Telkom chief to fill a void

Pinky Moholi, Telkom’s first woman chief executive, has vowed to stem the leadership turmoil which led to a number of executives leaving the telecoms group last year.

One of the priorities on Moholi’s to-do list will be to fill the leadership void at Telkom, starting with the appointment of a new chief financial officer.

“The process of appointing a new chief financial officer has already started and we will make an announcement in a month or so,” said Moholi, whose two stints at Telkom amount to 12 years.

A number of executives jumped ship last year following rumoured boardroom clashes between the company’s board and senior executives.

The new chief financial officer will replace Peter Nelson, who quit the company last year.

Other executives who left Telkom include chief executive Reuben September, managing director of Telkom International Thami Msimango; the company’s former head of strategy, Naas Fourie; and Marius Mostert, the head of network infrastructure provisioning.

Moholi, who was running Telkom’s local operations before her appointment, is taking over from caretaker boss Jeffrey Hedberg, the former chief executive of cellular provider Cell C, whose contract will end this month.

She said the “leadership instability” had resulted in the “poor execution” of strategy. She will implement a turnaround plan, in the formulation of which she was intimately involved.

Telkom plans to sell the CDMA [code division multiple access] part of its Nigerian business, Multi-Links; an investment that has proved to be highly unprofitable. According to media reports last December, Telkom could spend as much as R1.3?billion if it were to sell Multi-Links as a going concern.

It spent R3.2?billion when it bought the company in 2007 but has already written down the value of the Nigerian unit by more than R5.6?billion.

“We are only selling the CDMA part of the business and we are at a critical stage in discussions with potential bidders. We are not exiting Nigeria – it is a lucrative market,” said Moholi.

Analysts have been very critical of Telkom for acquiring Multi-Links, which uses CDMA technology, preferred in North America but nowhere else.

The most preferred technology around the world is the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), which reaches a billion people, compared with CDMA’s 270?million. About 80% to 90% of the Nigerian market uses GSM technology.

In South Africa, where Telkom makes the bulk of its money, Moholi plans to grow the broadband business and the group’s cellphone unit, known as 8ta.

She said 8ta was aiming to capture 15% of the local mobile market over the next five years.

“If you have no mobile application in your armoury you are not going to succeed,” she said.

She holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Cape Town and an executive programme from Stanford Business School as well as a marketing management programme from Harvard Business School.

She has worked for the likes of tech group Siemens and lender Nedbank.

“My appointment demonstrates that South Africa offers many opportunities for people from all walks of life if you have education, skills, experience and are prepared to work hard,” said Moholi, who hails from Willowvale in Transkei.

An analyst said the industry welcomed her appointment.

“She is well versed in what Telkom is all about,” said Sisa Rafuza, a portfolio manager at Metropolitan Asset Managers.
“She has the right pedigree and I think she can deliver on her mandate.”

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