Networking in the jungle

Telecommunications was one of the hardest hit industries when the Asian crisis began with Thailand’s float of the baht 2 July 1997. Ambitious projects came to a halt and people were laid off all over Asean. Swedish Jörgen Englund was one of them.
     Just married 1999 and definitively going for settlement in Thailand he lost the job late same year when his US employer, a telecom equipment manufacturer, shut down its Thai operations.
     It took a few years until he, and the industry, was back. Jörgen’s comeback began this summer coordinating a GSM network roll out in the hot and humid jungles of Sumatra.
     Being a telecom professional since 1986, when you joined Ericsson Cables, and having been forced to short stints here and there after the crisis, how is to be back in the core telecom business again?
“Wonderful! It feels like one never really was away from telecom. I was a bit worried just before I left how the transition from short and flexible working weeks to 70 hours ++ six seven days a week would turn out. No problems. I was up to full speed without even thinking about it. There were so many matters to dig into that time just flew. Initially this was just a three month contract and now it seems I won’t be back in Bangkok before Christmas.”
     Jörgen was hired by an old telecom colleague, Stig Björklund who have a 30 something years long career in the industry. The latest ten years have been spent in South East Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and now Indonesia.
     “I am responsible as General Manager for a local company with 60 employees, working as partner to vendors rolling out GSM Networks. The majority of our employees are Indonesians, but a couple of us are ‘bole’ – expats – of which one is Jörgen,” comments Stig Björklund.
     What is it you do in practical terms, Jörgen?
     “I am the project coordinator for a local company that builds GSM base stations on Sumatra for the operators there. This means in practice keeping track and coordinate information between construction phases regionally: build towers and masts, containers and houses, see too that land is acquired, electricity is installed and make sure that material and staff logistics run according to plan. This includes reporting back to our headquarters in Jakarta so we are paid. I have been visiting all the local offices one by one and focused on conditions and problems, solved that and made sure we have got started and work runs smooth. I have been on Batam, in Padang and Pekanbaru and is now located in Medan, northern Sumatra.”
     When did you join?
     “I arrived in Jakarta just before the midsummer weekend, 19 June. Did in fact celebrate midsummer there. Some friends and colleagues from past projects in Thailand now living in Jakarta invited me to a midsummer party. Imported knäckebröd from the Swedish church in Bangkok helped to create the right atmosphere. Plus herring and potatoes, as well as snaps and aquavit.”
     What is most fun and rewarding in your current job?
     “The best part of telecom projects is the people working with them and the spirit of togetherness. Even if there are new people, cultures and customs, there is always this feeling of belonging in the telecom world. It makes no difference from where you are, what religion you have and so on. All of us mix together in an incredible way. A bridge between many worlds. Another matter is flexibility. You never know from one day to the other what will happen. There is never a boring moment.”
     If we turn the question around, what is not so fun?
     “Flexibility, again. No matter how well you prepare, a new situation comes up every day. That might be stressful now and then. It is also tough to be away from wife, house and our dogs. But then, I have a free trip to Bangkok every three months. However, what kind of life does a project wife live? Husband leaves seven in the morning and stay out till nighttime. And when he is back he is completely exhausted. I also miss the pea soup every third Thursday, the Thai kitchen and all friends in Bangkok. Great one has got email.”
     Up to the crisis many proud telecom projects rolled out in the Asean nations. Then it came to halt. Now it seems the industry is picking up again, along with the economies as a whole. How is it with new telecom projects in Asean? In infrastructure terms, what is hot and why?
     “I believe Vietnam is in a good position. Haven’t thought much what will come, more focused on now.”
     After Sumatra and this project, what is next for you?
     “Hopefully Thailand but Vietnam is interesting.”

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