Group chief executive, CelTel International of The
The company you have bought into used to be known as Econet Wireless and then as Vodacom and is now known as Vmobile and will be known as Celtel when you rebrand it. Four names in five years. How are you going to handle there-branding issue and what are the challenges?
Of course Vmobile has had a kind of troubled history. That is why I think it is so good that the company now has reached a safe harbour and is in good family. But of course now, entering into the family means that you have to adopt the family name. What we see in
We have seen that it is very much possible if you do it in a professional way and you explain to the public that we are not throwing away Vmobile but it is just a next phase in the life of the company. It is a very good company. It has a very strong brand, the customers like the brand, the staff like the brand but it is now time to move on.
Again, becoming part of that family means that you have to adopt the family name. And that is what we have done in other countries. Let me just give you two examples from recent history. In
What is your capital profile that will enable you carry out your planned expansion of Vmobile?
I can tell you that we expect that in the next two years to invest another $700 million in the company. And then, of course, if all Nigerians want to be our customers, we might invest billions of dollars. It will depend on the customer growth.
Your coming into
I think the situation here in
What are your plans to improve the quality of the Vmobile network?
First of all, building a mobile network is an art though it is scientific and technology-driven thing. The reality is that it is very much dependent on the quality of the people that are working on it. So you see differences on the quality of the networks. The other issue is that if you purchase a piper aircraft, for instance, and it carries four passengers. Now what we do with the mobile networks is that before the flight we reconstruct that little aircraft into a Boeing 747 which is a big jumbo jet because we have to add passengers during the flight and we can’t go down and stop and put the plane in a hanger for three weeks and say we are going to add some extra chairs. But you can imagine if you reconstruct your piper in the air into Boeing 747. That is quite a difficult task and here and there something might go wrong.
And that is the issue. There are so many new customers on all the networks in
If I now tell you that Celtel was founded by the best GSM engineer in the world because the company was founded by Dr. Mo Ibrahim. He worked during his career in the GSM industry and founded a company called MSI which was a consultancy company as far back as in the 1980s. This grew to become the biggest GSM consultancy company in the world. They have thousands and thousands of engineers and some of them were passed on to the network when MSI was founded. That means that we are probably the company that knows the most about GSM networks. We are very confident that we can maintain the quality of the network and also bring new ideas into
Being a continental brand are you going to have local flavour?
We are not going to tell you about our internal relationship with our agency because that is confidential information. That is competitive, sensitive information. But of course if you build a global brand; although it is not meant to be globalised, now, is African, but in Africa, you can see it as a global brand, then, of course, that means that drives part of your brand positioning and that’s what you see.
But, still, we use more of the same philosophy in the advertising and the way we promote the brand. It has the same brand values and it has the same brand performance. It might be slightly different in the way we do our advertising in each country because people want to recognize what they see in the advertising and say, ‘yes, this is my environment.’
At the same time, I have experienced personally that people always have strong opinions about advertising but, it does not necessarily mean that all those feelings point in the same direction.
Take Coca-cola for instance, I have never seen a local advertisement for Coca-cola. It’s always an international advertisement for Coca-cola and that is the way we want to promote our brand also. It should be the same brand throughout the countries. But, of course, you will see more localized fliers, and if you talk to the salesman, you will probably see some posters that are more localized but the main positioning of the brand should be the same in all the countries. That is, how we try to do it.
Presently unified licensing is coming on stream. Would your company be interested in this?
Yes, of course, we’re interested in unified licence. In the end, everybody will have a unified licence. That is the whole philosophy about the unified licensing. It is a very good direction. What happened in the past was that governments and regulators would give licenses based on a certain technology, which in a way is a little bit funny because the technology is actually not interesting to the customer. The customer is interested in the service. Let us take our main product which is the voice call. I think you as a user of a mobile phone are not very interested if your voice call travels over a 900 frequency or 1800 frequency or something in between. I don’t think you are interested in that. So, it is a little bit funny if you as a government say that, ‘Okay, you can do voice service as a company but you can only do it on this technology.”
Governments are now moving away from that. So, what they would do would be to say okay, ‘you can do a service and you pick the best technology.’ And the best technology today, might be very different from the best technology five years from now. And we see that in the industry.
That is the good thing about unified licence. On the other hand, don’t expect too much from it. That is the down side. People get excited because it’s unified licensing, in the end, what limits the number of operators for example, that do mobile telephony, is not the number of licenses, the thing is the availability of frequencies and that is a very limited thing.
Unified licensing is good but, at the same time, you must not see it as a magic that will change the whole industry because that won’t happen. It’s a kind of natural evolution, a kind of natural growth path that we are going through.
Your operation in the countries where you are presently is not big. Now, you are entering the Nigerian market which is a huge one. How prepared are you to cope with the challenges?
Many members of our management team like me, have worked in much bigger companies before we joined Celtel. We are not a bit scared when we see a big number. Let me tell you that we are prepared for the Nigerian market.
I can tell you that the Vmobile staff are extremely competent. They brought this company to where it is today. The only thing that we shall do is that we shall be a god shareholder and bring some of the knowledge that we have. Having worked in 14 other African countries we have a lot of knowledge about what kind of things are working and those which are not working. We can bring that knowledge to
You are working on the “One East African Network”. What is it about?
It is a great opportunity for us to leverage on this unique opportunity that we have been present in
So, we are working on a project called “One Network” which is like taking down these borders and allow the customers of Celtel in
Will your taking over Vmobile lead to job loss?
We have told the staff of Vmobile that the brand name has nothing to do with their employment. The good news is that we are growing daily in Vmobile. In fact we hire people everyday. I said to the staff, “I am not in the business of firing people, I am in the business of hiring people.” I can tell you that it is difficult to find all the right people. So, people that can perform should not worry about their jobs.
Having operated in many other African countries, how do you see the regulatory environment in
Regulatory environment is more complicated in
We can learn more from
Do you have any plan to bring your operations in
Part of our strategy is to be a pan African operator. What we mean is that we want to have our footprints all over the continent. We also want to make it possible for our African customers to be able to talk to one another as if it was a borderless community.
You may know that we know traditionally, telephone traffic travels all over the world. If you make a telephone call from
Let me tell you that that is a very complicated issue. It is not about us or the technology; it is all about governments. Each country has a different VAT (Value Added Tax) regime and all the countries want to make sure that they get their VAT on each call. Then you have different licence fees, you have different levies and specific taxes on telecoms income but they are different in every country. That makes the whole thing extremely complicated. From the technological point of view we can do it already today, it is really the regulatory side that holds us back because it is extremely complicated. But we are about to introduce it in
What is your reading of the Nigerian economy?
We are very positive about the future of