Ruza Sabanovic’s father built bridges in Montenegro. He passed away while Ruza was just a small child, forever cementing her desire to become a construction engineer just like him. Telecommunications was the last place she’d ever expected to end up.

Ruza realized her dream and became an engineer just like her father, gaining employment as an assistant professor at the University of Montenegro in the mid-1990s. She was one of the few civil engineers in Montenegro who could speak English at time, which is how she ended up meeting a Norwegian telecom executive who needed help translating engineering terms.

“I had no clue what I was saying ‘yes’ to…
but I was curious and that is how it all started”

It was 1996, and this same Norwegian CTO was responsible for the network design, rollout, operation and IT of a company called Promonte. Following an initial meeting with Ruza, he asked her if she’d like to join him for a something called a “site survey”.

“I didn’t know what he was talking about. What’s a site survey? He said it was for the roll-out of site. I didn’t know what he meant by that either. I had no clue what I was saying ‘yes’ to…but I was curious and that is how it all started,” reflects Ruza.

Diving head first into telecommunications

And so, Ruza embarked on the greatest learning journey of her life. She entered the world of telecommunications and future of eating, sleeping and breathing things like “networks” and “site surveys”.

“My manager believed I would ask questions,
push in the right direction and pull when
needed, in order to get things done.”

So why was a construction engineer asked to join a fledgling mobile operator to build a network in a country fresh out of war, with no mobile phones, no qualified people to build the mobile network, and quite literally…no cars?

“I’ve asked this question myself, to my then manager, and his answer to me was that he knew I would not give up, no matter what. He believed that I would ask questions, push in the right direction and pull when needed, in order to get things done.”

“It was the unknowns that drove me…facing challenges, exploring,
learning every day, fixing things… That’s what inspires me.
I’m not inspired if everything is working perfectly.”

11 years in Promonte

From April to July 1996, Ruza began her work for Promonte, launching the first mobile network in Montenegro with 21 sites. They started from scratch, traveling around on foot, with no phones for communicating.

“During this time, I learned about telco, the mindset and the way of working. It was the unknowns that drove me…facing challenges, exploring, learning every day, fixing things… That’s what inspires me. I’m not inspired if everything is working perfectly,” says Ruza.

Ruza spent the next 11 years of her life working in Promonte (now Telenor Montenegro), until she was presented with an opportunity to join Telenor Group in Norway – running the CTO Forum.

Welcome to Norway

For the first time in her life, Ruza was working in a country other than Montenegro.

“What I really gained during my first three years in Norway was an understanding of myself and an introduction to how Telenor really works. Yes, I had been in a business unit for 11 years, but I came to Group and realized that I did not really understand how things worked.”

She calls her first years in Norway a “breakthrough” for her, a period during which she learned about the importance of cultural understanding, to be even more daring when facing challenges and on a personal level, to “bridge” rather than “push” in her leadership style.

Ruza’s learning journey took another turn when she was asked to go to India. She arrived there in 2011 and after, assumed the role as Chief Operating Officer of the company then called Uninor.

“India will stick with me forever. It’s where I got the mind-set to
never give up, the knowledge that everything is possible to fix,
and the belief that I should always do what I think is right.”

The India adventures

India presented a whole lot of unknowns, challenges and things to be fixed, exactly what Ruza liked. But even with her positive approach to uncertain environments, India was like nothing else she had ever experienced.

It was in India, says Ruza, that she learned that anything is possible. In a volatile environment it’s easy to get scared or stressed. But if you believe, you will find a solution.

“India will stick with me forever. It’s where I got the mind-set to never give up, the knowledge that everything is possible to fix, and the belief that I should always do what I think is right.”

Named CTO in 2015

On 12 October 2015, Ruza was appointed Chief Technology Officer for Telenor Group. She described this job at the time as a great honor, but at the same time, she recognized the great weight of responsibility which rested on her shoulders.

“The kinds of bridges that Ruza builds today are
not the steel and concrete structures of her father’s.
Rather they are the kind of bridges
hat connect people and ideas”

Ruza says that it’s Technology’s role to ensure that Telenor has the systems that will help bridge the gap and transform our telco to a digital service provider. They must also work to build up the internal capabilities to meet customers’ future technology needs.

“We have the responsibility to enable transformation, through our technology, as we become a digital service provider. We are a service delivery platform, and we need to be ahead of the shift to be able to meet changing and increasing expectations. And we cannot do this as Business Units and Group. We need to do this as one team with the common goal.”

It’s about finding a way to work together, Ruza described, by erasing the borders and boxes that separate us and creating a bridge.

New position in 2016

On 2 March 2016, Ruza was appointed Telenor Group’s EVP and Chief Technology Officer of Telenor Group.

The bridge-builder

Ruza’s lifelong dream was to build bridges like her father. But dreams take new directions when opportunity strikes; and the kind of bridges that Ruza builds today are not the steel and concrete structures of her father’s. Rather they are the kind of bridges that connect people and ideas; the kind of bridges that are taking Telenor on its transformation journey.