MTN Uganda, the country’s biggest company by revenue, has appointed Wim Vanhelleputte as its new CEO, company sources told Uganda Business News. A formal announcement is expected to be made soon.
The Belgian is expected to start work on August 1, replacing Brian Gouldie who left after only two years on the job. Mr Vanhelleputte headed MTN in Ivory Coast before briefly joining Bharti Airtel where he headed a business unit in charge of Gabon, Congo B, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Madagascar and the Seychelles.
Mr Vanhelleputte takes the job at a difficult time and he will find a full in-tray at the country’s biggest telecom, which is part of the Johannesburg-listed MTN Group.
Profit dropped 23% to Shs177 billion in 2015 on the back of a slowing economy, tighter competition, and exchange rate movements that wiped Shs25 billion off the bottom line according to Mike Blackburn, MTN Uganda’s chief financial officer.
MTN Uganda’s new CEO faces at least four major challenges.
First, while voice remains the company’s cash cow contributing about 67% of total revenues, it is slowing, with revenues dropping from Shs905.6 billion in 2014 to Shs883.2 billion in 2015.
MTN intends to invest the proceeds of a $114 million syndicated loan into expanding its 4G network as it seeks to grow revenues from data to compensate for slowing voice revenues.
Second, MTN’s subscriber numbers fell sharply, from 11.5 million in September 2015 to 8.9 million at the end of the year after it complied with regulatory demands to switch off unregistered SIM cards.
Relations with the regulator however remain fraught after Uganda Communications Commission fined MTN Shs5 billion for failing to comply with regulations relating to the use of short codes.
While MTN Uganda remains far ahead of its peers, Mr Vanhelleputte takes the reins amidst growing competition. Although it does not publicise its numbers, Bharti Airtel is believed to have moved into the black after years of losing money, buoyed by its purchase of Warid Telecom and growing its subscriber base.
The entry of Vodafone has added to the competition, especially in data, and brought in a blue chip rival with financial resources.
Finally, Mr Vanhelleputte will have to find a way of lasting longer than his two immediate predecessors. “He has to get along with the board if he is going to survive,” a company source told Uganda Business News. “That is something the last two CEOs failed to do.”
Regardless of what awaits him in the MTN Uganda boardroom, Mr Vanhelleputte will have little trouble acclimatising to Uganda. He is married to a Ugandan, Babra Adoso Vanhelleputte. According to a profile of her, they met when he came to Uganda as a Red Cross volunteer and got married in 2000. Between September 2004 and February 2006, he was the managing director of Imagine Partners Uganda.
Mr Vanhelleputte holds a Bachelor’s degree in General Engineering from the State University of Ghent, Belgium, a Master’s degree in Nuclear and Solid State Physics from the same University, and a Special Degree in Power Plant Management from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.