MTN Shuffle is an Affirmation that Young Black Executives Have a Place in Corporate SA

The appointment is refreshing - it is a move away from the "tried and tested" executives with the same old sterile strategies that they have used to lead corporate South Africa.

by Gugu Lourie

When the departure of experienced MTN South Africa CEO Mteto Nyati was made public by his new employers, JSE-listed tech group Altron, it was anyone’s guess who would fill his shoes at the giant cellphone operator.

While the appointment of Godfrey Motsa as the new MTN South Africa boss was somewhat a surprise it was, however, also an affirmation of young talented black executives.

The appointment is refreshing – it is a move away from the “tried and tested” executives with the same old sterile strategies that they have used to lead corporate South Africa.

Perhaps it is the beginning of the end of “the curse of superstar CEOs”, who earn mega-salaries and have huge reputations that enable them to jump from one company to the next.

That said, I am in no way trying to reduce the complex issue of transformation in the leadership of corporate South Africa into a simple headline – Hire More Young Black Executives into big positions.

However, it is a fact that some of the local big corporates, such Naspers, are led by young executives.

Bob van Dijk, the Dutch-born CEO of Naspers, with 10 years of general management experience, is 43 years old and has been given an opportunity to run an Africa-based tech giant with a market value flirting with R1 trillion.

He is supported by a great board led by industry stalwart Koos Bekker and a host of experienced executives.

It is a fact that the appointment of Motsa as a replacement to Nyati to run MTN South Africa shows the visionary thinking of board chairman Phuthuma Nhleko.

Nhleko enticed the young, smart, and experienced black executive from Vodacom to join Africa’s biggest mobile phone operator.

Despite Vodacom trying to enforce a restraint of trade against him, Nhleko patiently negotiated for Motsa to join MTN. The shrewd dealmaker seems to have a plan in mind for Motsa.

Subsequently, Motsa joined MTN as vice-president of the South and East Africa region at MTN Group.

He is a former chief officer of the consumer business unit at Vodacom South Africa, a unit of British mobile phone giant Vodafone. He also worked as a CEO of Vodacom DRC and Lesotho.

Motsa has honed his skills as a telco executive at Vodacom and was given an opportunity to prove himself – which he did.

He is now in charge of a company that generates more than R42 billion in revenues.

Motsa has earned his stripes and brings to his new MTN position a decade of experience in telecoms emerging markets.

It seems obvious that Nhleko has a plan to groom a new crop of leaders at MTN – a move I reckon deserves a glass of wine. Give Nhleko a Bells, I say.

Hopefully, the appointment of Motsa as MTN South Africa CEO will spur Vodacom or Vodafone to start thinking hard about who will eventually replace Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub. I hope Cell C is also watching and it must start a process to identify a young executive to take over from Jose dos Santos.

In the past, we have written a piece arguing that the current Vodafone Ghana CEO Yolanda Cuba is ready to take over at South Africa’s biggest mobile phone firm. For more read: Is Yolanda Cuba being prepared to succeed Vodacom’s Shameel Joosub?

Having Cuba or another young black executive take over from Joosub will enable Vodafone to affirm that it believes in local skills. Hopefully, that will also be replicated in other African countries, such as Kenya.

What is important, though, is that corporate South Africa and in this case the telecoms industry is creating real opportunities for skilled young black executives.

MTN must be celebrated for leading the way in that regard.

I wish Motsa success at MTN South Africa. Good luck, young man.


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