While many may find the idea of improving a company that is already the biggest and best in the league daunting Mr Micheal Ikpoki, Chief Exective Officer of MTN, Ghana’s largest telecommunications carrier and offshoot of the most dominant brand across Africa and a major force in the Middle East, shows no trepidation. And there is reason for his confidence. Mr Ikpoki earned his spurs headlining sales in the company’s biggest market and Africa’s most populous country – Nigeria. Even though he believes the smaller size of the Ghanaian market vis-à-vis the number of operators makes the competition keener, Mr Ikpoki is prepared. While recognizing the similarities and the benefit of his Nigerian experience, he recognizes the nuances of his new billing as CEO.
“Interestingly, there are many striking similarities, the Nigerian market is bigger but on the whole it isn’t much different. But in Nigeria I was head of sales for four years before I came here. It is important to recognize, though, that I am coming in a new capacity as a CEO. So it has helped but it must be recognized that my role is different now. Here, my role is about how to engage the different energies of the company – the commercial, technical and stakeholders to move the company forward. It is a completely new role since I’ve never been CEO. It is a new turf for me but one that I am enjoying because I have the opportunity to work with a lot of talent here at MTN Ghana.”
March marks a year since Mr. Ikpoki took over as CEO of MTN. When he took over, the telecommunication company was on the cusp of reaching its ten-millionth customer. To put this in context, Ghana is a country with a total population of just about twenty-five million.
So where does a telecom carrier go when it has reached this level of dominance? Simple: it keeps going. “There a still people who are not on our network”, says Mr Ikpoki. “What’s wrong with twenty million?” he asks, one suspects, with a dash of humor.
But to MTN, the market is now about a lot more than numbers. The numbers give the company an opportunity to play a more significant role in the lives of the subscribers and on the national stage.
“We want to be more than just a mobile service provider. We believe that we are in a position to be very relevant to the lives of our customers. We are serious when we say we want to enrich peoples’ lives. That means understanding the customers, their lifestyles and being able to support them to meet their own objectives. That’s why we recently launched ‘MTN Just for you’. What this does is it enables us to provide bespoke solutions, incentives and rewards to each of our ten-million plus customers depending on their lifestyles and usage patterns.”
Socially and economically, MTN is keen to play a part in people’s lives. Enriching the lives of customers extends beyond selling them airtime to enable them stay in touch from all corners of the country and beyond, but also includes facilitating their professional and economic aspirations.
Indeed, analysts say telecommunications is one the “key enablers” of economic development, a fact that is not lost on Mr Ikopki. His vision in office has informed by these findings. From its position of strength, MTN wants to play a part in building a successful nation out of a prosperous customer base.
This is seen through the keen attention it pays to the SME sector. Through engagements such as Traders’ Fora , the company is getting in tune with the needs of its customers in a bid to meet those needs and enable them to achieve success.
MTN Business, a new initiative, also seeks to deliver customized solutions for its medium and large-scaled customers. As an individual who is passionate about business and wants to help the Ghanaian business sector, Mr Ipkoki, looks forward to helping build business through knowledge-sharing, this is only a natural progression for a company that wants to complement its customers lives in any way possible.
This , not through voice alone. With approximately 80% of the market share in voice, MTN under Mr Ikpoki has turned its attention to data. This is not only crucial for businesses both large and small but also for personal and social needs in a world where the internet has taken centre stage.
These reflect a subtle re-focusing by the telecom giant under its new leadership. A firm believer in integrated business models, Mr Ikpoki has spotted this new opportunity and responsibility, placing MTN in a position to once again lead the market as it has done since it pioneered GSM technology in the then infant Ghanaian telecom space.
“As the economy opens up,” Mr Ipkoki says, “there are a lot more business involved in a lot more transactions which opens up the market to data opportunities. You need proper ICT solutions to enable businesses achieve their objectives. With data penetration in Ghana at not more than 6%, – which is very low -the reality is that this is an opportunity that exists. These are the realities that are shaping today’s marketplace. So what we have done at MTN is that we have had a clear view of this opportunity. That is why we have made great investments into infrastructure. Last year, we built three data centres; we also invested in the WACS Cable project which will be fully operational in the first quarter. This will build the kind of bandwidth that can support the sort of explosion that we expect in data.”
While this might be good for the network in keeping customers hooked on and happy, it is also a boon to the country’s development effort. With broadband penetration statistically linked to growth, MTN’s plans and their success should pay off in a welcome way for the country as well, not only in business but in education, health and other sectors.
Of course, while leading the charge for data penetration, MTN won’t compromise its position as dominators of the market. To Mr Ipkoki, maintaining MTN’s position does not require any special science even as competition peaks with new players entering the market and Mobile Number Portability ushering in an era of consumer freedom and mobility.
“At the end of the day, we compete,” says the former head of sales in MTN’s biggest market. “Fundamentally, the key principles about how to attract a customer don’t change. The basic thing is to have a great network, good coverage, good capacity, delivering value for money, innovative products and solutions and having the right kind of distribution so people can access the product. Looking at it from that point of view, not much changes and we will continue to focus on those avenues and make sure that the whole customer experience we offer is second to none. We will keep doing the key things better and ensuring that we are relevant to people’s lives with products and services that are tailored just for them as we are doing with MTN Just for you.”
If rivals thought that ten million customers would make MTN complacent, Mr Ipkoki’s declared vision should quickly dissipate those thoughts. The telecom firm is now poised to push the barriers and breach new frontiers. For customers, this will mean innovative and better services; for businesses, a partner that understands their needs and reflexively delivers customized solutions to enable greater productivity; for the nation, it will be accelerated economic growth and improves infrastructure and for the man himself, it will be a job well done – taking a company at the top of its game and building it into an unassailable brand.