SA’s mo­bile Che Gue­vara?

Vir­gin Mo­bile’s new boss will fur­ther its self-ap­pointed role as con­sumer cham­pion

Finweek English Edition - - Business strategy - BELINDA AN­DER­SON

CON­SUMERS MUST THINK be­yond the pur­chase price when sub­scrib­ing to a mo­bile net­work. This is the mes­sage new Vir­gin Mo­bile South Africa CEO Peter Boyd wants to drive home this year.

Newly ar­rived from the US where he led the mar­ket­ing ef­forts of start-up Vir­gin Mo­bile, the Ed­in­burgh-born, Ox­ford­e­d­u­cated Vir­gin-boytjie took up his post at the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber last year. Boyd says he’s ex­cited to see what the com­pany has al­ready been able to achieve in get­ting its ser­vice of­fer­ings to cus­tomers and be­ing ready for mo­bile num­ber porta­bil­ity.

Even first thing in the morn­ing – when we meet for cof­fee – Boyd’s en­thu­si­asm for the chal­lenge ahead is pal­pa­ble. He’s also ex­cited about be­ing back in South Africa, where he spent six months 10 years ago try­ing to help turn around un­der­per­form­ing po­lice sta­tions un­der his then em­ployer McKin­sey & Co.

Boyd’s ex­per­tise con­tains an at­trac­tive mix of mar­ket­ing, busi­ness and in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. Hav­ing started his ca­reer as a busi­ness con­sul­tant for McKin­sey & Co across the UK, SA and In­dia, he joined the Vir­gin Group 10 years ago as a brand man­ager and later head of mar­ket­ing for Vir­gin Cola. He then headed UK-based stu­dent mar­ket­ing com­pany Vir­gin D3 be­fore join­ing Vir­gin Mo­bile in the US as vice-pres­i­dent of pro­mo­tions and part­ner­ships.

His pre­de­ces­sor in South Africa, Sa­jeed Sacranie, left late last year af­ter only five months at the helm. Sacranie told Fin­week sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion Fin24 at the time that hav­ing built the com­pany from noth­ing into a pow­er­ful brand em­ploy­ing 500 peo­ple in less than five months had been no easy task.

This had re­quired an ag­gres­sive man­age­ment style he con­ceded hadn’t left him uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar. The board had agreed that Vir­gin Mo­bile needed an op­er­a­tional per­son to take it for­ward, rather than a builder of com­pa­nies, as Sacranie de­scribed him­self.

Boyd says his man­age­ment style is to sur­round him­self with peo­ple more ex­pert in their fields than he is, and del­e­gate re­spon­si­bil­ity.

He sees his role as tak­ing what’s al­ready es­tab­lished and build­ing on it, all the while bear­ing in mind the val­ues cus­tomers have come to ex­pect from Vir­gin – “great cus­tomer ser­vice and pric­ing”, as well as “fun, hon­esty and ir­rev­er­ence”.

Boyd says: “It’s more about evo­lu­tion than change.” He adds that tasks in­clude fur­ther im­prov­ing cus­tomer ser­vice lev­els, be­ing even clearer about how prod­ucts are ex­pressed and build­ing on early gains in num­ber porta­bil­ity.

Num­ber porta­bil­ity, says Boyd, was never go­ing to be a panacea, but it’s all about end­ing “mo­bile in­jus­tice”.

He de­scribes the SA mar­ket as one of those prime Vir­gin op­por­tu­ni­ties, where con­sumers have got­ten a lit­tle sleepy, are not used to get­ting the best ser­vice or pric­ing and are be­ing “ripped off ”. This pro­vides the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for Vir­gin’s en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit.

When Vir­gin Mo­bile came to mar­ket, it was quoted as say­ing it wanted to sign up be­tween 200 000 and 300 000 sub­scribers in the first few months and was tar­get­ing a 10% mar­ket share within three to five years.

Al­though it’s not ready to dis­close where it is just yet, Boyd says it’s hit­ting good num­bers ini­tially and prom­ises to openly cel­e­brate reach­ing key mile­stones along the way. More im­por­tant, he says, is to en­sure cus­tomers who join rec­om­mend it to oth­ers.

Vir­gin Mo­bile and joint-ven­ture part­ner Cell C are the prover­bial “lit­tle guys” up against the Go­liaths of the SA mo­bile mar­ket, Vo­da­com and MTN. And yet, it clearly punches above its weight with its typ­i­cal Vir­gin in-your-face mar­ket­ing cam­paign.

Boyd says its mar­ket­ing bud­get is a lot smaller than that of the big play­ers, as was the case in the US: “That was great train­ing for spend­ing so lit­tle above the line, and yet be­ing no­ticed,” he says.

In the UK, pay-as-you-go is not the poor man’s choice,

it’s a lifestyle choice.

Vir­gin’s strat­egy to the con­sumer, says Boyd, is to of­fer “great value”, with­out nec­es­sar­ily be­ing the cheap­est up front, or of­fer­ing the cheap­est hand­set deals, but in terms of the ac­tual cost of calls – al­though, he says, it does have good hand­set deals be­cause this is a hand­set-driven mar­ket.

SA is pre­dom­i­nantly a pre-paid mar­ket, but pre-paid users pay more for their calls than con­tract sub­scribers.

Boyd says al­though cus­tomers will­ing to com­mit to Vir­gin Mo­bile are re­warded, pre­paid users are not pun­ished (the drop-down rate of R1,55 a minute af­ter five min­utes any time is the same).

And, there are no con­tract lock-ins. If you buy a phone on credit with Vir­gin, you can pay it off if you want to: “With us, you’re not stuck.”

“In the UK, pay-as-you-go is not the poor man’s choice, it’s a lifestyle choice,” says Boyd. “It’s the same in South Africa (with Vir­gin Mo­bile).”

From po­lice sta­tions to cell phones. Peter Boyd

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