We are Symphony: A conversation with James Dartnell

Suddhaloke Choudhury
Global Content and Social Media Manager
Rakuten Symphony
April 10, 2024
minute read

James Dartnell, Director, Corporate Communications, EMEA, Rakuten Symphony shares with us his career journey - from teaching in Paris to being a journalist and editor in Dubai, and now a PR and Communications specialist in London - as well as his future ambitions in the world of tech.

What were your personal/professional motivations for joining Rakuten Symphony and what was the moment you knew you’d made the right decision to join?  

Joining Rakuten Symphony was an easy decision. I already knew Rakuten from the Group side as a hugely popular brand in Japan and through its partnerships with FC Barcelona and Golden State Warriors. In terms of Rakuten Symphony, the deal to build Europe’s first commercial-scale Open Radio Access Network with 1&1 in Germany was - and still is - regarded as highly innovative by telecom industry standards. I’ve always liked the saying ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ - I was very excited to work for a tech company that wants to reinvent an essential piece of global infrastructure through cloud, automation and open standards.

There wasn’t a specific moment where I knew it was the right decision, but supporting the launch of the Open RAN Customer Experience Centre in the UK - a facility in Weybridge selected for funding by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications - in March 2023 was a personal point of pride. It felt fitting that we’d launched a European centre for interoperability testing in my home country just two months after I’d joined.

James with his daughter on a playdate
James with daughter Lola in London

How would you describe the day-to-day role of a Corporate Communications Director to a layperson, and what makes it particularly different at Rakuten Symphony?

It’s my job to ensure that communications and content issued externally are up to our standards, and, perhaps most importantly, are presented in a way that makes people interested about what we're doing. That could be in the form of news announcements, thought leadership articles or responding to specific and - credit where it’s due to the media - sometimes challenging queries. An eagle-eye for detail always helps. It also means working closely with executives to ensure that I stay in the loop on any important strategic planning around products and customers.  

What keeps my job interesting is that Rakuten has a unique story to tell. The industry is always paying close attention to what we do. I also enjoy working as part of a global team that operates around the clock.  

What is something that you and your team accomplished (or took part in) recently that you’re proud of, and what made it possible?

Rakuten’s participation at MWC Barcelona 2024 was very successful. We accomplished a lot throughout the course of the week, issuing 11 key news announcements, all of which were the result of behind-the-scenes prep work in the run-up to the show. It's important for us to keep the industry informed about how we're working with mobile network operators and the wider ecosystem.

I really enjoyed being the MC for the Rakuten conference at MWC - as well as hosting sessions with Mickey and Sharad Sriwastawa, I also had the chance to moderate expert panel discussions on topics including eSim technology and enterprise private 5g networks. Perhaps most satisfying of all was hearing glowing endorsements from our customers 1&1, AT&T and Axiata Enterprise during the conference - it was great to be a part of that and to hear them speak so highly of Rakuten Symphony in the public sphere. The comms team played an important role in bringing all these elements together - we worked closely with customers and partners including Kyivstar, The United Kingdom Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and Telecom Egypt to get news updates ready for press, while the conference required detailed planning and was executed very smoothly. Visitors to the world’s biggest connectivity event had the chance to see what Rakuten can accomplish.  

What advice or mantra would you pass on to others who are looking to follow a similar career path to yourself? How has it influenced the way you approach work?

I can’t undersell the value of working abroad. I spent nine-and-a-half years working in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and one year teaching in Paris. Both stints gave me invaluable and unforgettable experiences. Living, working and travelling internationally broadens your horizons - working for a globally minded Japanese company felt like a natural progression and still feels like a really good fit.  

From a comms perspective, my advice is to avoid clichés and buzzwords as much as possible. Readers switch off when you say things that they’ve heard dozens of times before, so try and keep your explanations clear and your language refreshing. Technology is already a complex topic - don’t put readers to sleep with tedious or confusing prose. I strongly believe that succinct, informative explanations are severely lacking in the world. It’s the writer’s job to make the penny drop for the reader and viewer - I daresay they need to be more enlightened (hopefully even entertained) after hearing what you have to say.  

Comms professionals have the chance to become a unique brand of expert. We need to be clued up about lots of things - our organization, whatever it sells, and the industry it’s selling to. We work closely with executives that have significant experience and knowledge - that’s a free education. If you can absorb as much information as possible over time, you have the chance to become an expert in your own right. I had the same attitude when I was working as a journalist and editor in the UAE - I conducted hundreds of interviews over time. Each of those was a chance to probe a subject matter specialist and ask them questions that are important to the reader.  

James as the Master of Ceremonies at the Rakuten Booth during Mobile World Congress 2024
James hosting a session with German mobile network operator 1&1 at MWC Barcelona 2024

What are your career goals and how do you think Rakuten Symphony will give you an advantage in achieving them?

I love the storytelling aspect of my job - I’ve always enjoyed writing but I thrive off the buzz of presenting those ideas or explanations in the public sphere, whether that’s on stage or on camera. I’m not an engineer but I want to improve my understanding of technology and how it can benefit the world. Then I want to combine that knowledge to build a career in the tech industry. Engineers are incredibly smart people and they deserve huge respect - I would like my niche to be ‘translating’ some of that complex subject matter into digestible stories and business cases.  

I'm fortunate to work with leaders across every time zone that try to support me in my professional growth. If you bring a new idea to the table, it’ll always be given a fair hearing; if you can prove it’s viable, there’s a reasonable chance it’ll be implemented. I know that I’m still at an early stage of my career but I also try to reciprocate that treatment and pass on any knowledge or experience that might help others.

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