sets. John invested a ton of energy into teaching me consulting, analytics, business writing, the application of the scientific method to business, and how to approach complex problems.

I now try to do the same with the people who work for me. I go through their presentations, papers and analyses, sometimes making hundreds of comments. I read every word and pose questions throughout so that they are pushed to be better and they develop their core skills.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I started my career on Capitol Hill with the idea that I could work within government to solve the world’s problems. Sort of a “Think Global, act National” approach. And, while I did have the opportunity to write a few Bills that we pushed into law, the impact was based on policy shifts by the government rather than changing a culture.

Fast-forwarding to my consulting career, I’ve focused my energies very much on a set of behaviors that I believe are critical to our ability to work together as a team and to bring goodness to the world. The behaviors can best be summed up across a few dimensions:

  1. Being committed to inclusivity and diversity
  2. Encouraging a growth mindset across my teams
  3. Promoting the free exchange of often radical ideas

My goal in emphasizing these behaviors is to create a work environment where people can have fun, challenge one another in a safe space, learn and grow. The outcome has been that our work is better … because our consultants feel comfortable exchanging and debating ideas that often lead to creative insights and solutions we might not have otherwise considered.

Beyond work, I actively work with George Washington University and their students to help prepare them for the working world and I am a long-time committed Sierra Club member who regularly cleans up the Potomac Riverbank.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Two technologies have the power to change our world — one a bit older, and the other brand new. The first is fiber — which has been deployed sparingly over the past 15 years, but with the pandemic and digital divide, is at the forefront of the public policy discussions at the moment. What has become abundantly clear about fiber is that it was often deployed in suburbs and wealthier parts of cities, but that there are many urban and rural areas where it was not … to the detriment of students, families, healthcare and those economies.

The second technology that is very much at the fore right now is 5G — which essentially holds the promise of being able to deliver fiber-optic speeds over wireless networks. This could be a game-changer, as it’s much less expensive to connect homes via wireless than to tear up streets to run fiber-optic cables.

Ultimately, the best networks will incorporate both fiber and 5G to provide optimal coverage and speeds. The benefits will be that children will have access to online schooling and tutors, home healthcare will be a viable option, parents will be better able to work from home … basically, we’ll be able to eliminate the network side of the digital divide.

How do you think this might change the world?

Thomas Freedman popularized the concept in The World is Flat that globalization had leveled the playing field for commerce. One of the key elements he noted that accelerated the trend was the advancement of telecom networks and software to interconnect us.

The Covid-19 pandemic has strained that system, because it turns out that while the schools, libraries and offices may have lightning-fast-networks, many people do not at home. The resulting quarantines have created clear lines between those students and workers who have access to networks and technology and those who do not. And those who do not get left behind … they struggle with online schooling, they cannot access telehealth, workers cannot work from home and have to put themselves in harm’s way to earn a paycheck.

5G and Fiber, particularly if we can create the right incentive structure to maximize their rapid deployment will level the disparities that have emerged in our economy.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

For all the positives of super-fast networks, we need to be mindful of privacy and I think the more people are aware of both what information they may be disclosing and their options when it comes to protecting their privacy, the better we will be.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

I’ve spent a good amount of energy on the challenges of building advanced networks over the years, including working for the government agency responsible for subsidizing connectivity to schools and developing the business case for fiber deployment for one of the major carriers.

That having been said, the implications didn’t hit home until April of 2020, when schools were closing, and we started to see that a lot of kids couldn’t get online to attend classes or get their assignments. An entire segment of our population couldn’t get online … and, in many cases, the people who couldn’t get online were from the most vulnerable segments of America. So, it was particularly heartbreaking to see the impact of the digital divide hit children.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

At the heart of the matter, it’s an economics and financing issue. Who is going to pay to build networks nationwide and connect everyone to the internet?

Building and maintaining advanced networks is neither cheap nor easy — so it comes down to how we line up the telecom carriers, federal and state regulators, the Administration and Congress to create the right incentive structure to accelerate the deployment of faster networks.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

The pandemic has shined a very bright light on a problem that’s existed for a while — and it’s very clear we need to address the digital divide in this country. People need to have access to high-speed internet connections for their jobs, education and training, and healthcare. It should be part of the infrastructure discussion that has been proposed by the Administration, and our Telecommunications policy in this country should be very focused on this issue.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Seek out different types of people to work with. There’s tremendous strength in having a network of people who think differently than you, and who you trust to provide their perspectives. The most powerful asset you can have at work is a broad and deep network. I ping people every day to get their thoughts and perspectives who all have different skills: people who trained as engineers, economists, English majors, people from all over the world with different cultural backgrounds. Doing so helps me bring broader, more insightful perspectives to my job & my life.
  2. Build a personal Board of Directors and actively work to keep the relationships with your Board fresh. Every time I’m going to make a major decision in my career, or if I need a broader perspective, I have conversations with my different Board members. On a very practical level, I didn’t make a big jump in my own capabilities as a leader until I engaged with two of my Board members who I used to meet with monthly. I would talk through my successes and challenges with them, and each would provide my counsel and coaching.
  3. Find purpose in your work. When I started out, I was just psyched to have a job and to be in the professional world. I had graduated during a recession with a degree in Philosophy, so finding a job wasn’t the easiest thing. Once I landed, I took on whatever challenges I could so that I could learn and grow, and to a large extent that has become of the key purposes I find at work … I love to learn. Even this last weekend, I spent several hours digging through old Harvard Business Reviews researching Talent Strategy for a project I’m currently engaged on … and to me that was fun.
  4. Learn to sell an idea. The ability to persuade people is an incredibly important life skill. You don’t convince people of your point of view based on how hard you pound the table or by pulling rank. You get there by listening, asking questions and leading the discussion to a place where another person can come to the right conclusion.
  5. Recognize that you have the very powerful ability to shape how others perceive you through how you present yourself to the world. Do people see you as professional or disheveled? Are your mannerisms deferential or assertive? Do the words you use make you seem educated, pompous, crude? I grew up in small towns in the Midwest, so the perceptions I created early in my career were that I was hardworking, midwestern-nice, and not particularly sophisticated. How will people perceive you when you start out?

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m optimistic about our society and its prospects. Still, we have a set of problems we need to recognize and address — things like the pandemic, global warming, racism and sexism, homelessness and hunger, our profligate deficit spending, etc.

The challenge that we have, and truly one of the greatest impediments to our democracy and society right now is the proliferation of inaccurate news, math and science, which undermines our ability to have constructive debates about how we solve our most pressing problems. Take as an example, global warming. The scientific community is united that we have a real problem and we need to take concrete steps to avoid catastrophe. Yet there is a substantial amount of non-fact-based “news” that obfuscates the issue and undermines our ability to solve it.

So, step one is that we need not be afraid of science and math … frankly, it would be enlightened to embrace it. Step two is that we need to have vigorous debates on how to solve our problems and be open to different perspectives. In the case of global warming, we should be debating whether we solve the problem using market forces (e.g, carbon taxes or incentives) vs. government rules vs. innovation.

The point being, if we can’t agree on basic facts, we’ll never be able to solve the myriad of problems we face as a people.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to stay active on LinkedIn. So, I try to post every week and to comment on issues and news that are on the mind of professions in the Communications, Media and Technology industry.

You can also find out more about Accenture’s Communications & Media group at:

https://www.accenture.com/gb-en/industries/communications-and-media-index

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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