Finweek English Edition - - COMPANIES & INVESTMENTS - Jes­sica Hub­bard jes­sicah@fin­

1-year re­turn: 22.7% His Chal­lenge: ‘Gotta keep ’em sep­a­rated…’ Grade: C

SI­FISO DABENGWA, MTN’s rather well-com­pen­sated CEO, gets a “C for Com­pe­tent”. Ad­mit­tedly, it has been a chal­leng­ing year for Africa’s big­gest mo­bile op­er­a­tor, as it fends off a $4.2bn law­suit f iled by Turk­ish op­er­a­tor Turk­cell. Yet in­stead of tak­ing a bold stance and con­fi­dently re­as­sur­ing share­hold­ers of MTN’s in­no­cence, Dabengwa got his PR lack­eys to is­sue a few stiff ly worded press re­leases.

To add to the funny-smelling odour hang­ing over the op­er­a­tor and its chief, the Shan­duka Group re­cently ac­quired a mi­nor­ity stake in MTN Nigeria. Why does this smell like sar­dines? Be­cause not only does lo­cal politi­cian and mil­lion­aire Cyril Ramaphosa sit on both of th­ese com­pa­nies’ boards, but Dabengwa is in a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with Phuti Ma­hanyele, Shan­duka’s CEO. If all this doesn’t reek of mul­ti­ple con­flicts of in­ter­est, then noth­ing will.

Apart from the po­ten­tial skull­dug­gery, how­ever, we have to give Dabengwa credit for keep­ing MTN on track in a highly com­pet­i­tive and over-sat­u­rated lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. The Group grew its sub­scriber num­bers by 6.9% to 175.9m from De­cem­ber 2011, with rev­enue in­creas­ing by 17.5%. Per­haps helped along more by mo­men­tum than by mag­nif­i­cent lead­er­ship, MTN con­tin­ues to be a top pick for lo­cal in­vestors. In June 2012, the Group de­clared a div­i­dend per share of 321 cents, with a 72% pay­out ra­tio.

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