Telkom: Maseko moves in where angels fear to tread

When Jabu Mabuza took the job of chairing the Telkom board analysts characterised him as a strong willed and independent individual who will not tolerate the meddling that seems to have forestalled the state controlled telecoms giant thus far.

Mabuza himself issued strong exhortation in saying that the Telkom board needs to be given space to develop strategy for the company and then sell it to shareholders. He said the opposite was untenable.

Now the seasoned businessman, Mabuza, seems to have beefed up his position by leading the appointment of another strong business executive to take the Telkom’s CEO post. This is Sipho Maseko who was announced as the new CEO to succeed the departing Pinky Moholi. Maseko appears not to be indebted to the political elite. Granted this conclusion is highly subjective but it can be safely reached through the view of Maseko’s footprint.

Maseko appears to be a seasoned professional who rose through the ranks after earning an LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand. His legal background has seen him through Werksmans and the Financial Services Board. He made his corporate mark at  BP from the late 1990’s where he rose to become CEO of BP Africa. Most importantly for the Telkom job, Maseko has most recently served as MD of Vodacom.

Of all the directorships he has held, perhaps the most interesting one is serving on the Board of Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), a formidable think tank. This is interesting in view of the caliber of fellow board members. Led by Ann Bernstein, CDE features in its board some of the best business minds in the country. These include Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu, Mavuso Msimangu, Eugene van As, Sipho Pityana, Andile Sangqu, Prof Brian Figaji, Mark Cutifani, Cas Coovadia and Laurie Dippennar.

As such it is safe to take him for an independent mind which may come in handy in succeeding Moholi at Telkom. To be frank he is moving in where angels fear to tread.

Moholi tendered her resignation after a tumultuous period which saw more than half of the Telkom board depart unceremoniously last year. Telkom was left rudderless after the fixed line telecoms operator was separated, with government sanctioning, from its interest in South Africa’s largest mobile network operator Vodacom. In a world where telecoms around the world are going wireless Telkom was left with a dwindling revenue base to spin like a headless chicken. The explosion of its Nigerian venture worsened the situation.

Things came to a head when Telkom was forced to retreat from a deal which could have brought in Korean telecoms giant KT as a 20% equity partner. Lazurus Zim who chaired the board which oversaw the making of the collapsed KT deal threw in the towel and his departure was followed by a collapse of the board which was capped by the resignation of Moholi who in November last year submitted a six month resignation.

Mabuza was brought in with a host of new board members to stabilize the situation.

About Maseko’s appointment, Mabuza said “The appointment of a seasoned executive with telecommunications experience is another building block in Telkom’s turnaround process”.

“The objective of Telkom’s turnaround is to deliver sustainable performance. It is a strategy that requires a strong leadership team with the ability to ensure performance and execution and gain the support of all its stakeholders”.

Mabuza said that the Board followed a thorough governance process in making these appointments. “We instructed the executive search consultants to cast a wide net, so that we could choose from the best candidates. The Board has full confidence in the capabilities of our new Group Chief Executive to be a strong strategic leader, able to gain the support of all stakeholders in dealing with Telkom’s turnaround challenges. We are also confident that the appointment of Brian Armstrong as Group COO ensures business performance for our customers during the turnaround process.”

Telkom also announced that it is appointing Dr Brian Armstrong as Group Chief Operating Officer.

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