I have been privileged to work for three telcos which dominate the Africa landscape, each in its own right.
- Safaricom: From the humble beginnings as a mobile department in a state-owned parastatal, this company has done well for itself. It is well known for the leading mobile money service (M-PESA). I was immersed into the world of revenue assurance and risk management in this company. Whenever I pass the headquarters of Safaricom on Waiyaki Way in Nairobi, I raise an imaginary toast to the men and women who took me when I was wet behind my ears and trained me until I headed the revenue assurance team. Such folks like Alfred Kiteme, Patrick Kinoti, Sharon Holi, Hilda Nduati, Eddie Irungu and the late Ivor Wekesa were extremely patient in training up the next core of assurance staff. I can name a dozen individuals who have headed or now head assurance functions in African companies and they were coached by the team above.
- Bharti Airtel: This Indian giant has valiantly fought in its quest to dominate the African landscape. Airtel’s plight in Africa has been a bag of mixed fortunes. Some of their African operations are practically insolvent but they push on. That is the spirit of an entrepreneur.
- Vodacom: Operating out of its headquarters in South Africa, it has succeeded in Lesotho, DRC and Tanzania. By far one of the most pleasant places I ever worked at. Vodacom is a company that is young at heart. My time in Mozambique remains memorable. I had the good fortune of working with a Finance Director (Jacques Marais), Managing Director (Jerry Mobbs), and Group Head of RA (Douglas Jardine) who would move mountains to make sure the RA agenda succeeds. If you approached any of these three men with an idea that can work, their support made it happen.
I have not had the pleasure of working for MTN, yet another African giant in the telco space. When RAG came to Africa this September, I had my first taste of MTN. RAG came to Africa courtesy of Tony Sani and his team. Tony travelled to a previous RAG meeting in Europe and saw the level of collaboration that was being achieved through RAG. He returned to Africa keen to make RAG happen for Africa and together with his team, they did it. The hospitality in Johannesburg was excellent, the conference logistics were flawless and the opportunities to exchange ideas were in abundance. You may get a sense of that from the photograph above, which shows the hundred-plus attendees enjoying the braai that MTN arranged for them on the first evening of the conference. In summary, MTN did everything in their power to make this conference a success.
Why do I point out the work that Tony and his MTN team have done in bringing RAG to Africa? They understood one fundamental truth. We may work for competing companies but as folks working in the assurance space, MTN has shown that it welcomes us all with open arms, because it is the right thing to do.
We remain competitors and we must compete. Let us compete for market share. Let us see who can offer the best service. Let us see who can innovate the best. However, when it comes to ensuring that we manage our risks, MTN has shown that as a company, it sees the big picture. They rightly operate from the perspective that the enormous task of risk management and assurance is too great for us to lock ourselves up in our offices and peer at each other through the blinds. There is a better way and that way is collaboration. The RAG conference was a complete departure from the many conferences which dot the African landscape and in which delegates are charged yet the sessions are nothing more than a venue for vendors to make their product pitches. Delegates only needed to meet their travel and accommodation expenses.
So, yes, if I should find myself driving past MTN offices anywhere in the world, I will raise an imaginary toast to Tony Sani and his team. They took a critical first step. And I will be reminded that we all need to take a second step.