Osho: Companies Must Be Flexible in Adapting to Market Conditions

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The Chief Executive Officer, MTN Liberia, Mr. Babatunde Osho, spoke with Eromosele Abiodun, on how businesses can adapt very quickly to the changes around them. He also recalled how the Chartered Institute of Management Accountant (CIMA) Chartered Institute of Management Accountant qualification helped him to become a multi-functional business professional. Excerpts:

You have been CEO of MTN in Liberia for over a year. You also worked in MTN Nigeria for many years in senior roles. Kindly tell us the things that differentiate the telecom markets in Nigeria and Liberia?

In fact, I have been here in Liberia for close to two years. I can only think of three things that differentiate the Nigerian market from the Liberian one. First is the size of the market. The Nigerian market is bigger in size and population. This market is a small market. The population here is about four million compared with 150 million in Nigeria.
Telecommunications infrastructure in Liberia is still developing. This was the case when I joined MTN Nigeria but today we can boast of fibre infrastructure linking base stations and switching facilities across the country.

Also, the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), which is more or less the purchasing power, is smaller in Liberia than what you have in Nigeria. Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) is a lot higher than that of Liberia and this is reflected in the purchasing power. So, in the main, these are the things that differentiate the two markets. But there are lots of similarities in terms of competition, expectation of service and types of service that the consumer wants.

How essential is strategy in dealing with internal and external workings of a multinational like MTN in an environment such as Liberia?

In terms of developing an effective strategy, we have a very rigorous and robust strategy development process in MTN across all our operations and we follow that. During our annual SWOT analysis exercise, we look at those things that can impact our business now and in the nearest future. And within that context, we try and research what we plan to do in that market. There are key strategies which we develop as a group and which we must key into as it relates to our market. So, strategy defines our approach to market development and how we position ourselves in the market. It also defines how we offer value to our subscribers.
Once we get approval for our business plan and strategy, we begin to deploy resources. As part of the strategic development process, we look internally and externally into what could affect our business now and in the very near future. It also helps us to define a product marketing position. The process is rigorous, robust and functional.
And then we have our monthly KPIs to track how we are doing against our plan. Also, there are processes for responding to changes in the marketplace in terms of our position and what we do.

Can you share with us what you have delivered to the market, the customer and the economy in Liberia over the years as a business?

Our business relations with the customer vary in the two segments of the market where we operate. In the consumer segment, we have the high-value segment and other segments. The second segment consists of business enterprise customers. We enrich their lives by offering innovative services that would impact the way they live, work and play. So, in this market, we offer a lot of services both on the consumer side and on the business side. And we have supported that through investment in the country in terms of the infrastructure we’re putting in place as we continue to offer reliable and affordable services to the Liberian consumer and businesses. We have employed hundreds in this market and our foundation is doing excellent work in terms of how we give back to the communities where we do business.

MTN is renowned for its tagline of “Everywhere You Go.” So what would be your holistic assessment of services when compared to other providers across the African continent?

We are committed to the development of the African continent. Our vision is to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world guided by a mission to make the lives of our customers a whole lot brighter. So, we are at the forefront of digital services and innovation and from what we’ve done across markets, it is not about limiting ourselves to basic voice and data. We have done a lot of innovation around music, which all other operators have copied. We have also gone into mobile financial service which is very strong here and we have our mobile money that is doing quite well as part of our support for financial inclusion in the country.

In the enterprise segment, we offer quite a lot of innovative services to businesses to help them in improving effectiveness and efficiency in running their businesses. In all our markets, we try to be number one. It means we have to be very close to our subscribers, offering them the kinds of products and services that will improve their lives if we are to maintain that position in all our markets. In Liberia, we are number one and we will continue to lead by offering a variety of services to our subscribers and customers.

Given the fast pace of innovation and the huge investment needed to sustain operations in the telecoms industry, how have you been managing risk? Also, how would you assess the attitude to risk and corporate governance in the Liberian market?

As a part of the MTN group, we take the risk and governance process seriously. We also include risk and governance issues in our annual reports to the group and stakeholders. So, we assess all our risks, categorise them and as a management team, put mitigation actions in place in each of our principal risk areas. And then we ensure that we have a proper governance structure around what we do and how we comply with extant laws, regulations and environment. So we have a strong risk and governance culture in MTN Liberia.

What does Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) mean for business in Liberia in the light of a volatile global macro-economic environment?

VUCA means that every business should be very careful and flexible in the way it reacts to changing market conditions because the volatility is becoming unprecedented and fraught with uncertainties at the macro-level. The changes are complex and ambiguous hence, we need strong analytical skills to be able to discern and react. In all of these, we need to be nimble. We need to have a flexible plan that will enable us to react and respond.

The incredible advances that we witness in the technology space every now and then also bring some complexity into the way we must deliver our services. So, we need to be flexible to be able to change and adapt very quickly to the changes we see around us. Therefore, the management of change becomes a very critical leadership agenda; in what we do in our business and how we allocate resources quickly to the changing circumstances around. We need to be focused on our mission of offering reliable and affordable telecommunications services and also remain profitable even in these difficult business conditions. And it is not going to be different going forward because it is a part of life now.

Can you please share with us some of your career highlights and how you ended up in the telecoms sector?

I think the starting point in my career highlights is the Chartered Institute of Management Accountant (CIMA) qualification because my career has been on an upward trend from then on. I started in the retail environment in England and then moved to telecoms. The move into the telecoms sector is a career highlight because, in order to add value to the business in a new environment as an accountant, you need to immerse yourself into understanding all the key metrics. The CIMA qualification gives one a solid background in the effort to gain an understanding of where you work. And so, within a short period, one is able to make impact and add value.

So, I saw myself rising quickly up the ladder. At a point, I felt that returning to Nigeria to contribute my quota to the telecoms sector was the next logical step. So, I joined MTN Nigeria which was doing quite a lot of interesting things at that time. It was a period when the market was expanding. Infrastructure was expanding and we were offering different kinds of services. It was an exciting period for me. I was promoted several times from the finance side to business intelligence and then I was asked to lead the enterprise business unit.

I led the acquisition and integration of two complementary telecommunication businesses into MTN Nigeria to make MTN Nigeria become a full-service telecommunications service provider and not a GSM company. And, of course, I was appointed as Chief Executive Officer for MTN Liberia and then appointed to the board as a director. So those are some of the key highlights of my career and yes, I give thanks to God.

Why did you decide to study for the CIMA qualification, especially as it was not popular in Nigeria until recently?

Yes, it may not be popular but I remember long ago when I had two application forms with me and decided on CIMA. As a student, I decided to pursue CIMA after seeing the kind of subjects and skill sets I would get by writing the CIMA exams. And knowing that I wanted to be in industry, I settled for CIMA. I was not interested in working as an auditor because I don’t think I am cut out for things like that. I really want to be making impact on business, making suggestions on how things should get better and to increase value which is sort of natural to me. So, it wasn’t a very difficult decision for me to take.

As a management accountant who has risen through the ranks, what would you say, in relation to Nigeria, is the true value of management accountants?

The skill set required in terms of the training for the CIMA qualification is extreme. I still remember what I had to go through to get qualified and returning to Nigeria to find out the CIMA qualification was scarce at MTN at the time. After joining, leading the business analysis team, we had to get involved in a lot of projects which required incredible amount of analytical and problem-solving work; in terms of what would help the business to effectively and efficiently manage its growth objectives at the time. I try to encourage most of my colleagues who have accounting qualifications, like ICAN that they need to do CIMA because the qualification gives you an incredible analytical skill set and a strong perception about the business.

You can talk to an engineer and shape their decision on acquisition of assets. So there are quite a lot of benefits in having a CIMA qualification and a CIMA member in any organisation in Nigeria will make all the difference. I hope the number is growing now because I remember that by the time I left MTN Nigeria to come here, an increasing number of my colleagues showed interest in the CIMA qualification and I know CIMA is starting to gain grounds in Nigeria. I expect that to continue because you can’t get the skill set you get from CIMA qualification anywhere else and they are so essential for every business in Nigeria. If you don’t have a CIMA qualified accountant in your team, I think you are losing something because the value that a CIMA person brings into the business is incalculable.

Finally, would you advise young people who are considering a career in accounting to pursue a CIMA qualification?

If you are looking for a professional business qualification in accounting, I believe CIMA is the best. If you are an auditor and you are thinking of working as an accountant in a corporate setting, then I strongly recommend CIMA qualification. I think people who have worked with me would attest to the impact that the CIMA qualification can bring to the business in terms of investing decisions or appraisals of capital projects or financing and management decisions. These are areas were the CIMA qualification really helps. The CIMA qualification gives you the necessary skill set to make the business thrive.

I always counsel my colleagues who are in accounting that if they want to continue to be the head of whatever unit in their workplaces, they must go and do CIMA. And usually, when they start the CIMA training and they see how much it can add to their competence level or the value they can now bring to the business, I think they probably won’t look back. So my advice to young people in accounting who want to work in the industry and make an impact is to go for the CIMA qualification.