“New brains in a new place can make changes for development”
The Rwanda Focus talked exclusively to the new CEO of MTN Rwanda, Khaled Mikkawi.
Recently, the telecommunications giant MTN conducted a comprehensive reshuffle of its top management across the continent, which in Rwanda saw the long-serving Themba Khumalo leave to take up the top job in Uganda. He was replaced by the former CEO of MTN in Liberia, Khaled Mikkawi, who had already a decade of experience at Investcom before that company was acquired by MTN in 2006.
MTN Rwanda currently holds the biggest share of the national telecommunications market with more than 1.4 million subscribers, yet this has been mainly due to the fact that it has been able to operate for nearly a decade without notable competition. Since the relaunch in December of Rwandatel, however, that situation has changed, and the new CEO will have to step up the company’s activities to maintain its dominant position.
Khaled Mikkawi talked to The Rwanda Focus about how he aims to achieve that.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and explain how you have become CEO of MTN Rwanda?
I have been the CEO of MTN Liberia, a position which I think I was given because of my background in the telecommunication sector and the experience I have attained.
What kind of innovations you introduced in MTN Liberia and the telecommunication sector at large that you would seek to replicate in Rwanda?
The challenges we had in Liberia are a bit different compared to Rwanda. Each country has its own challenges but the common ones in both countries are the competition and the upcountry development in the telecommunication field. There must be a roll-out plan for upcountry coverage so as to offer MTN’s services to all Rwandans. When I was CEO of MTN Liberia, I managed to work on the upcountry coverage. I hope I will to do the same here in Rwanda, because the primary target for MTN is to reach as many people as possible.
As for competition, I think that it gives us strength to work even harder. Competition is good in a society because at the end of the day the customers benefit a lot from varying prices, quality and other services. Therefore, MTN is ready to operate in such competition to give its clients the best of the best.
There has been a change in the top jobs of MTN group, with most CEOs including you having been transferred. Phuthuma Nhleko, the President for the MTN group, says the aim is to increase learning across business and to provide staff with attractive and meaningful opportunities for growth with in emerging markets. What is your view on this issue?
Moving a person from one place to another is beneficial as CEOs have different knowledge, skills and ideas. New brains in a new place can make changes here and there for development. So this brings more health to the operations of MTN.
MTN had dominated the telecommunications market in Rwanda for over 10 years until the entrance of Rwandatel, that later acquired a license to operate a GSM technology too. This caused a significant move of customers from MTN to Rwandatel, due to products that were considered more attractive and persistent problems with the MTN network. How do you intend to deal with this challenge to maintain MTN’s position in the market?
Recently, after MTN had spent sometime operating as the only GSM service provider, other players entered the market such as Rwandatel and now TIGO. The market is open for competition and we are not scared. Rwanda still has an untapped telecommunications market where every player will have a portion. We have a share that we shall maintain and even increase. Now TIGO has entered the market, and they too will soon get a portion after launching. So it’s about competition which to me is healthy and should encourage us to work harder for better services to keep our subscribers happy and satisfied.
Last year MTN Rwanda’s had a turnover of USD 112 million, while it invested USD 70 million. This year, MTN announced it would invest up to USD 100 million. What do you project to get out of this huge investment?
First of all, we want to have enough capacity to support and increase the subscriber base. There must be quality that subscribers will appreciate before we look at revenue. The return for such huge investments is always seen on the long term, three to four years. So we first want to build the subscriber base to at least 2 million and offer quality products, and that in turn would increase our turnover.
For some time now big companies have been complaining of how the global financial crisis has affected their business, and some major enterprises have even gone bankrupt. MTN Rwanda is not immune to this crisis; how has it influenced your operations?
The global financial meltdown affected most of the big companies, including MTN. But we had strength to fight it with brilliant strategies that were conceived by bright people. The best proof, I think, is that we can still invest up to USD 100 million, which would not have been the case had we been badly hit.