Irene Charn­ley South Africa CEO, Smile Tele­coms

The Africa Report - - BUSINESSS -

The chief ex­ec­u­tive of Smile Tele­coms is a born or­gan­iser. With a trade-union back­ground, Charn­ley started in the world of busi­ness with the cre­ation of the Na­tional Em­pow­er­ment Con­sor­tium (NEC), a body aimed at em­pow­er­ing those who apartheid ex­cluded from the com­mand­ing heights of the econ­omy. The NEC then bought a 35% share of John­nic Hold­ings – where Charn­ley was ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor – which in turn took a con­trol­ling stake in what be­came South Africa’s lead­ing tele­coms com­pany, MTN, help­ing to drive its list­ing on the Johannesburg Stock Ex­change. And this com­mit­ment to shar­ing wealth has been con­stant. While at John­nic, which is now called Times Me­dia Group, she cham­pi­oned the Ik­a­geng scheme, which turned 32,000 pre­vi­ously ex­cluded South Africans into share­hold­ers in John­nic. And in 2002, Charn­ley led a R4bn ($296m) man­age­ment and staff buy in to MTN. While com­mer­cial di­rec­tor of MTN, Charn­ley spear­headed the group’s ex­pan­sion through Africa and be­yond, an­chor­ing the com­pany’s rep­u­ta­tion as the con­ti­nent’s big­gest tele­coms player. The en­try into Iran, how­ever, did not come with­out con­tro­versy. MTN was ac­cused by ri­val Turk­cell of steal­ing its li­cence, some­thing de­nied by MTN and Charn­ley. A brief spell as the un­paid chair of the South African Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion in 2009 – where she un­cov­ered scan­dal af­ter scan­dal – dis­played her con­tin­ued in­ter­est in public ser­vice. But it was not pol­i­tics that Charn­ley pur­sued af­ter step­ping down as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at MTN in 2007. In­stead, tele­coms re­mains Charn­ley’s core pas­sion: as chief ex­ec­u­tive of Smile Tele­coms, Charn­ley has con­tin­ued to push for ex­pan­sion. Smile now claims one of the largest 4G net­works in Africa, op­er­at­ing in Nige­ria, Uganda, Tan­za­nia and soon in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

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