Writing an article like this can be rather challenging mainly because one would risk being branded biased. But nevertheless, this article is mainly about outgoing MTN CEO, Brian Gouldie.
Collectively it’s pretty hard critiquing a telecom executive and this is mainly because executives operate in evolving industries which continue to evolve over time, albeit other difficult circumstances.
With Brian Gouldie, it was a short spell of two years as dictated by his contract but worth following and learning from. Gouldie was appointed by MTN Group on a fixed term two-year contract with a specific mandate to resolve competitive, operational and compliance issues that were rocking MTN Uganda at the time.
The Gouldie Exodus…
His appointment could have come at a better time, but it didn’t. Though the market leader, MTN Uganda was suffering a data bundle billing and charging crisis and its communication wasn’t deemed transparent by the regulator. In the first few months of his arrival he had the ‘data bundle billing’ (and a lot more) to deal with.
In relation to this, Gouldie’s immediate obligation was to introduce best practices and provide transparency, something his leadership team would be happy to give a good testimony to.
There was a need to deliver on this mandate within a defined period of time and “there was never any time to play some golf.”
Beating challenges from the ‘Get-Go’
Achieving some of these obligations would mean change. Change would never be something many would be open to. It was challenging! The newly introduced Gouldie later redefined some operational strategies and implemented some new systems, particularly for the company’s trailblazing mobile financial service product commonly known as MTN Mobile Money.
This recorded several successes. However, MTN Uganda was still exposed to the same challenging industry in which most of Uganda’s telecom companies operate.
For example, the One Network Area had an impact on international outgoing and international termination revenues. The SIM registration exercises accounted for some 3.7 million disconnections of MTN Uganda subscribers. And the depreciation of the Uganda shillings against the US dollar in 2015 had 25 percent negative impact on operational costs.
Game of Risks
Gouldie took some high risks, suggesting some propositions, increasing the agility of competitive product propositions like the launch of voice bundles, which has been critical to success. Voice bundles would later account for 45% of MTN Uganda’s total revenue in a 13-month period since launch in 2014.
With Brian Gouldie you probably didn’t need a crystal ball to figure him out. Those who worked closely with him would tell you that his fashion sense stood out and that’s mainly because he wasn’t really a fan of the executive tie. At times he donned it, like when he hosted banking chief executives during the announcement of the company’s $114 million syndicated loan.
He was also seemingly the arduous, frank and very straightforward boss who brings to life the old adage, “what you see, is what you get.”
There were indications that some struggled to crack his style of management and eventually found him a little difficult to work with. It’s not surprising that his transformation would eventually rub parties the wrong way. He cared a little less and remained steadfastly resolute, achieving most of his obligations and attaining significant revenue growth on key streams like data and mobile financial services.
Asked about his past two-year achievements, he frankly asserted that he believed in his changes and that their implementation had substantially improved MTN Uganda to ensure its future growth.
“I believe the critical transformational foundation has been established and the objectives of my mandate have been delivered. I believe customer satisfaction levels are back to an all-time high and data revenue has grown at unprecedented rates,” he said.
During his tenure he pointed out that the MTN brand needed to manifest a rosy relationship with the city administration, that many refer to as the Kampala Capital City Authority. Gouldie invited discourse, building an environment to explore future opportunities between KCCA and MTN. The two partners would together launch an innovative mobile money product that eases the paying of taxes. It would later not surprise us that the 2015 MTN Marathon proceeds went to the development of KCCA schools.
Recording such successes in an industry clustered with scathing competition is not easy. It’s even harder when you have a watchdog that barks when least expected. The agility to win in such an environment comes with extensive experience and an impressive resume.
Lessons from early career
For Brian Gouldie the resume clads 22 years of experience at the MTN Group.
“In 1994, I was part of the startup team that created the mobile business in South Africa and have been at the fore front of many of the company’s strategic projects within MTN Group. I was also part of the startup team that set up MTN Nigeria in 2001, taking the best practices for the SA operation,” he says.
Gouldie, a qualified chartered accountant by training later joined another startup team that set up MTN Irancell in late 2005 but returned to the South African operation when it restructured in 2006 to head the Consumer Business Unit for two years.
“My portfolios then changed a number of times over the subsequent 6-year period where I finally became the Chief Marketing Officer of the MTN SA organization,” he adds.
No single model defines a great leader, not even an impressive CV. In Uganda it could be the ability to deal with the ambiguity and complex dynamics created by this market.
From Brian Gouldie, you would learn that he was very different from the usual lot of chief executives and revokes the kind of thought that questions the relationship between a leader’s impact on the company’s culture and his performance.
Sometimes when executives try to change the culture too much they break the company. And when they fail to challenge it, you probably struggled to get the results they are hired to deliver.
Gouldie chose to provide a sustainable transformational mechanism which he is happily ready to hand over to his successor.