Nº 5 2014 > Electing ITU top executives: Meet the candidates
Interview with Malcolm Johnson
Candidate for the post of Deputy Secretary‑General
What are your top three priorities for ITU and how do you see the Union’s continued relevance in a hyper-connected world?
Malcolm Johnson: My top priority is to consolidate and build on the position of ITU as the leading global organization for telecommunications and information and communication technologies (ICT) in order to facilitate the expansion and development of robust telecommunication and broadband networks, services and applications that promote social, economic and environmentally sustainable growth and development for all.
Secondly, to continue to drive the reform of ITU: increase transparency, openness and inclusiveness; attract more industry members; and make ITU a more efficient organization that prioritizes its work, and uses its finite resources to greatest effect.
Thirdly, to further improve coordination and collaboration with other relevant organizations, especially those in the Internet community, so as to pool resources and efficiently deliver the benefits of the information society to all the world’s citizens.
I am fully committed to assist the new Secretary‑General meet these and other challenges, and place ITU in the best position to serve the global community in future years. Many of my initiatives as Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) — such as the conformance and interoperability programme; ICT and climate change; accessibility; and promoting academia membership — now cross all areas of ITU’s work. I would do my utmost to coordinate their further implementation, in cooperation with the Bureaux Directors.
The ITU membership traditionally takes decisions on the basis of consensus. What approaches have you used in the past to build consensus?
Malcolm Johnson: ITU has a fairly unique tradition among international organizations of working by consensus. This can only be achieved if there is a willingness on all sides to compromise. Consensus should not mean one side having to comply with the position of another side without receiving some benefit in return.
While I was leading the negotiations on behalf of Europe — within the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) — at two very contentious world radiocommunication conferences, I stressed the mutual advantages of reaching consensus, and sought to develop solutions where every party felt that they had achieved an acceptable conclusion even if it was not their original desired outcome. The solution has to be workable and take account of all interests.
I will continue to promote consensus as the best means of avoiding polarization of the membership.
ITU’s “federal” structure — the General Secretariat along with the Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardization and Telecommunication Development Sectors — is unique in international governance. How do you intend to leverage this structure for maximum impact, while ensuring the unity of the Union?
Malcolm Johnson: I have been a member of two teams of elected officials, and believe the federal structure with five elected officials has been very successful. The relationship between elected officials should be based on mutual trust and respect. Each has individual responsibilities but also a common responsibility towards the whole organization.
A frank and structured exchange of views and opinions is invaluable in reaching a wise conclusion. Once a conclusion is reached it is important that all the elected officials fully support it.
What do you see as ITU’s aims in continuing to lead the World Summit on the Information Society?
Malcolm Johnson: The implementation of the WSIS Action Lines has been very successful and ITU is well placed to continue the process. The WSIS Forum in particular, and especially the recent WSIS+10 High-Level Event, have proved to be a great success in bringing together a wide range of stakeholders in an open and inclusive dialogue that allows an exchange of views in an informal environment and an opportunity to exchange best practices. WSIS helps ITU meet its mission to connect the world.
The United Nations post-2015 sustainable development agenda will address new challenges facing people and the planet. How should ITU contribute to shaping that agenda?
Malcolm Johnson: Information and communication technologies are now essential to all facets of business and socio-economic development. Increasingly, the WSIS outcomes and the post-2015 sustainable development goals will have a symbiotic relationship. ITU should continue to push for information and communication technologies as enablers of global socio-economic benefits to be mainstreamed into the post-2015 goals. This would encourage increased investment in ICT projects in the developing world.
I have always promoted the use of ICT in this context, in particular by promoting the role of ICT in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Initially there was much scepticism about the role ICT can play, but over the years the importance of this work has become well recognized and extended to areas such as e‑waste, smart water management, and smart cities.
ITU’s 150th anniversary in 2015 will be celebrated under the theme “Telecommunications and ICTs: Drivers of Innovation”. What in your view are the three innovations in this industry that have most changed our world? And what do you see as the most significant technological innovation on the horizon?
Malcolm Johnson: Over the long history of ITU the major technological innovations have been the telephone, the television, and more recently the Internet. For the immediate future, the Internet of Things opens up vast opportunities through the connection of billions of devices, and together with big data and cloud computing, smart cities and other exciting developments will be enabled. The key will be reconfiguring the current legacy networks to take advantage of the technology on a global scale. On the horizon, nanotechnology has the potential to create nanonetworks connecting nanomachines, offering a wide range of new applications especially in the biomedical and environmental fields.
What needs to be done to bring more women into leadership positions, both in ITU and in the ICT sector as a whole?
Malcolm Johnson: As ICT become more pervasive, and girls and boys acquire a curiosity at a young age, this interest will percolate through and result in an increasing number of women entering the profession. This has already been reflected in the number of women in the professional category in ITU. In TSB for example their number has increased significantly in recent years to over 40 per cent. It will be necessary to continue to attract more women into senior positions in ITU, through workplace mentoring schemes and leadership training for example.
Young people are avid and creative users of information and communication technologies. How will you involve them in ITU?
Malcolm Johnson: During my time as TSB Director I have converted many senior posts to junior posts so as to bring in younger staff. These young, enthusiastic and highly motivated people drive new ideas and new activities, which can in turn attract more young people to participate in our work. An openness to youth has also attracted many interns to TSB for short periods and this has generated a spirit of energy and excitement in the work of the Bureau.
Frequent in-service training and an experience of a range of posts across the organization will, I believe, prepare young staff well for succession to senior management positions.
People are a crucial part of any organization. What is your message to ITU staff?
Malcolm Johnson: ITU staff members are the lifeblood of the organization, and they are dedicated and talented. They make a tremendous effort to ensure that the organization continues to meet the requirements of its membership. This effort is much appreciated by ITU’s membership and by its senior management team.
I am committed to improve career planning and training, increase mobility and trust, and strive to keep ITU a desirable place to work, giving staff challenging and satisfying tasks, and the opportunity to contribute to the further social and economic development of the world in an increasingly important way.
Short biography of Malcolm Johnson
Malcolm Johnson has been the Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) since 1 January 2007, having been elected at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, in 2006 (PP‑06) and re‑elected in 2010 at PP‑10 in Guadalajara, Mexico. In this post, he spearheaded activities in cybersecurity, climate change and accessibility. He increased the involvement of developing countries and academia in ITU’s standards activities, introduced free downloading of ITU–T Recommendations, and initiated a programme to address developing-country concerns over lack of interoperability and conformity to ITU standards. He achieved a threefold increase in the activities of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector without increasing its budget. Between 2003 and 2006, Mr Johnson was International Coordinator at the United Kingdom’s Office of Communications (Ofcom), where he had lead responsibility for the United Kingdom in ITU and in CEPT.
From 1992 to 2003, he was Director of the United Kingdom’s Radiocommunications Agency and European Coordinator for WRC‑93, WRC‑95 and WRC‑97.
Between 1988 and 1992, he worked in the European Commission’s Telecommunication Regulations Division, where he represented the Commission in the Council of the European Union, EU Parliament, CEPT and ITU.
Born in Trallwng, Wales, United Kingdom, on 19 June 1947, Mr Johnson graduated from the University of Wales, Cardiff, with MSc and BSc (1st class honours) degrees. He is a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and an Academician of the International Telecommunication Academy. He is fluent in English and French, and has some knowledge of Spanish.
He is married, with one daughter.