Rob Conway served as the CEO of the GSMA Association for 12 years, during which time he helped the industry trade body develop from being a standards-based technical and marketing organisation into an extremely influential support, lobbying and media giant. The GSMA announced on Friday night that Rob passed away last Thursday, after “battling an aggressive form of cancer”.
I’ve known Rob during his whole tenure at the GSMA, as have my co-founders at TelecomTV. He joined the GSMA in 1999, when the association was consolidating its physical presence in London and opened a plush office in Bond Street. We joked at the time about how this was an utter waste of money and had all the indications of showing delusions of grandeur – it had a whole room reserved for board meetings for goodness sake! Little did we know that it was merely foretelling what the GSMA would soon become.
Regular readers will be aware that we’ve been critical of the GSMA recently, for several reasons: its role as a major media company appears completely at odds with its mandate to lobby for its operator members; it needs to show financial transparency; and its attempts to create standards and initiatives for every new technology and service verges on the monopolistic. But that’s healthy criticism of the GSMA – that’s what we independent media do. Our relationship with Rob Conway was very different.
Rob was a genuinely nice man, and I personally had a lot of time for him. Back in 2000, we (the co-founders of TelecomTV) were all still working on the Euronet magazine. To promote the new title, we decided to hold a corporate event at Ladies Day at Royal Ascot Races, and we invited Rob and his wife to join our small group. That’s when we got to know him and started what became a long and decent relationship with him. Coincidentally, I moved house last week and decided it was time to shred a box full of old work documents, which is when I came across a letter from Rob, thanking us for the Royal Ascot reception and being genuinely pleased that we had made him and his wife feel so welcomed. He was that kind of man.
TelecomTV set up and ran the first ‘event TV’ service for the GSMA, starting small in Cannes (with our investors INM) and expanding as the show evolved from the 3G to 3GSM and then Mobile World Congress. It was only the past few years that the GSMA decided to take the operation in-house. We also partnered with them to promote twenty years of GSM, with the feature-length documentary film and book ‘Mobile Planet’ – a tremendous project, which Rob was instrumental in getting off the ground.
There have been several times when I wanted advice on a new editorial initiative, or wanted a second opinion on whether operators would follow a news channel on a specific vertical industry. My first email would go to Rob, and he would always reply. But my strongest memory of Rob Conway isn’t how he steered the GSMA to success, or any particular project we collaborated on. It’s that he never ignored you. No matter where we were, or what company he was in, if he saw me or Sean or Martyn, he would always stop and say hello. He was old school. And he will be missed.
The GSMA has said it will be honouring Rob for his contributions to the development of the mobile industry at this year’s Mobile World Congress event in February. He left the GSMA in 2011 following a reorganisation of the association, and took an executive position as Chief International Affairs Officer of Russian telco Vimpelcom, before having to stand down in March last year.
Our thoughts are with his family.
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