By Our Analysts
On October 1st, Kenyan-born Sylvia Mulinge will take up her post as the new MTN Uganda chief executive. The appointment of Mulinge by MTN as the new chief for its Uganda business unit, is a pointer to the telco’s new business direction in the country, industry watchers say. They say, the turn we are going to see MTN make is both, to follow where the money is coming from going by its emergent revenue numbers, but also to push the boundaries in the direction that the industry is projecting the money to grow in the coming years – data.
For starters, MTN from its past history has tended to appoint CEOs to deliver specific strategies and tasks. The outgone CEO Wim Vanhelleputte will be remembered for growing the mobile money business but also securing renewal of the Second National Operator (SNO) license.
He particularly takes the accolade for steering MTN out of the spot of bother it was in seven years ago; including internal wrangles between senior managers which later spilled to the company’s relationship with the regulator and government in general. As a result of the internal squabbles, renewal of the SNO License dragged on and at some point, looked like Government was reluctant to issue the license.
The license renewal process got blemished by infighting, allegations of bribery and corruption, blackmail between senior managers including accusations in meddling in national security matters. This led to security raids on MTN installations, deportation of some senior managers, including Wim himself. It took South Africa based senior management of the company to engage with the Government of Uganda (including President Museveni) to calm down the waters.
Eventually Wim was allowed to return to the country to resume his role, and MTN was granted the SNO license. Wim is of dual Belgian-Ugandan citizenship.
Wim was able to stabilize the boat, and set the company for its Initial Public Offer (IPO) listing on the stock exchange. He also presided over the separation of MTN Mobile Money (fintech) from the telco (infotech), which was successfully executed. This success was well captured in the equally successful MTN campaign – “Uganda is Home”; seemingly to assure the powers that be – and Ugandans in general- that MTN would not do anything to destabilize their home. And by listing on the stock exchange, they made the statement that they are here for good, and that they are not just owned by foreigners, they are actually owned by Ugandans; they are a homeboy.
Our pundits told us that now that MTN has stabilized, its credibility and confidence rebuilt with both the Government and Ugandans, they seem to have gone back to the drawing board to crunch the numbers to see where the money is, and follow it.
The MTN Uganda Quarter 1 2022 (January – March (go to summary section on Uganda) results show that data is their fastest growing revenue segment – recording a double-digit growth. After data is mobile money- also with a double-digit growth. Although voice still makes significant revenue for MTN, its growth has stagnated and is actually beginning its decline. This points the direction of data and mobile money as where the money is, and will be for the foreseeable future.
And that, The Infrastructure Magazine has been told, is where Sylvia Mulinge comes in. She has excelled not just as a senior and highly experienced telecom executive in East Africa, her biggest strength is actually her experience and success in creating, deploying and successfully executing innovations that are “digital lifestyle enablers in the lives of the consumers.”
Her expertise is now cut out as an executive who is able to integrate technology to ordinary customers’ lives, in the process driving the use of data, thereby growing the company’s purse.
All executives who offered comments on Mulinge’s appointment make this point. Charles Mbire, the chairman of MTN Uganda, said in a statement: “I would like to welcome Sylvia Mulinge to MTN Uganda. I believe that her experience will be beneficial to MTN, particularly given her alignment to our strategic intent of leading digital solutions for Africa’s progress. The Board is confident that Ms. Mulinge will continue the work of growing the Company as a leading provider of telecommunications and digital solutions.”
The key words here are “her alignment to our business strategic intent of leading digital solutions” and “Growing the company as the leading provider of telecommunications and digital solutions.” In those two phrases lies Mulinge’s job description.
Indeed, her previous roles at Safaricom, East Africa’s most profitable company, speak to this point. She has held roles in customer experience, brand experience, consumer business, consumer value management – areas where Safaricom has excelled and is passionate about that arguably are central to its strategy and therefore its profitability and market leadership.
Some of Mulinge – supervised initiatives in Safaricom take the technology to the consumer – towards the internet of things (IOT)- such as integrating internet (and therefore data consumption) in home and work devices such as entertainment (smart TV and online media consumption), internet functionalities such home security systems, among others.
In the coming years, we will most likely see MTN moving towards initiatives to integrate consumption of their services (especially data) to our lives – at home, at work and socially. We therefore expect initiatives like home internet and integration of home lifestyle functions like security, entertainment to internet – all of which will drive data consumption. With Mulinge, we should expect to see our data consumption at home integrated to our use of data outside home e.g remote control security, entertainment, among others.
Ugandan MTN customers will hopefully also see Mulinge bring top notch customer care and excellent customer experience back to the MTN table – a strategy that has made Safaricom excel, and of which she has been at the helm at East Africa’s largest telecom.