MTN SA’s turn­around strate­gist Larry An­netts makes waves

Finweek English Edition - - TECHNOLOGY - ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

Larry An­netts has been some­what me­dia shy – well that was un­til he moved from Nige­ria to head up MTN South Africa’s mar­ket­ing di­vi­sion.

But now, with the task of re­shap­ing the op­er­a­tor’s prod­ucts and ser­vices to be more sexy and ap­peal­ing to cus­tomers, An­netts is be­com­ing more vis­i­ble.

When An­netts was ap­pointed as a chief mar­ket­ing off icer (CMO) in June, MTN SA was los­ing mar­ket share to smaller op­er­a­tor Cell C, while the coun­try’s big­gest mo­bile phone op­er­a­tor Vodacom stood its ground with bet­ter prod­ucts.

Even MTN Group’s boss Si fis o Dabeng wa diplo­mat­i­cally lam­basted MTN SA for the de­layed re­ac­tion to the price war ini­ti­ated by Cell C, some­thing which cost Africa’s cel­lu­lar gi­ant dearly on the home front.

As a re­sult Dabengwa ‘re­de­ployed’ his trusted ex­ec­u­tives in MTN SA. MTN SA’s CEO Zunaid Bulbulia and CMO Brian Gouldie were moved to less prom­i­nent jobs even though their de­par­ture was couched as a pro­mo­tion of

some sort.

Bulbulia was ap­pointed a s MTN Group c hief op­er­at­ing ex­ec­u­tive, with the in­cum­bent, Ahmad Far­roukh re­plac­ing Bulbulia as CEO of MTN SA. Gouldie was named as CEO of the Uganda op­er­a­tion.

The jury is still out on their per­for­mances.

Gouldie’s pre­de­ces­sor, ‘ Mr Ay­oba’ Ser­ame Taukubong, who was ap­pointed as MTN Ghana’s CEO, has made the op­er­a­tion one of the best per­form­ers in MTN Group’s di­vi­sion since ar­riv­ing in Ac­cra. An­netts has also been qui­etly mak­ing progress.

Last week, MTN SA, which has been hard hit by the price war in the cel­lu­lar in­dus­try, showed signs it was turn­ing the cor­ner.

In the third quar­ter to end Septem­ber 2014, MTN SA – the coun­try’s sec­ond­biggest mo­bile phone op­er­a­tor – recorded a 5.7% rise in sub­scribers to 26.7m, adding 1.4m net ad­di­tions for the quar­ter, mainly at­trib­ut­able to com­pet­i­tive of­fers such as ‘rush hour’ and ‘talk free’ in the pre­paid seg­ment MTN SA’s pre­paid sub­scriber base rose by 7.1% to 21.2m, as cus­tomers spent more on calls. Con­tract c us­tomers del i v ered a “sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance”. Ac­cord­ing to the company’s note to the JSE, it marginally in­creased its cus­tomers by 0.3% to 5.5m – 2m of which were teleme­try SIMs.

Clearly, MTN SA’s for­tunes can­not be at­trib­uted to Lady Luck.

When An­netts took over MTN SA’s for­tunes turned for the bet­ter. Mar­ket­ing is very cen­tral to the sur- vi­val of an or­gan­i­sa­tion and a CMO acts as a deputy chief f inan­cial of­fi­cer of a business.

An in­dus­try in­sider said An­netts is not a nor­mal CMO. “You have to un­der­stand that this a global mar­keter and a strate­gist who has de­liv­ered value to MTN Group for years.”

An­netts has added im­mense value in help­ing MTN SA ar­rest de­clin­ing mar­ket share.

He is no pushover. He could be a very shy per­son, but is in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive. A month after he took over his present job, An­netts said that he was con­fi­dent of help­ing MTN SA turn the cor­ner, be­cause he was “one of those mar­keters who don’t sleep”.

“I’m an in­som­niac, when I go into bed at night its cus­tomers that I think of and am ob­sessed with mak­ing sure they use our new prod­ucts. I am kind of neu­rotic when it comes to mak­ing my propo­si­tion per­fect. I put it out there,” said An­netts.

So far he hasn’t dis­ap­pointed. He has po­si­tioned the op­er­a­tor as a company that speaks to or­di­nary cus­tomers. An­netts have man­aged to move the de­bate in the in­dus­try from higher prices to bet­ter ser­vices.

“For me it’s about mak­ing our­selves at­trac­tive to con­sumers and about their needs, rather than look­ing around and say, ‘Okay, what are our com­peti­tors are of­fer­ing their cus­tomers; let’s copy and paste,’” he ex­plained back in July.

Since then An­netts has been very in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing MTN SA more rel­e­vant to its main cus­tomers. An­netts has roped in Mafik­i­zolo, the mul­ti­ple- award-win­ning Afro-pop mu­sic group, as an am­bas­sador of the brand – a move that has ob­vi­ously at­tracted new cus­tomers.

Lately, a clever ad­vert to give away a R1.5m plane or cash to one lucky South African has helped MTN SA at­tract even more cus­tomers.

An­netts’ t i me at MTN SA has put smiles back on the faces of its cus­tomers.

Larry An­netts

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