Seeking new horizons
Mark Taylor leaves for Vodacom. Who’s the new man in charge?
IN A SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT, Nashua Mobile MD Mark Taylor has left South Africa’s second biggest independent mobile service provider – a subsidiary of JSE-listed industrial group Reunert – for Vodacom. But he seems to have left the socalled ship in capable hands.
Taylor’s replacement – Chris Scoble – was one of the original founders of Nashua’s cellular business in 1993 and although he stepped back when it was merged with Plessey and Nedtel Cellular in 2000 to form Nashua Mobile, he’s has been on its board from day one.
The former MD of Nashua Office Automation, Scoble sounds excited about the challenge of taking Nashua Mobile forward from a position of strength.
Taylor says he is happy with what he and his team achieved over the last few years, shifting from a corporate model to include a strong retail model that now has 150 outlets countrywide, and establishing itself as a strong player in the least cost routing (LCR) sector. LCR involves routing switchboard calls via the cheapest available path at a given time.
Scoble says SA’s mobile industry has shifted from being a growth industry to one where service delivery will be key. Whereas over the past 10 years it was “all about” having the best handset, service providers will now have to deliver superior service levels, in addition to being the lowest cost supplier. “We must provide a solution to customers, not just a handset,” Scoble says.
At end-March this year, Reunert’s interim reporting period, Nashua Mobile claimed 671 579 customers, 74 505 being contract clients, the rest pre-paid. Customers spend on average R456/month on their cellphone bill (called the average revenue per user, or ARPU in telecoms-speak).
Scoble describes its subscriber base as “very solid”, with “industry-leading ARPUs” and a top position in LCR connections (which are easy to service and attractive to service providers).
Nashua Mobile’s biggest rival and market leader – Autopage Cellular – recently announced its results as part of those of listed parent Altech. It had 941 000 subscrib- ers (pre- and post-paid), with 57 000 data subscribers.
Although the Reunert group is in a closed period ahead of reporting its full-year results to September, Scoble says Nashua Mobile’s subscriber numbers would be roughly the same as at the half-year, given it had cleaned up the base.
As with the rest of SA’s economy, providers of credit have seen bad debts rise as consumers come under pressure and Nashua Mobile is no different, Scoble says. With regard to the global credit crisis he says the world is in the second wave of a three-phase fallout, with more pain to come as deleveraging takes place. The third wave would impact small businesses reliant on larger companies in particular, says Scoble.
Scoble joined Nashua after UCT – where he took a Bachelor of Business Science degree, majoring in economics and marketing – in 1985 as a product manager in its fax division. He became marketing director in 1992 and in 1993 joined the then MD in launching its cellular operations.
Asked to describe his management style, Scoble says he likes people to think and act rather than come to meetings and write things down. He says people can be divided into thinkers and doers and it’s important for any company to have the right mix of both. He’s very happy with the team at Nashua Mobile, which he says has been “fantastic”, “incredibly successful” and “very capable”.
Scoble describes himself as a typical South African in his mid-40s, with a love of local sports, who plays golf, is married with two children and likes to read. But whereas most executives will tell you what they enjoy doing in their spare time, most concede that’s a rare commodity. “When you’re growing businesses… you always come back from leave a week early.”
Reunert also announced that Graham Rhodes, Nashua’s financial director, would assume the position of MD at Nashua Office Automation, Scoble’s previous role.
At Nashua Mobile Taylor quickly established himself as an effective operator and outspoken on industry issues. Taylor says he wasn’t tired of the role but wanted to look at his career on a grander scale, including the possibility of moving around within the Vodacom Group and confirmed Vodacom had made him the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse”. He’ll head supply chain management at Vodacom South Africa, reporting to commercial director Romeo Kumalo.