MTN to refocus on Africa and mobile money under new CEO

Ralph Mupita took over as CEO of MTN at the beginning of September. Will McBain examines the challenges he faces as the head of Africa’s largest telecoms provider

Following years of legal difficulties in challenging markets, MTN Group’s new CEO Ralph Mupita is expected to turn over a new leaf by capitalising on technological growth and a demographic dividend within Africa to cement its position as the continent’s largest telecoms provider.

The firm’s Middle East operations have underperformed in recent years, while legal and regulatory difficulties in Nigeria damaged shareholder confidence in the overall expansion strategy.

Former chief executive Rob Shuter – who will become CEO of BT’s Enterprise unit – had to deal with a record $5.2bn fine, later reduced to $1.5bn, levied by Nigeria’s Communications Commission after failing to disconnect 5.1m unregistered sim cards, while grappling with the Nigerian government over an additional $2bn tax claim, which was finally dropped earlier this year.

Now it falls to MTN’s new CEO, Zimbabwean Ralph Mupita, to extricate MTN from the Middle East, grow its mobile money platform, and invest in 5G.

“He has financial experience in the banking sector and this is becoming increasingly important if not critical for MTN, because of the growing size of mobile money,” says Dobek Pater of research consultancy Africa Analysis. “Mobile operators are the biggest threat to traditional banks, and Mupita knows the changes that need to be made to steer MTN forward in that industry.”

Mupita is an internal appointment, having joined MTN in 2017 as group chief financial officer, after a 16-year career at Old Mutual, including a five-year stint as CEO at Old Mutual Emerging Markets. He has less telecoms experience than his peers, yet has a wealth of financial experience.

An engineer and an alumnus of the Harvard Business School, Mupita has been a key player driving MTN’s BRIGHT strategy, a five-year plan to reach 300m subscribers by 2022, and bolster new revenue streams in financial services, mobile gaming and music streaming, to offset the falling margins in bread-and-butter telecoms services such as phone calls.

“Ralph’s experience as the group CFO, strong knowledge of our businesses and markets, as well as successful background in financial services, M&A and emerging markets, place him in an excellent position to lead the growth and sustainability of the business going forward,” said a statement from the firm.

Although MTN has emerged from the worst of its labyrinthine legal problems in Nigeria, its […]

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