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Leadership Built Right With Verizon’s Phillip French

5TT 48 | Leadership Built Right

To you future great leaders, here’s advice from someone who knows what it means to have leadership built right.
 
This show’s guest today is Phillip French, the Vice President of Network Engineering at Verizon Wireless.
 
Phillip shares valuable insights with Carrie Charles on how to create a collaborative, inclusive environment that encourages authenticity and fosters a sense of belonging. He reveals strategies that help make everyone feel valued and connected to reach their full potential.
 
Listen and learn how one of telecom’s great leaders operates his organization and empowers his team!

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Leadership Built Right With Verizon’s Phillip French

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. I have a special guest that I’m very excited about, Mr. Phillip French. He is the Vice President of Network Engineering for Verizon. Phillip, thank you so much for being on the show.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be on this show. I’m looking forward to a great chat with you.

Phillip, it’s interesting to hear so many things about you, your organization and your leadership style but let’s start with your journey. How did you get from where you are to where you are now? What were some challenges that you overcame along the way?

My journey is probably not as traditional as a lot of executives in bigger companies. I use that to my advantage, especially when I’m doing mentorship. A little bit of background, I started getting out of high school like a lot of young children trying to figure out what I want to do when I grew up. I ended up joining the US Navy. Though I had the grades to go to college, I thought that going into the military was going to help me maybe close the gap to figure out what I wanted to do. I did four years in communications. I started my career. In the Navy, I found that I advanced into leadership positions quickly. I at a young age, realized I was probably going to be a leader once I got out of the military and then into the industry.

I started with Sprint back in 1996. A long time ago, labor laws were a little different. I was a young man at that time. I did lots of technical roles in the beginning. The industry was booming back in the ‘90s. I got a chance to take leadership roles pretty young in my life. In fact, in my first leadership role, I was 24 years old at Sprint. I was a director level at 27. I spent about nine years over there at Sprint and then the last several years at Verizon. It’s been awesome. I’ve done all kinds of leadership roles from operations, technical roles and technical organizations to development roles. I’ve been blessed to have gotten a chance to work around some great people. Most of my journey to success through my career has been about the people around me making me better. It’s very rarely will I make someone else better.

Challenges in my career, there’s a ton of them. I probably follow the path of most. For me, rolling out new technologies was difficult. There are a lot of technologies that we work on. We were putting those technologies together as we were rolling them out. We were learning a lot and making adjustments. You learn in your career how to make quick rapid adjustments. We call it the fail-fast model. I’d rather fail fast and have the perfect product. That follows my leadership approach as well. That was a challenge. I didn’t start getting my degree until my 30s. I got my final degree when I was 39. That helps me too sometimes when I’m mentoring folks to let folks that don’t have degrees right out of college understand that there’s a traditional path.

I was doing my day job as being an executive in an S&P 20 company. At night, I’m trying to be a decent father, my best I could do as a father. Once everybody went to sleep, I’m working on that college degree. For folks out there that don’t have a degree, keep working on it. Don’t give up on it. You can do great things without a degree but a degree is going to give you more opportunities and open more doors. I have learned that respect itself is not given. It’s earned. As a leader, you’ve got to work really hard on making sure you’re earning the respect of your organization.

Taking accountability for the mistakes you make. I make a lot of mistakes. I’m proud of the mistakes I made. I’m pretty transparent about the mistakes I make and then the things that I’m doing to be a better leader. I’m far from perfect but I have a lot of passion to get that far. Take a lot of risks early. Be willing to fail fast. It’s okay to fail. We all fail. We fail all the time as leaders. What matters is the plans we’ve put around those failures, to get better and then making sure that in the future we don’t want to repeat the same failures.

[bctt tweet=”Most of your journey to success will be about the people around you helping to make you better.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

I don’t have answers to most questions. I tell people all the time. That’s why I’m in an organization with diverse thinkers. They come around and solve the problems for me. Usually, I’m the one throwing the problems out, leading on the incredible organization and people I’m around to solve the problems in this industry. Ultimately, what I try to start my mentorships lessons with is simple. I try to approach every employee and treat them the way I’d want to be treated if I was on the flip side. Be the human aspect being empathetic, not trying to solve every problem they have and making sure that I’m listening to the advice. I’m being mentored probably more by mentees than they realize during the mentor sessions.

Everything you said could be in a book.

I’m available out there if somebody is looking for a book they want to write. It might be a short one with a lot of pictures but I’m willing to spend some time out there if somebody wants to write about that.

With your role at Verizon, talk about that a bit. How many people are on your team?

I have a fairly decent size organization. I have about 1,250 employees and that adjusts probably every day. I have 500 additional contractors that I’m responsible for the design and performance aspect, as well as the deployment of the radio access network along with the fiber network. It’s a big organization. It has a lot of real estate. It’s a lot of responsibility but it’s an awesome job. It’s probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I’m super blessed on that perspective.

When I think of transformational and engaging leadership, I think of you. Your picture is if we still had dictionaries, it would be right next to those words. What’s it like to be on your team? What’s the culture and the environment?

I’m always developing as a leader. I would never want anyone to think that I had by far a lot of the answers. The culture of my team is all about the 1,250 employees that are here. If you can look behind me, there’s a word cloud that was put together by the organization. We did an exercise at the end of 2020. We gave everybody an opportunity to provide a word or a phrase that they thought best laid out either the culture or the objectives of our organization, who we wanted to be or continue to be. You can see all the words in there. I played a small part of that word cloud. I didn’t adjust any of it.

That’s what the team put together. What’s important about that is that’s what’s important for my culture. My organization is about all of us as a whole organization. It’s not about the leaders. We check our egos at the door. We make sure that every 1,250 employee’s voices are heard in some aspect and making sure that they have a way to contribute to the team. I hire great employees. My job is to get out of their way, let them go do incredible things and they do that. I have to keep that in mind all the time. I’m eager to be involved, to learn and to challenge the organization to be better, which I do all that. I have to remind myself often that I have great employees.

5TT 48 | Leadership Built Right
Leadership Built Right: You can bring your authentic self to work. We don’t have to hide behind who we are, who we’re not. We should love each other for who we are.

My job is to get out of their way and let them do the magic. They do incredible magic. I put the word family in there. I think of my organization as a family. It occasionally could have some dysfunction but generally, we rally around each other. We pick each other up when we fall down. Some days we have good days. Some days we have bad days. We celebrate successes. We show empathy. Sometimes we bond together when there’s a disaster. We make sure we rally. There’s no challenge in front of us that we can’t get through as an entire organization. It’s important that we’re an organization of integrity. We make sure that we understand the vision, the importance and value of customers and putting the customer first in almost everything that we do.

Even when things get complicated, we always circle back to how is this going to impact the customer? We should be asking that question all the time. It’s important to me that we have a lot of fun here. We spend more time at work probably during the week than we do with our families. We want it to be a fun environment. We work hard but we set lofty objectives. We want to have fun while we’re doing it. We want to make sure that we’re always curious and hungry to learn something new. We play a part in our communities through volunteerism. We build a team that looks like the communities that we live and the customer base that we solve problems for networks. With how many people in this role and I remind my organization this all the time can impact 120 million people. That’s a burden sometimes because that means we’ve got to bring our A-game every day but it sure is something pretty incredible to celebrate. That tells you a little bit about the culture of my team.

How would you describe your personal leadership philosophy? In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

First of all, a great leader is one that realizes they don’t have the answers to the problems that are out there. The answers are easily found when you take the opportunity to utilize the power and energy of the entire organization. That’s important to me. We’re always evolving as leaders. I’m evolving. I’m not the leader I was years ago. The leader I’ll probably leave this industry as will be hopefully a much better leader than the leader now. I’m always setting the standard each day to get better. I’m realizing that there are a lot of opportunities. I want to make sure that people create an environment around me and the organization that I’m a part of that you can bring your authentic self to work. We don’t have to hide behind who we’re not. We just stay who we are and love each other for who we are.

We have a lot of respect. Diversity is super important to me. It comes in so many forms and I don’t do it for the traditional reasons. I do it because I’ve learned a long time ago that groupthink is probably one of the worst things that can happen in an organization that I’m a part of. I want folks out there challenging the way I think as a leader, challenging me to get together. I’d like to start the year, January 1st on a performance improvement plan with them. My job is to work my way out of that improvement plan as a leader. You can ask. Maybe a couple of them will comment on this story at the end if I’ve done a good job this 2021.

Let me highlight that. You said you start out on a performance plan as a leader. Talk about that a little bit more. That’s fascinating.

I always treat it like every day I have to come here, earn the credibility and respect of my team. The things that I did last year were good enough for last year but they’re not going to be good enough for this year. Every year I’ve got to find something to do better that’s going to make the team around me better. People always say, “You’re a vice president. It’s a great job and great money,” All of that’s there but what’s important is realizing that as a leader, I have a tremendous responsibility to my organization to help the team get better. First, I have to show as a leader by example that I’m willing to get better and I work very hard. We run the crisis in this organization.

Most people get nervous when there’s a crisis. I wish there was no crisis but they’re out there. When we see one, we want an organization that’s going to run to it. We’re going to put the entire 1,250 employee workforce behind it. We’re going to solve problems. Together we can do that. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to continue to learn from them. I’ve talked about this a bunch of times. If you’re going to come into my organization, you’re going to understand we’re going to make a lot of mistakes and that’s because we’re not going to study things too long. We’re going to react to them with facts and data, along with that, with the experience of the team. There’s no problem we can’t solve together.

[bctt tweet=”When things get complicated, always circle back to how it’s going to impact the customer.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

What happens when someone doesn’t perform? What do you do for that individual? You’ve got leaders beneath you. You’ve got all of these different people that can help with that. What’s your philosophy on when people fail to perform?

It happens when you have a big organization for lots of different reasons. It’s not the fun part of the job sometimes dealing with it. What is important is we address the problems early. We always have to, as leaders are empathetic in the beginning. Empathy can be confusing but it’s listening to what’s going on. Often when an employee who has strong performance suddenly has a shift in performance, there’s usually something going on in their life that we need to be empathetic to, understand and factor that into whatever decisions we’re making to help the employee.

We have tremendous resources here at Verizon to help employees. Generally, something’s changed in their life and I can relate to that. Years ago, I went through a divorce. It was tough trying to go through a divorce and still come to work with my big, shiny and smiley face knowing that there was a lot of stress there. That’s number one. Number two is we get down to resources when issues are happening. Those can be through resources at the company. They could be as simple as training. There’s a whole bunch of things. It’s putting an action plan together with that individual employee. Making sure that we’re visiting those action plans, we’re looking at measured success and occasionally, making sure that this is still the right environment for an employee.

I know that it sounds harsh but the environment can change. It’s better to address that early and often versus letting it fester. What I see is probably 90% of the time when we have those types of issues, if we rally around the employee, we figure out what’s going on and we work with them, as long as they want to reciprocate, usually the outcome’s positive. Occasionally, we have the tougher decisions that need to take place. That’s a responsibility as a leader. It’s not something I love but if we have to go down those paths, we have to be prepared as leaders to do that too. Ultimately, I have an obligation to the shareholders of this company and to the employees around me to make sure that I’m pushing everybody to bring their A-game and do their part in the organization.

You have transparency as a leader and that’s so important to employees and candidates from where we’re looking from. As a staffing firm, candidates always love that transparency. I heard that you have an all-hands meeting once a month. What is your intention behind this? What do you think it does for the team and the company because that’s a lot of people to have on one call?

I wish all 1,250 showed up. We probably average 85%, 90% of the organization. People are on vacation. With that said, it’s important I do a lot around making sure the employees of my organization understand what’s going on in the business. There’s a lot changing every day in the business and the ecosystem. The all-hand is my opportunity to get in front of the employee base. We call it the Real Talk. Transparency is important to me. That’s a double-edged sword, I will tell people. It’s easy to say people want transparency, they just don’t want it about themselves. With that said, we try to be very transparent.

We go in there. We talk about things that have happened right in the organization, changes, tough discussions, decisions. We make sure that we highlight celebrations of individuals in teams during those meetings. We’re talking about any changes to any of the pillars in the organization, if it’s a customer or shareholder. We always have to make adjustments. We have real talk discussions around topics that are happening. We’ll have a real talk meeting coming up. We’ll talk about some of the violence in the Asian community and how we’re an organization that doesn’t support violence. We’ll rally around each other. We’ll make sure that our Asian brothers and sisters in this organization understand that’s not tolerated. We will support them. We’ll be around each other and for each and there for each other during tough times.

May is Asian Heritage Month. We celebrate Asian Heritage Months. We celebrate Women’s History Month. We try to make sure in there that we focus on pioneers in the industry. Maybe generations before us to the individuals in our organization now that are pioneers. We try to highlight a few of those. Those are pretty fun. A couple of those you could see. We tried to put those on LinkedIn as well. We’re making sure that we’re celebrating our successes. We’re talking about the issues that sometimes are difficult to talk about even business-wise that are taking place. We have a Q&A session. I make sure that I’m answering the questions directly from the employees. Whatever I can’t get to at the end of the meeting, we’ll capture and follow up within 24 hours on an email.

5TT 48 | Leadership Built Right
Leadership Built Right: Leaders have an obligation to the shareholders and employees of the company to make sure they’re pushing everybody to bring their A-game.

It’s about in my organization making sure that people have access to me. My job is to get out of their way. When there are things that I’m doing that are getting in the way of the businesses, I’m answering those questions and I’m helping remove roadblocks and obstacles. There are lots of other ways. I have a website internally that the team can ask me questions at any time. That’s a place for data where we capture meetings like this for replay. We make sure that we’re celebrating all of the great things going on in the business. There’s a lot we do. I try to make sure every employee gets a birthday email from me.

There are a few employees that may opt-out of that for lots of reasons. We surely don’t want to pressure anybody. They get an anniversary card that has an annual year that they’ve been here. I would give my seventeenth year one. It goes on a license plate that we give to an employee so employees can have these license plates with the years they’ve been here. It’s a way to recognize the incredible work, time and effort they put into making us a great company.

We make sure that new employees get an email from me directly welcoming them into the business, talking about the culture of our entire organization, resource guides for the business and making sure that I have that one-on-one connection with every employee. I wish I could everyday talk to every employee but I make sure I’m accessible. Anybody can text me in my organization and set up a time. I’ll call them. We’ll make sure we’re making time. It’s all about making sure we lean on each other. That’s a little bit about my real talk meetings. They’re pretty exciting for me. We get a lot of traction there.

Developing people is one of the challenges for leaders. It’s tough. It’s like how do I attract, retain, develop and make sure that I can develop people enough to where they’ll stay and they feel engaged? That’s the number one reason why people leave jobs is because there’s no future. There’s no development. They don’t see that their company’s investing in them. I know that you and Verizon do this well. Tell me a little bit about how do you develop talent or people? How do you develop leaders then too?

I’m very fortunate that this is a huge priority at Verizon. There’s an incredible amount of resources there. What I do is make sure that we have a strong bench. We’re always working on that bench that’s replenishing the leaders that are leaving, the leaders that are jumping to different organizations and even the ones that are transitioning out of the business. I’m always doing my best and part of why I invest so much time into employees is I don’t want too many employees to leave the organization. It’s okay if they’re leaving for promotion within Verizon but I don’t want people leaving Verizon too often. I’m making sure I’m investing to try to minimize those impacts.

We have lots of different programs in the company. I have quite a few in my organization, some of the top talent and making sure that we’re getting them in our leadership meetings. They get some exposure to what it’s like to be in a director meeting, especially a two-day director meeting where we’re going through lots of different organizational enhancements, improvements and discussions around technology and making it a better workforce or a better place for people to work. Those leadership meetings can be intense. I want them to experience that ahead of time and make sure that’s something they want to do for the next step. I’m making sure that we’re giving them special projects so they can go out and show their leadership and learn to set up mentorships. It’s important that employees have mentors.

I remind people that mentors aren’t always about connecting with the next level or to a leader but it’s about finding someone that’s going to help you grow in your position. It’s okay to fire a mentor. I have lots of mentees. I don’t have a problem if one of them wants to fire me. If I’m no longer adding the value that they need, maybe it’s for the next position, that’s okay. Making sure that we have programs that are putting employees in front of business challenges, letting them solve them, and making sure we’re doing mock interviews all the time with our top talent employees. We sit in as a leadership panel. We go through it. We give strong feedback.

It’s not easy. We remind them that feedback’s a gift. We do it sometimes with transparency but the intention is with love to make them understand we’re trying to make them better. They’re going to hear some tough feedback in those interviews but that feedback, if they go back and make the adjustments will make them stronger candidates as they start to progress in their career. We want to build confidence in our leaders. It’s simple. It’s easy to say that, “I want to be a leader.” It’s harder to build the confidence in folks so that they’re ready to make those big steps moving forward.

[bctt tweet=”Mentors aren’t always about connecting with the next level. It’s about finding someone that’s going to help you grow in your position.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

Phillip, mentorship is important to you. In fact, I know a couple of your mentees that are wildly successful. I want to talk a little bit about that because mentorship is so important for people to grow in their careers. Tell me about the formal as well as the informal mentorship that you do. You also have one-on-one mentoring as well. You have a program like that. Let’s talk a little bit more about that.

I’m so blessed to be a mentor. I can’t say that enough. I remind people, even my mentees that I don’t have the answers to their problems. All I do is have perspective. If they’re able to listen to the perspective and utilize a small part of it to solve their problems, that’s great but the reality is they already have the answers. All I’m going to do is give them hopefully a path or two to success. I haven’t turned on mentees probably a dozen within the company that I have a formal program. They’re on my calendar. We’re meeting at some frequency going through a formal program. When I say formal, they’re generally semi-informal sessions. It depends on the mentee, where their challenges are and what I’m probably running them through.

They have a little bit of homework between sessions to work on nothing that’s going to overwhelm them. It’s stuff to help them build the building blocks. Externally, we’ve talked to a dozen out there in the industry. A fair amount of them has left Verizon, probably half of them. Half of them I’ve met through the industry over the years. I was talking to a mentee at PayPal. She was running a challenge through with equipment. We were catching up. It was pretty interesting because she was asking me for the solution, even though she was already telling me how to solve the problem. I reminded her, “You already told me how to do this.” She was thinking, “You’ve made such a difference in my career and responsible for my growth.”

I reminded her, “That’s not true. All I did is a couple of times give you a little bit different point of view. You solved all the problems yourself. You should be crediting yourself the 99.9% of your success.” I share that 0.01% with a lot of people. It’s being there and providing that. The one I have the most fun with is I’m passionate about giving back to veterans, especially veterans that are transitioning. I have a mentee, Corey. I won’t say his last name. He may or may not want to be associated with me. He’s a 27-year veteran coming out of the US Army. That’s a scary thing when you’ve been in control your whole life and your career then suddenly, you’re going into the civilian role.

I’m helping him through lots of different exercises and prepare him for Corporate America, which he’ll be outstanding. He’ll be great. I told him, “You’ll be so much better than I was when I came out. You can do so many great things and the world needs that kind of leadership. It’s a different type of leadership.” Some company is going to be lucky. It’s building those blocks so Corey has confidence when he enters the workforce and he realizes that at the end of the day, leadership is about understanding each other and finding solutions to problems together.

For people who want to find a mentor, how would you suggest going about it? Has people come to you and said, “Phillip, would you be my mentor?” Does it happen organically? How should people in their careers approach someone to be their mentor?

I missed probably one of the most important things. Mentorship is 100% on the back of the mentee. You as a mentee or as a person out there looking for mentors should be seeking out mentors. You should take the burden 100% on yourself to do that. It’s great if you’re an organization that there are formal programs and all that. You can go find people that have the same paths to the journeys that you want to take and that you set up those formal relationships. You do a one-on-one the first time you interview each other. Often it will work out, but sometimes you got to be honest with each other it’s not the right connection. If I was mentoring somebody in the nursing industry here and it was their first week, I might be able to give them some mentorship around leadership but I surely would not understand the industry or help them with the path on how to progress in nursing. Probably it wouldn’t be a great connection at least early on.

That’s important that you’re matching it. It’s funny. I probably mentor more women than men. I don’t know why that is. I always remind women that it’s good to have a male and a female mentor. There are perfect examples. I am not going to be able to relate to some of the challenges that women have gone through. I can from a theoretical perspective but not from a real-life perspective. There are things that I might not be able to help someone with. I can figure out how to solve a problem maybe but I can’t tell them how to navigate through a problem themselves or give them examples.

5TT 48 | Leadership Built Right
Leadership Built Right: We need to have a customer base that’s extremely diverse. That’s why our leadership team needs to look diverse to look a lot like the employee base.

Making sure you interview the person out there that you’re wanting to have as your mentor. It might sound important. “Phillip is my mentor. I’m going to be great. He’s a VP.” That doesn’t mean that I’m going to be a great mentor for a lot of frontline employees. I usually want to match them with a manager or director that’s gone through the path they’re about to go through. I have been on that path for years. The industry has changed tremendously, the ecosystem, the environment, society and the pressure that’s on us to be better social leaders, be better leaders in our communities. All that stuff has changed so much since when I’m going through that first step. I might not be a great mentor for a first-level manager.

We’ll take time to give them some coaching and some idea but as far as a formal mentor, I might not be the best. It’s making sure you’re matching yourself. There are so many people out there that want to give back. It’s pretty easy to find mentors if you ask. I promise you, folks out there reading this, there are so many leaders in this industry and it’s an honor to give back and to share a little bit. Keep in mind that they don’t have the answers. All they’re going to do is to give you perspective to the problems that you’re going to see and the opportunities on how to grow your career.

You will not get anything unless you ask. It’s the first step. You talked a little bit about diversity, equity and inclusion, can you talk a little bit more about how do you foster inclusion on your team? It’s a hot topic for leaders out there.

I’ve been pretty lucky in the aspect that I grew up in a fairly diverse environment. I grew up in a pretty diverse culture in the military. Neither one of them are perfect. In fact, I would argue that Corporate America is not perfect. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. With that said, there is a lot that can be done. First, we understand why diversity is important. We’re honest with ourselves on what that means. It can be a little different for each of us. I represent an organization as well. My job is to explain the importance of diversity to 1,250 employees. Knowing that not every 1,250 employees are going to embrace it, that doesn’t mean they won’t embrace it for the traditional reasons we might think of it. It’s because they might not understand it.

At the end of the day, what I try to do is make sure people understand that, number one, I have a customer base that’s extremely diverse. If I’m going to represent that customer base and have that connection with the customer like I should, then I need to look like them, think like them, act like them. Those are going to be different. Those folks that we’re representing as customers. The same thing goes for my leadership team. I have a very diverse organization. It’s not perfect work to do. I talk about it with transparency in my organization on the areas that I’m focusing on to get better but our leadership team needs to look diverse to look a lot like the employee base.

It’s important to me that we’re focusing on that. We’re identifying the areas where we have gaps or going out and solving those gaps. Partnering up in the industry in a lot of areas in this way and how we divert. We find new talent that’s diverse, companies like yours. It’s got to be a priority for a company like that we’re working with now and in the future that we’re bringing in diverse talent. It’s not for the namesake of diversity. It’s for the fact that we’re working on programs that help grow the diversity numbers in ways that will add value both to the person being developed and to the company. That’s important to me. It’s talking about why it’s important. We’ve got to go out there and keep challenging ourselves. It used to be easy years ago to say, “It’s okay not to have a close to 50% workforce because we’re engineers.”

There are not as many women engineers. That’s an easy cop-out years ago. That’s not acceptable now. There’s no way you should accept that as a leader. There are so many great ways to go out there and find female Black, Asian or Latinx folks out there. We need to continue to keep working on that in the industry. It’s going to take a lot of small wins to get to the bigger wins. There’s no magic wand. I wish there was. We at Verizon and in my organization, keep looking at that metric. We keep seeing improvement. What’s incredible is my organization gets better every time I do that. It’s a win for me as a leader. I’m bringing diversity. I’m getting better as an organization and I can see that in so many different ways.

Action is the key. You’re taking action and it’s behind your commitment. I’ve heard, Phillip, that digital inclusion is also one of your key commitments. What does that mean to you? How do you express that?

[bctt tweet=”At the end of the day, leadership is about understanding each other and finding solutions to problems together. ” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

Digital inclusion is big in the industry. It’s big in government. We have a big state government diversity team that we partner up with. I let them make sure that they focus on that area. Digital inclusion comes down to making sure we are taking and leveraging all the technology. There are so many technologies out there to be released at Verizon. We were in the midst of deploying a couple of critical ones. We are making sure that as we look at our opportunities, that we’re always keeping the fact in mind that digital inclusion is important. It’s probably never been more important coming. We’re going through the COVID pandemic and seeing the shift in the workforce, looking at the shift of scrolling and making sure that we, as a company is leveraging all our resources to bring all the power of technology to all communities in an equal form that allows the communities to grow, especially when we come out of COVID.

The world will look a little different. It won’t look like the world before we came into COVID. It hopefully won’t look like the world when COVID was starting to come out. We now know it’s going to be different and making sure that we continue to build on those blocks so that everybody has access to the technologies that are available. It’s important to us that we have those conversations at local tables within our communities. We’re meeting with community leaders. We do a lot of that through our community outreach teams.

We, as a network team, are playing a part in those meetings. We’re out there listening to what the communities are saying, where their challenges are and making sure that when we have the resources that we can apply, that we’re making those resources clear to those communities. It’s incredible when you do that and the reward of seeing a community’s reaction to companies that care is priceless. There are not too many things that at least for me as a leader will pull at the heartstrings of more than watching a community. Thank you for listening to what they had to say and finding ways to solve their problems. I’m lucky to work for a company that is a priority. I’m pretty fortunate that way.

Community involvement, engagement and volunteering are something that I know are important to you. We’ve talked a little bit about it. I want to know how you do facilitate this engagement, this volunteering but most importantly in the remote world, I know that not all of your team members sit in the same city as you. How do you facilitate this culture of giving back when people are spread out?

There is a chart behind me. It’s one of the bigger words there, which means it means a lot to unemployment. First of all, you’d have to start with realizing that most employees already are giving back in some form. It’s already important to them. That’s number one. Number two, with the younger generation, it’s so much more important when they’re looking at companies that they realize that companies integrate into their personal lives and their personal beliefs. A lot of that is around volunteerism, community outreach and giving back to the communities you’re a part of. It’s important for this younger generation that is coming through.

Companies that choose to ignore it are going to lose on the opportunity to get some of the best employees out there. The ones that take this seriously, they’re going to get some of the great employees. With all that said, that’s the greedy Phillip leader perspective. An awesome part of mine is when you go out to these communities and you make a difference to what it means to them. What we do here is we have volunteer challenges in the business and the organization rising, our goal is four hours per employee per year. It’s a small number. My goal is to blow away past that. We try to do a monthly event as an organization. All 1,200 of us try to get on there. The success rate of that can be as high as 700 to 800. It could be as low as 200.

By the way, if you’re a leader out there and you’re saying 200 out of 1,200 is not great, that’s outstanding. There are two people, one person out there doing something that matters. We’re going to solve problems in this world with small blocks and not by big magical solutions. Frankly, we have magical solutions out there. We do these walks. We give people time to get on a walk. We’ll take on a tough challenge. We’ll do something around Earth Day. We’ll do an event that we’ll actually go to. My organization will pick up trash. That will all be on video and we’ll have a discussion. We’ll talk about what this means to us and why it’s important. Why is it important to be out there for an event like this? Why with two bags of trash that we each collect, what a difference we can make?

We’ll talk a lot in our calls about how things impact each of us differently. We’ll go on to Asian Heritage Month in May and we’re going to have some tough discussions with the stuff that’s going on in the communities around us. We’re going to address it right there. We had no tolerance for things like hatred in Verizon, in my organization and how we rally around each other. We’ll share stuff. There’ll be an Asian community member on my team that will probably share a story that will bring most of us almost to tears. That’s the kind of organization that we have.

We’ll learn from that person. We’ll learn how to understand the next time we see one of our brothers or sisters out there to think a little maybe differently. Maybe their path isn’t that much different than the path of the black community that we’d spent so much time talking about in 2020. What’s most important is we’re rallying around each other. We’re talking about how much we care for each other. We let ourselves and others in the community. I can’t say enough. With LGBTQ in 2020, we had an employee come out, the outpouring in my organization for the love of her. I won’t mention her. Maybe she has her story to tell. When she told that story there, people were in tears. She got an outpour of love from people letting her know that didn’t know her, how much we’re there for each other. Those things matter. Those things you can’t teach. I try to tell people, there’s a lot of things I can’t teach. I can’t teach culture. There are 1,250 employees creating this. It surely was not me.

5TT 48 | Leadership Built Right
Leadership Built Right: Find something that’s fun and that you’re passionate about. Chase a career and make sure that career is something you love doing.

You’ve said multiple times, “We’re there for each other.” I’m moved by that because that in itself says it all. It’s important. We spend the majority of our time being alive at work or working. The principles that you’re talking about and the culture that your team has created and you’ve created is a beautiful life to be involved with a culture like that where everyone is out for each other’s best interest and lifting each other up. I want to ask you though. If you could give one piece of advice to a young person entering their career in telecom or technology, what would it be?

If I give them one piece of advice, there are so many things I would tell them. What I would tell them that’s most important is to make sure you’re having fun early because if you’re not having fun early, it won’t be fun later. Find something that’s fun and that you’re passionate about. That’s okay to make a few adjustments until you find that but don’t just chase a job. Chase a career and make sure that career is something you love doing. That’d probably be the one thing. I have a whole bunch of 2 and 3s right behind that.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring leader? Someone who’s not in leadership but they want to get into leadership.

Make sure you take that path forward fully in your control. Don’t let someone else dictate or control that for you. Take absolute control of that future. Make sure you’re paving the way. Use your mentors to help you with doing that. Be a trailblazer. Don’t be a follower. Make sure that you’re taking ahold of your career. Don’t let your leaders do that. Make sure you own that. I tell people that all the time.

We have to do a follow-up episode for sure, a webinar or maybe I’ll write the book with you. This is exciting. There is so much valuable content here. Phillip, I am so excited about what you’ve created and hearing the culture on your team, as well as the culture at Verizon. Where can we go to find out more about open jobs at Verizon?

They can go to Verizon.com/careers. That’s a great place to start. We’re always looking for folks to come to join Verizon. There are always opportunities. It’s a fun culture. Keep in mind that even if it’s not the organization’s culture, it’s what we want it to be. Each one of you can change that by making sure you’re playing an active part in driving the culture to what you want it to be. I can’t state enough about the culture of my organization. It’s not about me. I did not create this culture. All I did is open a door to that. This culture here is about the total organization. We’re far from perfect but we’re going to get a little bit better. We’re going to make sure that when we do that, we’re having a lot of fun.

This has been a pleasure, Phillip. Thank you so much for being on the show. I learned a lot. I’ll take notes and implement this. Maybe I’ll call you to be my mentor.

I would welcome that. Thank you for letting me have this opportunity. For the folks out there, if you could take one little tidbit and it makes a difference, it’s great. Not everything that I say here is going to work for you and that’s okay. It’s a pleasure to talk about this. It’s a pleasure to be part of a time of my life where I can give back more, I could share through wisdom and experience. It’s the ultimate reward for a great career is the ability to share what I know. With that said, thank you so much for letting me have this opportunity. You don’t let me out of the think tank too much. I’m glad to have an opportunity.

Thank you so much for being on the show. I truly appreciate you. We will do a follow-up. We’ll talk soon. Take care.

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About Phillip French

5TT 48 | Leadership Built RightPhillip French is the Vice President of Network Engineering at Verizon Wireless. 

Phillip is a transformational executive with an impressive history of surpassing ambitious business goals and delivering notable results. A dynamic professional with extensive experience building mutually beneficial cross-functional partnerships, leading highly effective teams, and delivering innovative strategies to successfully grow talent, drive employee engagement, and promote accountability and awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion.

Phillip has 30 years of leadership experience with a consistent record of positioning organizations for success in the planning and implementation of Network strategies, infrastructure, and enhancements. He successfully launched one of the first 5G networks in the world and built one of the most advanced fiber-optic networks. Across his career, he has led a wide range of business units spanning from Software Development, Outside Plant, Operations, RF Design and System Performance to Engineering. Phillip has a proven history of overcoming complex business challenges and making high stake decisions using experience-based judgment, a strong work ethic, and impeccable integrity. He understands the value of human capital and leverages this by mentoring talented professionals to lead by example and model the Verizon credo.

Currently, as Vice President of Engineering for the West Territory, Phillip is responsible for the design, implementation, and densification of the fiber optic network, along with the 5G and 4G wireless networks. This includes transport, real estate, construction, equipment evolution, program management, budget management, planning, as well as switch and data engineering of the network across 28 states. Under his leadership, the West reclaimed Root Metrics’ dominance and has positioned itself to evolve into an expansive 5G Network. Prior to this role, Phillip was responsible for the Engineering, Operations, RF Design and System Performance of the Pacific Market, which covered 5 states on the West coast.

Other positions Phillip has held during his career at Verizon include Executive Director of Engineering, Executive Director of Planning, Director of NSS Tools, Director of Engineering, and Director of Operations. Phillip is passionate about giving back to the community and frequently hosts volunteer events with his team. He also serves as a mentor to military veterans who are transitioning to civilian jobs, employees within Verizon, as well as many professionals in the industry. Phillip is also a veteran of the United States Navy. His diverse military and corporate background resonates well with his team and has played a significant role in his ability to lead effectively throughout his career.

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