Telkom
Serame Taukobong. Image source: ITweb

Serame Taukobong, the brains behind Telkom Mobile’s revival, is carving up a spot as a future boss for the telco.

Sipho Maseko, the current CEO of Telkom, is not likely to go anywhere soon. But one day he will need to pass on the telco’s reins.

Growth engine for Telkom

Taukobong runs Telkom Consumer Business, an internet service, and converged communications services provider offering fixed and mobile broadband solutions. This business unit is the growth engine for Telkom.

Under Taukobong’s leadership, Telkom Consumer Business, which also include Telkom Mobile, is moving towards being more reliable.

When Telkom Mobile boss Attila Vitai left in June 2018 the entity had more than 5 million customers.

Under the stewardship of Taukobong, Telkom Mobile has tripled the customer base within two years to 15 million, reflecting a 300% growth.

However, when compared to duopolies – Vodacom and MTN – Telkom Mobile is a tiny operator.

Last week, Maseko told investors that Telkom Consumer Business continues to be the driver of growth for the whole telco.

Telkom Mobile business sustained its growth trajectory with year-to-date mobile service revenue swelling by 40.7% to R12.6 billion.

Active subscribers jumped by 25.9% to 14.9 million, with blended average revenue per user (ARPU) surging by 23.9% to R108.

Telkom Mobile also benefited from the mobile broadband strategy that saw it increasing users by 27% to more than 10 million – a sterling performance by any measure.

For more read: Telkom’s Growth Engine Firing on All Cylinders

Succession plans

There is a lot for Telkom to learn about leadership succession plans from top global companies such as Amazon. Last week Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy was named as the successor to Amazon founder and billionaire boss, Jeff Bezos.

Telkom cannot afford to get its leadership succession wrong.

When Maseko took the helm at Telkom on 1 April 2013, the business was falling apart.

Maseko has since steered Telkom from near extinction to showing green shoots.

Yes, challenges are still there, but some business units – Openserve and BCX – have the potential to do well. Telkom is also finalising plans to make Openserve a standalone business and house its data centres in BCX. Gyro is also promising great returns for the telco.

Taukobong’s expertise

That said, Taukobong’s deep understanding of marketing and sales coupled with his experience in the telecoms space make him a perfect candidate to lead Telkom in the future.

Early last year, he shepherded Telkom Mobile one notch up to the third-biggest mobile operator in South Africa.

Taukobong, who is an engineer, is also an acclaimed marketer with a lot of experience in the telco space.

Back in 2004, Taukobong was the chief operations officer at MTN Uganda.

In 2006 he was appointed sales and distribution executive at MTN Irancell, where – among his other achievements – Taukobong established a distribution footprint of over 7,000 points of presence.

Taukobong’s marketing shrewdness was evident when he successfully led the MTN sponsorship team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. MTN dubbed its sponsorship campaign “Ayoba”.

Owing to its obvious success, Taukobong was affectionately referred to as the “Chief Ayobaness Officer”. Others simply renamed him “Mr. Ayoba”.

This accolade was well earned.

At the time, many people did not even understand what “Ayoba” meant.

Still, through marketing prowess, Taukobong made “Ayoba” a household name to millions of South Africans and beyond. The use of “Ayoba” soon became commonplace even in the hallowed halls of CNN.

The “Ayoba” campaign won numerous awards locally and abroad.

Industry insiders say it came as no surprise when Taukobong was seconded to head MTN Ghana in 2013 after the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

He significantly raised MTN Ghana’s profile and profitability despite fierce competition from Vodafone.

After “Mr. Ayoba” assumed MTN Ghana’s reins, the operation rose to become one of the most profitable in the MTN stable behind crucial markets of Nigeria, Iran, and South Africa.

At the end of 2013, MTN Ghana’s subscribers swelled by 10,2% to 12,9 million.

This growth was driven by increased regional segmentation, acquisition and retention campaigns, and a focus on MTN Mobile Money.

The following year, MTN Ghana customers rose by 7,1% to 13,9 million, while market share remained at 50,5% earning the company a customer service award.

An industry insider recalls that Taukobong’s insight did not go unnoticed in Ghana. He was appointed as an industry association leader in Ghana, a testament to his versatility and stakeholder engagement abilities.

In 2015, Taukobong’s expertise attracted the attention of US conglomerate General Electric.

The US giant appointed Taukobong as Growth Leader for Sub-Saharan Africa and Head of Transformation in South Africa.

Making an impact at Telkom

However, his love for telcos led him back to Telkom in 2018.

It is no surprise that since Taukobong joined Telkom SA the numbers have improved giving testimony to his Midas touch.

An insider says Taukobong has “infused some zest and coolness to a brand perceived as bland”.

“His management and inter-personal skills were second to none,” said another insider who worked with him at MTN.

“He was not only a cheerful person to be around, but he was also approachable, level-headed, a strategic thinker, and very collaborative in his approach.”

Taukobong inspired his team to bring their A-game and had an intimate understanding of the market he was serving.

Many people with knowledge of Telcos contacted for comment believe Taukobong can serve as an exceptional and sage advisor to the industry and regulator.

Telkom’s board is better off recognising Taukobong’s leadership qualities and potential to lead the whole company.

For now, Taukobong should ensure that the company’s broadband-led proposition attracts more customers with affordable plans and products.

He also needs to develop an attractive proposition to retain current customers who face diminishing purses owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has slowed down economic growth resulting in some customers losing their income.

With its vast network, Telkom should also create more affordable data plans to capture remote workers.

Keep an eye on Taukobong as he assists Telkom boss Maseko create a new conglomerate.

Hopefully, he will also ensure that his team focuses on delivering seamless customer service while pursuing profits. – lourie@techfinancials.co.za

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