Women to Watch: Kathrin Buvac, Chief Strategy Officer, Nokia

This article is part of a broader feature on women working in key engineering and technology roles in the telecom industry. To read other articles in this series, click here.

Since 2012, Kathrin Buvac has been the head of corporate strategy for Nokia, leading the division through the company’s acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent. Buvac’s job today covers the company’s wireless and wireline products, as well as the company’s Technologies business that ranges from virtual reality to digital health to patent licensing. “It’s huge and it’s complex,” Buvac acknowledged.

Buvac’s telecom carrier started at Siemens at the turn of the century, where she worked through a number of positions before joining Nokia in 2007 as the general manager of the integration program between Nokia and Siemens; the two companies inked a joint venture between their networks businesses in 2006. From there Buvac moved into Nokia’s strategic products before becoming chief of staff for the company’s CEO.

Buvac earned her master’s in business information systems from the University of Cooperative Education in Germany after obtaining her bachelor’s in business administration from the Open University in London.

Last year, Buvac spoke at a meeting of the United Nation’s Broadband Commission about gender diversity. “I think it’s worth sharing the positives and the challenges I have encountered in my 20 years in the sector. I think that’s very valuable for the younger generation, and also for peers actually,” she noted.

How did you get to where you are now? “I would qualify myself as a very good listener. I’ve always been as inquisitive as possible,” Buvac explained. “There are no silly questions, there are only silly answers.”

“The ability to listen, to listen to your own team, your peers, what they have to say, what they believe … listening to customers: so important. If you can’t listen to your customers, you’re toast,” she said.

Buvac added that she also has a strong desire to change and grow. “I’ve always challenged myself. … I’m hungry and humble at the same time,” she said. “I think I’ve always tried to move out of my comfort zone.”

“I think that’s just really who I am,” she said.

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your professional career? “I wouldn’t use the word ‘obstacles.’ ‘Challenges’ is the right word to use. And there are plenty of hundreds of challenges,” Buvac said.

Specifically, she pointed to her work to integrate Nokia and Siemens starting in 2007 as they tried to make their joint venture in their respective networks businesses a success. “It’s not easy to run a joint venture,” Buvac said. “That was a very, very rough time. … We fought for survival.”

But Buvac also points to more personal challenges, specifically the “rapidly shortening technology cycles of our industry.” She said the company had 10 years to make money from 2G, but with LTE that cycle has been much shorter.

“How can you predict the market?” she said. “That’s the constant challenge in my daily job.”

And, not surprisingly, Buvac also pointed to her role as a female in a largely male-dominated industry as a challenge. “It’s just that it’s harder to progress and harder to climb up the ladder,” she said. “When I started my career we were really lacking female role models.”

What advice would you give young women entering the workforce in your industry? “You need to be confident and believe in your own self-worth,” she said, adding: “The higher you get, the more lonely it gets as well.”

Specifically, Buvac urged others to “speak up in front of audiences” and make themselves heard, and also to “just be natural. Don’t change.”

What are you most excited about in the future? “The impact of technology on society” has huge implications, Buvac noted, adding that the “IoT could be bigger than internet.”

“We could really make people’s lives safer,” she added, pointing to Nokia’s work in the healthcare industry specifically. “I also believe technology could make our lives simpler and give us back time.”

“It’s fascinating times,” she added.