The Telecom company Millicom vs. the Covid 

How the Multinational With Headquarters in the Gables Took on the Pandemic 

Imagine overseeing 21,000 employees on three continents, including hundreds in Coral Gables. Now imagine overseeing those same 21,000 employees throughout the pandemic, even helping some countries gain access to scarce vaccines. 

That’s been Susy Bobenrieth’s task for nearly two years as chief human resources officer for Millicom International Cellular, a telecom company with operational headquarters in the Gables WeWork office space on Giralda Avenue. 

Susy Bobenrieth - Telecom company Millicom
Susy Bobenrieth, chief human resources officer, at the Gables Wework office space on Giralda Avenue.

Millicom provides services in nine countries in Latin America and one in Africa, offering mobile phone, internet, pay TV, and more under the brand name TIGO. Its revenues topped $4 billion last year. Beyond its 21,000 direct employees, it also works with 30,000 contractors who sell pre-paid phone cards or install TIGO’s equipment overseas. 

As soon as Covid hit, Millicom’s leadership adopted two guiding principles: “One, protecting our people, and two, protecting the business,” says Bobenrieth. The people, she says, came first, as the company vowed not to dismiss any employees, while keeping telecom operations (vital during a pandemic) strong. 

First, Millicom sent staff home and made sure they had laptops and internet access, often giving them TIGO’s internet service at
a discount or free. For employees who couldn’t work from home, such as staff who deliver pre-paid cards to stores, Millicom bought protective gear. It also re-trained salespeople for other tasks such as collections or customer service calls. To preserve cash for operations, the company trimmed shareholder dividends. “The one thing we did not want to do was to let people go,” says Bobenrieth, who is also executive vice president. “It was a strategic choice.” 

Other companies took different approaches, but Millicom counts four key stakeholders as essential: shareholders, communities, employees, and customers. Bobenrieth says listening to workers and addressing their needs – including providing workshops on mental and physical health during Covid – helped boost staff morale, customer service, and talent retention. 

Telecom company Millicom
Millicom provides services in nine countries, offering mobile phone, internet, pay tv, and more under the brand name Tigo.

During Covid, Millicom also partnered with overseas governments to buy vaccines, volunteering TIGO parking lots for medical teams to administer them to company staff and the general public. “We’ve found that when the doors re-opened country by country, we had a sales force that was not only ready and trained to go back out, but grateful and committed to the company,” says Bobenrieth. “Because many were living in households where they were the only people bringing in any money during the pandemic, in countries where there’s no safety net, they had an increased level of engagement with TIGO.” 

The task remains complex. At least 35 Millicom employees have died from Covid to date. And with vaccination rates differing widely among nations, re-openings are uneven. To increase health safety at its WeWork space in Coral Gables, Millicom now allows only those among its 220 local employees who are vaccinated to use the offices. 

Founded in 1990, based in Luxembourg and part-owned by a Swedish group, Millicom has big plans for growth. The Nasdaq-traded company has opted to focus solely on Latin America and divest elsewhere. It’s been expanding in Colombia and Panama, adding financial services for money transfers and looking at opportunities in remittances and micro-lending. That growth likely will add more staff, says Bobenrieth, even as Millicom aims to keep its corporate hub in the Gables lean, clean and “super-fast to market in the countries where we operate.” 

By: Doreen Hemlock