Calling the shots: David Frolio, GSM Association

David Frolio

 General counsel at mobile communications body GSM Association (GSMA) David Frolio is pretty fired up about his job.

“You can’t imagine how exciting it is to be at the forefront of an industry that’s developing so rapidly,” he exclaims. “I’ve watched the mobile communications industry grow at lightning speed and there’s still so much more to come.”

What immediately hits you about Frolio is his complete dedication to his job and the telecommunications industry as a whole. He has dedicated almost all his working life to the industry, first at US telecommunications holding company BellSouth Corporation and then at GSMA. As such he has witnessed first-hand all the changes that have taken place in the fast-paced sector.

“I’ve watched the mobile phone go from a huge, black, heavy device, which you had to carry a heavy battery pack for, right through to the modern handsets we have today, which allow us to organise our lives at the click of a button,” he enthuses.

GSMA is an association of mobile operators and companies that ­supports the standardising and ­promotion of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) – the most popular standard for mobile telephone systems in the world.

GSMA’s 26 board members include 25 operator representatives as well as GSMA chief executive officer Rob Conway. Each of the 13 largest ­operator groups within the ­association’s membership is entitled to nominate one board member. Twelve other operator members are nominated to reflect the needs of small, independent operators and to ensure global representation.

All five UK operators – Vodafone, Orange, Telefonica, Hutchison and T-Mobile – are represented on the board.

And when you think that the GSMA has been dubbed “one of the most powerful trade associations in the world”, Frolio has a tough job on his hands.

But he insists his “small but ­perfectly formed” legal team of six is on top of things.

With the association busy lobbying governments on everything from tax policy to pricing strategy, Frolio and his team must make sure that ­everything runs smoothly on the legal front. On a daily basis Frolio deals with corporate governance work and competition law, making sure that big players such as Vodaphone or T-Mobile are maintaining their ­competitive positions.

Frolio, who is based at GSMA’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia with three other lawyers, also manages two attorneys, who are based in London and Barcelona respectively.

Despite the global team being ­relatively small for the size of the organisation, Frolio says he keeps most of its legal work in-house, only tending to outsource work on an ad hoc basis, due mainly to time constraints.

“The legal function had to serve every element of the business,” Frolio says. “I’ve made sure we have a very lean but talented team so we can add as much value as possible to the ­business.”

The team works on a range of issues, including regulation, ­employment and lease procurements. It is this variety that adds extra spice to the job, says Frolio.

“I love the fact that there’s never a dull moment in this business,” he says. “There’s always something new. In smaller legal teams you have to be prepared to turn your hand to ­anything and it actually makes you a master of quite a lot.”

That does not mean Frolio and his team spend every single minute of their time cooped up in a stuffy office. They have just been at the week-long GSMA Mobile World Congress, which kicked off on 15 February. The annual event is attended by more than 55,000 mobile industry professionals and the GSMA legal team plays a huge part in its organisation.

This year, for the first time ever, Frolio has introduced a legal ­conference to be run alongside the congress for all the legal heads of the various telecommunications ­companies around the world.

He has also taken it upon himself to be part teacher, part lawyer at GSMA and provide an education and ­training programme relating to data protection, compliance and how to negotiate a contract.

“We live in a regulated world and I think it’s important to protect the association through education and make sure that all areas of law are taught and available to be refreshed,” Frolio emphasises.

After working in the industry for more than 25 years, what does Frolio think the future of mobile ­communications is going to be?

“Mobile phones that have a sensor to diagnose health issues, or ones that can turn your heating system down at home,” he says. “The future of mobile technology is so vast
it’s almost unthinkable, and I’m ­looking forward to facilitating that in a legal capacity.”

Name: David Frolio

Title: General counsel

Organisation: GSM ­Association

Industry: Wireless

Company turnover:$71m (£45.1m)

Number of employees:197

Legal capability:Six

Main external law firms:Holland & Knight, Jones Day, SJ Berwin

Annual legal spend:$1.5m

David Frolio’s CV

Education:

1971-75: Law, The George Washington ­University Law School

1976-79: BA Political Science, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Work history:

1979-88: Associate and then partner, Jones Day, ­Washington DC

1988-2000: Senior corporate counsel, BellSouth ­Corporation

2000-07: Associate general counsel, ­BellSouth Corporation

2007-09: General counsel, GSMA-US

2009-present: General counsel, GSMA