The hunt for the next September

2010-07-17 13:11

In the 1990 movie The Hunt for Red October, a Russian nuclear submarine

captain defects to the United States to prevent the Russians from using a

revolutionary silent sub to wage nuclear war against the US.


There are lots of plot twists in this hi-tech thriller.

Twenty years on, our local telecommunications service provider,

Telkom, seems on track to thrill us even more.

With its pitiful customer service, questionable forays into West

Africa, dubious empowerment manoeuvres and legendary anti-competitive practices,

arguably not a single entity – including Fifa’s Match – can rival Telkom in the

“most reviled company” stakes.


And now, for the fifth time in less than 12 years, the state-owned

enterprise is about to welcome another CEO.

But it can take solace in the fact that Neotel, its supposed

fixed-line competitor, has been slow to take advantage of the parastatal’s

woeful performance, aggravated recently by internal strife.

As Telkom hunts for a suitable candidate to replace ousted chief

executive Reuben September, its board should be

mindful that over the years it has, owing to its lack of visionary stewardship

and anti-competitive practices, wreaked considerable damage on itself and the

local economy.


The departure of September offers

another opportunity for Telkom to redeem itself by appointing someone who will

help reverse this unflattering trend.

But what kind of CEO does Telkom need?

Analysts are divided as to whether an internal or external

candidate should be appointed.

While calls for Telkom to broaden its search for a new CEO are

understandable, we need to be aware of the fact that there already exist

suitably qualified individuals within Telkom.

The recent appointment of Jeffrey Hedberg as acting CEO is viewed

by some as mischievous and intended to thicken the plot – what with his

unsuccessful efforts at making Cell C relevant and failing at Telkom’s doomed

Nigerian business, Multi-Links.

Unless the Telkom board wants us to believe that mediocrity is the

latest synonym for excellence, it certainly can do better than bypass more

suitably qualified candidates.


What Telkom needs is a strong, independent individual who

understands its dreadful history and, most importantly, a selfless architect

with a blueprint of how to make it work.

Telkom’s recent poor financial results are a manifestation of the

bad planning and lack of visionary leadership that can arguably be traced back

to the late 1990s after Dr Brian Clarke aborted this hapless submarine.


Under Sizwe Nxasana, Telkom invested inordinate resources, defended

its monopoly and perfected its anti-competitive practices.


Papi Molotsane made attempts to modernise its network and at some

stage seemed to correctly realise that it had not been listening to its

customers. But his era was short-lived as he was pushed out and replaced by

September.

Although no one should be guaranteed an automatic pass for the job,

there is no denying that a case has been made for Telkom to appoint a woman as

its next CEO.


The draft ICT charter notwithstanding, it is surprising that six

years later there are still no women at the helm of a major local ICT company.

Furthermore, just as Safa correctly did with Carlos Parreira’s successor, Telkom

has groomed capable black women who are ready to step up to the plate.

There is no excuse not to transform this pale male-dominated

sector.

This can be achieved without compromising the exigent need for

reform.

But given Telkom’s DNA, even the least cynical Telkom observer

expects lots of plot twists before the hunter CEO ends.
 

  • Khaas is executive chairman of Corporate SA, an independent

    telecommunications research, advisory and strategic consultancy.


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