Tim Ekandjo: MTC is in competition with itself ‘...Being big does not make us bullies’
A young man was about to cross the road and then hesitated. He waited for couple of minutes and was still dancing on his feet back and forth on Independence Avenue in Windhoek. He looked tense and undecided. People passed by and he was still standing on the pavement.
Finally, he crossed the road after a long while.
Not that he was fresh from the village, he was just undecided.
To borrow military language, many senior management officials in corporate Namibia today can’t pull the trigger in the heat of things. They freeze and just pass on the responsibility to the Managing Director. And yet the big boss is laden with work. In short, a good number of people face the challenge of being decisive.
In this winding interview, Prime Focus (PF) chats to MTC’s Chief Human Capital and Corporate Affairs Officer who would rather make a wrong decision than make no decision at all.
Tim Ekandjo (TE), at 31, is arguably the youngest executive Namibia has, in an organisation that has given over N$700 million in total dividends to its shareholders over the last three years.
He has seen everything having worked in Uganda, Togo, Morocco and Benin, among others in such a short career and has learnt that ‘when you make a wrong decision, it could be costly; however, unless it is a matter of life and death, it could be beneficial.’
Ekandjo is at the heart of MTC’s decision making and has pulled many triggers in his professional life. In this interview he discusses how will pull many more triggers in future through his belief of walking the roads less walked, which is hard work, dedication and commitment.
PF: Corporate Affairs Manager, can you give a broad overview of what this entails in terms of what your portfolio encompasses at MTC?
TE: My job title is often confused since I took over the Corporate Affairs job as an added responsibility in my current portfolio, but the correct title should read Chief Human Capital and Corporate Affairs Officer. I started at MTC as Chief Human Capital Officer. Our top management structure has Chiefs making up the Exco team reporting to the Managing Director, the General Managers (GMs) reporting to the Chiefs and Managers reporting to the GMs. When the position of GM: Corporate Affairs became vacant in August 2010, I took over that entire portfolio in addition to my Chief Human Capital Officer role and thus the title Chief Human Capital And Corporate Affairs Officer which reflects both spectrums of my current job portfolio. We decided to merge the two portfolio’s which basically amounts to having enriched my job and not a promotion as everybody thought.
My Corporate Affairs responsibility entails overseeing the Corporate Affairs function at a strategic level and ensuring that MTC remains top of mind and fresh in the minds and eyes of the Namibian nation.
This requires a strong and viable stakeholder engagement plan which is alive and vibrant to ensure we remain visible and relevant from the perspective of all our stakeholders. The role also entails ensuring that we have a vibrant public relations function and identifying strategic areas for our sponsorship and social investment areas.
This requires me to keep my eyes open and ears on the ground to find out what is relevant in terms of sustainable investments from which we can reap maximum benefits. On the other hand, I am also responsible for the entire HR function where I ensure the health and safety of all MTC staff and ensure that there is mutual balance between people’s needs and aspirations versus profitability and sustainability of MTC. Any HR person that can strike that balance can hail him or herself as a strategic HR partner to the business, and that is what we do extremely well at MTC. As part of my HR role, I am responsible for ensuring that we remain the number one company in Namibia and in SADC to work for.
PF: How do you think you have fared so far?
TE: Serving on the MTC Exco (Executive) team, I naturally regard myself as an ambassador of MTC and have therefore always been an advocate and marketer of the company at every opportunity I get. I have always been part of every decision the Executive team took as far as the Corporate Affairs portfolio is concerned as our approach to management is that of joint consultation where we discuss pertinent issues on a weekly basis. I, however, only took over the Corporate Affairs role officially in August 2010.
Irrespective of the incumbent in the role, our objectives have always remained the same that of maintaining our number one position in the market and remaining the network of choice for every Namibian, and a company that is in touch with its customers. Ever since taking over, we have excelled in this area becoming a brand with a friendly tone and not arrogant as everybody perceive us to be simply because we are big.
This will be one of my main objectives in the coming months, to dilute the common perception that we are arrogant and a bully simply because we are big, and bring out the caring and compassion side out of the brand that has always been a part of us every step of the way. This entails making ourselves more accessible to our customers than we already are, taking a serious and focused customer philosophy that makes every one of our 1.7 million customers feel special and respected every day and being a reliable and trustworthy companion to every Namibian.
PF: But how did you land this top notch position, especially replacing Albertus Aochamub now at NBC, and what do you think distinguishes your persona from that of the rest?
TE: Albertus was and still is a great ambassador of MTC, and when he decided to move on to greater things we gave him our full blessing because our philosophy at MTC is to make and send our disciples to go conquer and build greater empires in corporate Namibia.
My philosophy is that people’s individual personas should not matter when they represent and speak on behalf of a company as big and caring as MTC. I held a more senior position before this position became vacant. When the position became vacant, the market expressed very high interests in my becoming MTC’s next spokesperson.
They said, ‘we decided to ask Tim to take over that role as we were more than convinced that he can take MTC to the next level in that capacity, and that he can do it much better than anybody else we have in the profession at the moment,’ and that is how I landed the added responsibility. At MTC we are truly blessed to have been conceived in a family where greatness is our birthmark and we believe in the potential of our people.
PF: Did you always envisage yourself holding such an influential post before?
TE: Yes of course, this was all of part of the greater plan which I set for myself way back. A lot of people ask me how I have gotten so lucky being so young and already having had very senior roles in different companies at such a young age and my response is always simple. What you see is only a result of a lot of hard work and determination coupled with a strong vision that started long time ago and now it is basically just harvesting taking place.
My approach has always been to compete with my previous performance and I have never allowed myself to be content with whatever success or level I have reached. I have never used anybody else as a benchmark to compete against as I always thought of myself as the very best when I push myself to the maximum.
I believe that we were all meant to shine one day if we believe in ourselves, and that we all can be brilliant if we allow ourselves to shine beyond imagination, and just mere hopes and dreams. Mount Sinai always reminds me that everybody can succeed in life irrespective of size, colour, race, age, sex and background.
At the mouth of the mountain you meet tourists from different nations and backgrounds with just one aim, to reach the top and that’s the kind of focus that should guide us to success even if it requires sacrifices along the way.
Working your way to the top requires you to be your own man, and not try to be like somebody else. I see so many people trying to live a life that is not theirs, and trying to emulate others and it is just a tragedy. You can’t be truly happy wearing somebody’s face as it’s a waste of who you are and no matter how hard you try you will always be second best because it does not become about who you are anymore but what you are denying yourself to become in being truly yourself.
PF: Would one be wrong to assume that you may be the youngest Exco member at MTC? What is the average age of the Exco members?
TE: Yes I am the youngest amongst the wisest. The average age of our Exco team is 46, and I am 31 now. However when we discuss business related matters we don’t take age into consideration as we are all professionals in our respective professions and learn from each other every day. In my day to day dealings with all staff, respect is one of the key principles. So often you see young managers loosing respect for the elderly just because they are more senior than them and I despise that attitude. Respect in the workplace is earned, and demanding it from others only has a temporary effect. A tiger does not proclaim its tigritude. It does not go off on a PR campaign in the jungle just to let all the other animals know that he is a tiger, because by its make and substance they already know he is a tiger. This is my same philosophy in the workplace, you don’t go and show people that you are the big boss because they know, let them respect you for that, for a good reason.
PF: But where did you really come from, to find yourself on the summit of this huge organisation?
TE: I was born and bred in the coastal and windy town of Luderitz where I completed my primary education, and left for high school at a tender age to complete Grade 12 at Martin Luther High School in the Erondo region. With no financial support to pursue my studies at the University of Rhodes in South Africa, I got a full time job at FNB Oshakati where for two years I saved 70 percent of my salary towards my studies. For two long years I lived on 30 percent of my salary which hardly got me by. I starved myself of all luxuries which my colleagues enjoyed every day but I knew it was for a good course. I am sharing this story not because I want more praise for the sacrifices I made that led me to my path, but because I wish to send a message to so many young people who use lack of resources as an excuse not to pursue their dreams, and that where you come from should not define your destiny. No matter how small your light, you must be determined to make it shine one day.
I then went to Peninsula Technikon which had one of the best HR faculties in South Africa and completed my Higher Diploma and B.Tech degree after four years. My money ran out in year three and I relied on an HR internship job at Sanlam Head Office in Cape Town to see that year through. In my final year, Seaflower Whitefish Corporation in Luderitz blessed me with a bursary and I completed my studies graduating as the best student in the entire Business Faculty which earned me the Deans Merit Award for Academic Excellence.
My HR career continued when I took a full time job with Safmarine Head Office in Cape Town as Assistant to the HR: Africa Manager for Employment Equity. In 2003, I went back to Luderitz to take up an HR Officer job which I held for two years, and was promoted to HR Manager and subsequently Group HR Manager for both Seaflower Whitefish Corporation and Seaflower Lobster. In 2006, I was appointed Country HR Manager of Shell Namibia and after three months, I took over as Country Manager for Shell Mozambique and Shell Botswana as well as Shell Namibia. During this time, I completed my Masters in Business Leadership at the University of South Africa and finalising my Masters in Human Resources this year.
The Shell job demanded extensive travelling as I physically had to oversee things in these countries on a weekly basis. After a year with Shell, I was appointed by the HR Vice President to spearhead a Shell HR Africa project with six other Country HR Managers to implement this project across Africa.
My countries of responsibility as part of this project in addition to my permanent three countries as Head of HR were Shell Uganda, Togo, Morocco and Shell Benin. In 2008, I was awarded the “People’s Award” in Africa at the Annual Shell Africa Presidents’ Award. My time at Shell cemented my HR career but the travelling was tiring as I would be away from home for 240 nights per year. Late 2008, I became Chief Human Capital Manager at MTC and subsequently Chief Human Capital & Corporate Affairs Officer. During this time I completed a Mini Telecoms MBA to understand the dynamics of the telecommunications industry. That has been my journey to date.
PF: Do you have any other portfolios that you oversee besides this present one at MTC?
TE: I am also the current incumbent President of the Institute of People Management in Namibia (IPM). This is an initiative we started last year when I initiated the HR Executives Breakfast meeting at the Country Club which was very well attended by over 100 HR professionals across various industries. At the moment no professional HR body exists in Namibia, and judging by the state of affairs in the HR profession in Namibia, and how fast the level of professionalism is drifting, of course, I knew that something needed to be done urgently.
At the moment the incumbent IPM Exco team is hard at work organizing the official launch, and we successfully launched the IPM website (www.ipmnamibia.org) in February. My current responsibilities include building a concrete foundation for the institute and ensuring we get as many corporate and individual members on-board. This includes taking off my spare time to give presentations about IPM to students and various HR departments to market the benefits of joining.
The time has come for HR professionals to conduct themselves in a professional manner, with integrity and respect to the profession if we are to be taken seriously by our colleagues. I know HR professionals don’t always like to hear this, but in Namibia we are faced with an oversupply of HR practitioners. There is an undersupply of HR professionals who understand HR’s contribution at strategic level, and IPM will ensure we build a pipeline in which we rectify this in the next three years.
PF: What is your message to HR professionals then?
TE: I would like to encourage all HR practitioners to register with IPM under the individual membership categories in order to get accreditation to be recognized as a professional in the various individual category offerings. I also encourage CEOs to put pressure on their HR departmental staff to get accredited so that we do away with fly-by-night HR practitioners who only damage the integrity of the profession that those long before us took so long to build.
PF: What is the toughest issue or decision you have had to deal with at MTC and how did you solve it?
TE: The recent decision on the regulation of retail prices qualify. For as much as you, being a telecommunications operator wish to respect the decisions taken by the Regulator, when you don’t agree you don’t have any other alternative than to go to court to seek for relieve. On the other hand, you also don’t want to take the Regulator to court to protect your relationship with them, while on the other hand trying to protect your business as well. It is a catch twenty-two situation, but for as long as parties are in a relationship there will always be disagreements and nobody should take it personal.
MTC versus NCC
PF: Do you think going to court was the most ideal decision?
TE: The Namibian telecommunications industry does not operate on an island of its own, and should therefore not be treated and managed that way. We are against the regulation of the market as far as retail prices are concerned because we believe that competition ought to be about providing products and services that consumers want, at a price they are willing to pay while efficiently managing the resources needed to serve them.
That is the essence of competition, to provide value to consumers, and regulating what price consumers should pay takes away the consumer’s choice to decide which network to belong to and how much they are willing to pay for a certain product or service which is not right. We were totally against the manner in which this intervention and decision was taken, and we would have liked a more robust consultative process to have taken place where all parties can give their views, and that the Namibia Competition Commission (NCC) substantiate their findings with studies before implementation.
The primary reason why we went to court is to protect our customers because we anticipate the next step to be the abolishment of free calls and SMSeS. The regulation of retail prices in the telecommunications industry is unheard of as the industry is not a regulated industry like the oil industry for instance. What we have seen Regulators do is to regulate termination rates which makes sense because no telecommunications operators should take advantage not to allow a smaller operator to compete as only the operator can terminate, and decide how much to terminate a call within their network. It is, therefore, right for Regulators to intervene and we fully support it. With the Regulators’ recent intervention in termination rates in mid 2008, Namibia now has one of the lowest termination rates even lower than the average of Europe.
Operators should be allowed to compete on price and service and it does not make sense for these to be regulated. Let us take our famous Aweh! Aweh! product, for instance, which our competitors claim to be anti-competitive, if our product is doing so well, why don’t they come up with a better product for the consumer to decide whether to make use of our product or theirs instead of complaining?
Our competitors have a false sense of hope that the latest regulatory intervention will increase their market share, and that MTC customers will jump ship. Their insinuation is an insult to the Namibian people as price is but one component why Namibians prefer the MTC network. The Namibian nation is with us firstly because we are a Namibian company. We have a reliable network.
We provide excellent customer service and ensure world-class products and services are available at affordable prices and because as a company we plough back into the country if you look at our diverse social investment portfolio ranging from sports, music, ICT, education, science and technology and economics. These are the things that win loyalty, and not just prices which they are so focussed on. Our competitive advantage is that we have a loyal customer base that knows they are not taken for granted. We are a proud member of Team Namibia because we are Namibian.
In recent newspaper articles, I was misunderstood for threatening that MTC will soon abolish free calls and SMSes. That was indeed not the case. The point I was trying to make was that very soon the Regulator will force us to stop free calls and SMSes which are the lifeline of so many Namibians who could not, under normal circumstances, have afforded to make such calls and keep in touch with their loved ones. Our competitor has already alleged that we are being anti-competitive with our free calls and SMSes.
It makes one wonder whether they understand what being anti-competitive means. These are the things you do to get loyalty, and they are at liberty to do the same. A recent telecommunications study showed that a new entrant into the telecommunications market should within their first four years, at least, get between 15-20 percent market share, which is what our competitor claim to have and still complain of being small?
It is unreasonable for them to expect to have the same market share as MTC who has been around for 15 years, also taking into consideration that they are a foreign company belonging to a big global group even though they want to play small in Namibia to gain self- pity. Operators around the world with a market share between 15-20 percent are doing well, because they are able to market themselves by investing and managing cost which cannot be said about our competitor. If you rush into a foreign market and decide to pay people exorbitant salaries that are unsustainable then you have to suffer the consequences of your decisions.
PF: So what does the future hold for the entity?
TE: You would remember that we celebrated 500 subscribers a few years back, and then a million subscribers which was a major milestone for MTC and Namibia. In 2010, our customer base continued to grow and we celebrated 1.5 million subscribers which took everybody by surprise. We, in the Executive Team, were, however, not surprised but very appreciative of the loyalty that our customers continue to show us. We were not surprised because our strategy was to capture 60 percent of all new entrants in the market and we ensured we achieve this through our customer service offering and reliability of our network.
As the business however continues to grow, the shape and future outlook of the telecommunications industry is also changing which presents all telecommunications operators with new challenges.
Current trends indicate a rapid shift from voice to data, a rapid shift from analogue to digital and the increasing role of wireless that creates mobility for users. Voice revenues even though subscribers increases are not growing at the same pace, in fact our overall revenues have been flat for the last 2 years even though our subscriber bases are ever increasing. World trends also show that the boundaries between broadcasting and telecommunications are blurring as many content providers today broadcast their material over the internet instead of using conventional broadcasting networks. The traditional boundary between fixed and mobile operators have also disappeared and that is why many countries have given neutral service licenses to both mobile and fixed operators so that they compete on service which is key to the customer.
Without divulging our future strategies, all I can say is that our strategy will be aligned to the current trends given our expertise in the Namibian market. Our key focus will be to increase data revenues and focus on delivering comprehensive and packaged services to households which will make life convenient for them.
This goes without saying that the future outlook for the Namibian telecommunications industry will be influenced by the new envisaged legislation which we all eagerly await. We are, however hopeful that all operators will be treated equally to increase competition and ultimately bring prices down for the consumer in the absence of any monopolies on fixed services.
PF: MTC employees last year gave the company an 80 percent thumbs up in a Bi-annual survey held by independent consultants, Business Intelligence Africa (BIA), in collaboration with P3 Namibia. To what would you attribute this?
TE: When I joined MTC my first impressions were that staff morale was very low due to the evolution the company had gone through, coupled with a new Executive Team with a totally different mind-set and management style and the fact that the company now had to start thinking differently due to competition. Staff members, therefore, went through a very difficult period and did not understand the changing face of the business to gear for the future. On the HR front, my analysis was that we needed to elevate the company from good to great to ensure we become the employer of choice in the next two years. In embarking on this journey from good to great, it is a sad reality that you would sometimes have to stop your bus on this journey to offload certain people who do not share the same vision and would never be able to complete this journey with you because their destination differs from that of the company and that is exactly what we have done.
In my second week at MTC, I embarked on a two month long project called HR Excellence where I would spend an hour indulging every member of the management team one on one in a comprehensive and challenging conversation about the current challenges and solutions as they see them. I extended this conversation to every department within MTC where staff members poured out their hearts which gave me a very good picture of the problem areas. We immediately put up a Plan of Action to address these issues which we successfully addressed with a 95% rate by the end of that year. As an Executive, we realised how these issues affected the business and we went all out to ensure implementation, which in some cases meant changing certain policies, explaining to staff so that they understand the future direction of the company.
Today our collective approach is customer service as a key priority and we are now a purely performance driven company where discipline is the order of the day. Amongst some of the key changes made was the introduction of a Staff Consultative Committee where staff can air their concerns, a 24 hour gym for staff free of charge on our premises, increased communication platform and importantly a new performance management system that encourage staff to give MTC their very best which in turn serves the customer better. We have also strengthened training and development initiatives geared towards customer service and invested massively in our network.
MTC and WACS
PF: What is your view of the new West Africa Cable System (WACS) in Walvis Bay and what’s in it for MTC?
TE: The landing of the WACS is a huge technological breakthrough for the country as it will provide Namibia with the much needed capacity in terms of bandwidth for the next 10 years. As MTC we participated in this project because it is a national project, and all those who did not participate obviously do not have Namibia’s national interests at heart as they are not looking to invest long term because they know they are not here to stay.
The landing of the cable is however just part of the parcel. The real challenge is transporting that bandwidth from Swakopmund to our core, which we have already sorted out by signing an agreement with NamPower to use their infrastructure to do that. Once the bandwidth is transported to our core, we then have to transport this bandwidth to our base stations, and then finally to the customer where the real benefit of the technology will be experienced. The landing of the cable is therefore not where it ends, as that is not the actual technology, the technology is what MTC will employ which will always differ from other operators.
We have already demonstrated at a historic live 4G demonstration trial in February this year what sort of miracles in terms of data speed and how doctors in urban areas will be able to assist patients in rural areas without being physically present themselves. 4G is an upgrade of the current 3G technology which is currently the best in the world, and so far only 5 countries in the world successfully migrated to 4G. Of course 4G technology is much faster than 3G and our customers will be able to enjoy greater data speed and uploads for their convenience. We also intend to introduce fibre to home connectivity so that our customers enjoy new services, but like I said earlier we would need to get a service neutral license by the Regulator which we hope to get in the best interest of world class customer service delivery. We also need to build more base stations than what we currently have to realize this objective.
PF: How much have you set aside to invest in this venture?
TE: Yes, as a Namibian company that is proudly 64% Government owned we are fully on-board with the WACS project together with Telecom Namibia and the Government of Namibia through the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology. MTC has, on its own, invested N$115 million as part of its contribution to the WACS project and we have provisioned for this in our budget. We have made this investment not just for ourselves but on behalf of our customers and their future needs, and knowing that the demand for data will grow substantially in the coming years.
PF: You just mentioned the need to build more base stations with the advent of WACS. But you have been on the receiving end from some residents in Windhoek against base stations?
TE: We have done everything in our power to prove to these concerned residents and the authorities that we are well within the world recognised radiation levels as prescribed by ICNIRP (International Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) organization. We have throughout this process maintained that we are abiding to both local and international regulatory standards, and that our equipment is safe. The prescribed ICNIRP standard is 4.5W/m² and we have proved to both the authorities and the residents that we are well below that limit at 0.1Wm².
In addition to proving this, we have also made use of the services of an independent professor who is an expert in this field who gave a presentation to all residents at a public hearing that was organised by the City of Windhoek. It is not our style to fight with residents, and that is why the City of Windhoek as part of the approval process requires that consultation with residents be conducted as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment study where residents are given an opportunity to raise their concerns. Thereafter, it is up to the City of Windhoek to either approve or decline our application to erect a base station and we received approval to this effect.
We have base stations all over the country and have always done so with the necessary approvals. We are a responsible corporate citizen and safety always comes first for us. It however becomes a different matter when you deal with a group of residents who have, from the word go, made up their minds for selfish reasons and who have made it clear that whatever is proven to them by either the City of Windhoek or MTC, their views will remain superior to the existing facts that all mobile operators abide by irrespective of the fact that they admit they are not scientists.
We, however, believe we will, together with the City of Windhoek, find an amicable solution to ensure that a group of six residents don’t arrest development meant for the greater good of the country.
PF: But no one can just cook up a story on radiation?
TE: At first, we thought their fears were genuine and that is why we addressed them. Any citizen that complains about health effects irrespective of whether they are right or wrong needs to be given a fair opportunity and comfort and their concerns are addressed. We have done this only to find out later that these concerns were raised to serve these six residents’ own personal interests which compete with the interest of national development. Once we proved that there are no health effects and that their concerns were addressed, the residents then shifted the argument from health affects to aesthetics.
Flat Revenue Headache
PF: What are some of the challenges MTC as an entity faces presently and how best do you recon these can be solved?
TE: Of course, the fact that we are experiencing no growth in our revenue base while cost continues to climb as we need to serve more subscribers. To be able to fully maximise our data revenues, we need to provide services to households which are considered fixed for which we need a license for, the same license that allows Telecom Namibia to enter the mobile space with their switch product. For now and the future, that is our key challenge which is in the hands of the Regulator at whose mercy we are on, but we are confident that they will accord all mobile operators that license.
PF: You have spoken at length about flat revenue, doesn’t this add a chill to not only your customers but those looking to do business with MTC, who might assume that the future is bleak?
TE: No. The future looks bright, but there will always be challenges. Despite the fact that revenues are flat, we have continued to increase our subscriber base which once again proves that new subscribers join us because we have the best products and services. We have continued to invest massively in our network and will soon cover all rural areas to ensure all Namibians are connected.
We are working very closely with all the Governors to ensure this is achieved. We have continued to invest in customer service initiatives to ensure customers’ priority comes first, with the recent opening of an outbound call centre and increasing the number of MTC outlets in the different towns country-wide. With the landing of the WACS cable, we are looking at aggressively serving households with world-class services through fibre where households can enjoy IPTV and cable TV from the comfort of their homes and enjoy a comprehensive service offering from MTC only.
As a company we will continue to maintain our social investment portfolio and diversify it as the needs of the country continue to grow. From an ICT perspective, we are looking at deploying incubation centres in rural areas to ensure our customers are connected to the rest of the world with free internet access at their fingertips. As already demonstrated at the 4G launch, we are looking at making this a reality so that Namibia becomes one of the few countries with this amazing technology.
Our challenges at this point remain the fact that we might have reached maturity in our business forcing us to come up with creative ways to sustain our operations going forward. Other challenges are that of convincing the regulatory authorities to level the playing field on all fronts to ensure all players in the mobile telecommunications space can compete on the same level, serving both fixed and mobile clients.
PF: Is MTC making money? Yes or No?
TE: Yes, but we are making this money on behalf of the people.
PF: Earlier you mentioned the need for a level playing field, do you perhaps a different view of the local telecommunications’ industry?
TE: In general, it is a very fast and dynamic industry where changes take place overnight. As an operator, you know that you are competing globally from the onset with much bigger players and therefore you cannot compromise on service.
I personally think that anything more than two mobile phone operators for Namibia is too much given the size of our population. There is just not enough space for three operators, and that is why we have so many complaints, but then again any operator that makes a good business case to enter the Namibian market does so at their own accord and should not blame MTC for their failure when things don’t go their way.
PF: Is there anything that your competitors have done that caught you off guard?
TE: There is a general perception when you are big and mighty that your competition will always catch you off-guard. This perception is to some extend true, but in our case we have not allowed our size to affect our focus on customer service. We have continued to invest 30 percent of our revenues into our infrastructure, continued to invest in customer service initiatives by rolling out 24 hour Call Centres and now an Outbound Call Centre. MTC is in competition with itself. We use ourselves and other companies in the region as benchmarks and not local competition, to be sized with local competition we would have to drop our standard. Our customers deserve the best, and that is exactly what we will give them everyday
We have embraced the arrival of competition in our industry because we understand how competition benefits the consumer...
PF: You know you are considered a bully in the market?
TE: Once again this is a perception created by those who want to taint our image. Being the biggest player in the market does not constitute to being a bully as there is a big difference. The fact that MTC entered the mobile space first should not be used as a reason to penalise MTC. We often see the competition trying to use this against us, and we cannot apologise for having been in the Namibian telecommunications industry first.
Besides this market is our home just like the foreign markets where they come from is their home. If you look at all the long term investments we made as a result of our being on the market, they are massive and came at a huge cost. We are also not an abusive player in the industry as we practice none of the common anti-competitive behaviours. MTC is a company owned by the Government of Namibia as a major shareholder and all dividends declared each year goes towards the development of this country, and not shipped outside the country. Namibians know this and that is why they support their own.
Anti- competitive players are guilty when they adopt predatory and exclusionary practices, when they refuse to supply essential facilities to their competitor and today we allow them to site share by tapping into our existing infrastructure to serve their clients. We don’t engage in vertical price squeezes and cross subsidisation. We don’t practice customer lock in and restrictive agreements as our customers are free to choose their network and we don’t network lock our phones at all as practised by our competitor.
We don’t practise exclusionary and predatory pricing to keep our competitor out of business and certainly don’t abuse or misuse sensitive information gained from our business intelligence to use against our competitor. When you are a bully and anti-competitive, these are the things you must be guilty of before you may accuse any company of being anti-competitive.
If MTC is simply good, innovative and creative and managing their cost very well then you must call a spade a spade and praise them for excellence and not being anti-competitive because you, as the competition cannot keep up. A great wise man once taught me a very good lesson which says, “If people don’t like you, it is because you have something that they admire and can’t have. They have two options, either to be honest and ask you how you do it, or continue to hate and vindicate you publicly yet admire you secretly”, and we know that despite the fact that they vindicate us in public they admire our every move.
PF: Being Government owned, where do you draw the line in terms of political influence?
TE: I can confidently say that there has been no political influence in the running of the company and that the company has always been managed by a competent Board of Directors appointed by the Minister of ICT for which we are thankful for. My view is that politicians will also interfere if so much money goes into a company and they continue to make losses which they have to justify and bail out with taxpayers’ money. They have any right to interfere in such instances.
We are appreciative of the fact that our political leadership has created a favourable and stable and peaceful socio-economic environment in which companies can thrive. MTC has over the last three years delivered over N$700 million only in dividends to its shareholders NPTH, Namibia Post and Telecoms Holdings, that’s 2008-N$206 million, 2009-N$255 million and 2010 N$262 million), and have in total for the last 3 years declared over N$1.1 billion in total to both shareholders. Any shareholder will be happy with such a situation.
PF: Earlier, you mentioned equal treatment in the coming legislation. Your competitors have often complained that the playing field is not equal to your favour as you have Government backing?
TE: That’s absolute nonsense. Yes we had a monopoly for a few years but that’s not our fault and we cannot be blamed for a decision taken long time ago by the Regulator only to allow one operator, just like the fixed operator. Our monopoly ended almost five years ago and they are still using that excuse, and I will not be surprised if they continue to use that excuse 10 years down the line, if they last that long. Government is the majority shareholder in MTC but they don’t do MTC any special favours, because we have a Regulator in the form of NCC that is tasked to regulate the telecommunications industry in Namibia. We have on various occasions explained that there is a huge difference between being a dominant player and abusing your dominance and to date there is no evidence that we have abused our dominant position. That allegation is therefore unfounded and misleading. We have a very competent and hardworking staff compliment at MTC, that work tirelessly every day to ensure this company prosper. We don’t rest on our laurels for a minute, and we disregard our past success and are focused on the future. We innovate products that are appealing to our customers and we back this with a lot of research to ensure our products and services are appealing and that explains why our solutions are so successful. Those are the key drivers for success, not making excuses that will not help your bottom line. As far as the new regulation is concerned, we are looking forward to all operators being treated equally, and that we be accorded a neutral license that will allow us to operate in both mobile and fixed so that the customers can have choice, just like they have a choice between three mobile operators.
PF: What is your take on Leo? Your predecessor went on record labelling it, ‘the shop next to the wine bar’.
TE: I have no take on them. I respect them as a foreign company that operates in the Namibian telecommunications industry as the second competitor for as long as they respect us as well. I am not into name calling, but I am fair and firm and will not allow them to abuse their size to accuse us of things we did not do just so that they can get public sympathy. Competition is good for the customers, as they are the direct beneficiaries at the end of the day and we encourage fair competition.
PF: How is the company’s relationship with other regional and global telecoms companies and do you have any partnerships?
TE: We have a very strong technical partner in the form of Portugal Telecom who owns 34% of MTC. As part of this agreement Portugal Telecom have two members in our Executive team in the form of the MD and the Chief Technical Officer. Portugal Telecom is a very strategic partner and also a very experienced one when it comes to world class technologies from which MTC benefits from.
Portugal Telecom was recently awarded the best Fibre to Home Technology Company by the European Council and MTC will bank on such experience to ensure our customers in Namibia enjoy such world class services as well. We might be considered to live in a third world country but our technological experience gives us any right to think world class with such a strong partner.
We have also partnered with Huawei, the world’s leading telecoms solutions provider so that we ensure we provide world class solutions.
PF: Given a chance to be at the helm of MTC, what would you do first to alter the company?
TE: I don’t need to become the MD of MTC to have those things altered. Sitting on the Executive Management team of MTC, I have been doing that since the day I joined MTC and we have, as a team, been able to look at the things we identified, evaluated the pros and cons and changed them in the best interest of MTC.
I don’t share in the philosophy that you need to be the MD to change certain things, however small your light, whether you are a cleaner, Call Centre Advisor or a GM, we have allowed for an environment in which all views and suggestions are welcomed, and if good implemented. That is the nature of a true learning organisation where we excel as a team. I am fortunate to serve on a team that has the best interest of the company at heart and where we discuss and take decisions as a team. Our Executive Management team meets once every week where we spend over 4-5 hours discussing business priorities and challenges and make critical decisions that show how high the commitment is to ensure we remain number one not just in Namibia but in SADC and Africa as a whole.
PF: What keeps you awake at night?
TE: When I am supposed to rest at night, I constantly think about how to solve tomorrow’s challenges, or think about a brilliant idea for implementation that will distinguish us from the rest.
PF: But who really is Tim Ekandjo?
TE: In short, he is humble and God fearing man with a dynamic mind-set who operates in a territory of unlimited possibilities full of promises and hopes for the future.
PF: How do you describe your management style?
TE: I am very hands-on. I need to know what is happening in every aspect of the business before I delegate that responsibility to someone else. The first thing I do when I enter any organisation is to understand the business as a whole and all critical functions, where our revenue come from, where most of our cost is incurred, only then do I start working for what I am employed. I’m a visionary and once I am able to determine the future I like achieving. I am a very practical person and allow others to be creative around me. I discourage the delivery of mediocre successes and encourage team members to think outside the box and not to applaud spectacular failures.
PF: Share with us some examples of mobile networks you admire around the world?
Without a doubt, Portugal Telecom, who are currently in the forefront of world class technologies and, of course, MTC Namibia, given our size the amazing technological breakthroughs we have been able to achieve in such a short space of time.
PF: As career guidance how would you advise youth who want to achieve your success rates?
TE: I do not believe in motivating people to get to this level, that level of motivation should be self- driven. I can inspire people, but the drive should come from within. Firstly, my message to the youth would be to have a burning desire to succeed and to find something they are really passionate about and something that comes natural to them before they pursue their career aspirations.
Deep within the soul of each of us is a desire to know why we are here and how we can leave the world a better place. We all have a universal assignment laid out for us for which we are the only person on this planet of 6.5 billion people that can fulfil that assignment and we must focus and do everything possible to succeed. My message to the youth is that there is a void in this world that needs your touch, your insight, your wisdom and your magic and that you too can make a difference if you believe in yourself and allow yourself to shine beyond imagination.
If you want something worthwhile to come out of your life, you have to put something worthwhile in your mind to achieve extra-ordinary things in life. I encourage the youth to take their education seriously and get a qualification that will allow them permission to knock on certain doors. I am saying knock on certain doors because we have to understand that a qualification is simply an enabler and that the true contribution has to come from the individual and amount of work they put into it. It is also important to network and find a mentor that can provide you with the right guidance to steer you in the right direction.
PF: When everything has been said and done at the office how do you pass time away from all of this?
TE: I head home to my lovely wife who will know exactly what to do with me when I get home. I enjoy my jazz music as I like noise with a purpose so I would enjoy that when relaxing or go for a massage or watch my favourite football team Arsenal play.
PF: You have travelled a lot at such a young age, when you have come back home, what is your view of Namibia as a country and its various ethnic backgrounds all coupled in one?
TE: We are blessed to have such a beautiful and peaceful country with an abundance of opportunities and possibilities. Compared to all the other African countries I have worked in, we are a civilized nation, with a very good road infrastructure, a country where the rule of law is respected and we take all these things for granted until we go and experience worse elsewhere. I could not have asked for a better blessing than to be Namibian and to thrive into the diversity and natural beauty that our country has to offer. I, therefore, want to salute our political leaders, and the fallen heroes and heroines for the sacrifices they made which we enjoy today. Most of us might not have been in the struggle or have such credentials and the responsibility is therefore bigger on us to advance from political independence to economic independence.
PF: What would you say is your most priced and treasured possession to date?
TE: The fact that you can strip me of all my material possession and that I would still be worth something, and that is the power of knowledge which is priceless.
PF: Finally, if you were stranded on an island with no cell phones and internet technology, what three things would you prefer to have by your side?
TE: My imagination, my soul and my Bible.
PF: Ten years from now, how do you want to be remembered? And where are you likely to be?
TE: I would like to be remembered not so much for who I was but for the contribution I made while I had the chance to. I want to be remembered for the legacy I left, a legacy which is inspiring and which others can build their own successes on. I would be a thriving businessman. PF
Who is Tim Ekandjo?
Chief Human Capital & Corporate Affairs Officer-Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC)
Marital Status: Married
Qualifications: Masters Business Leadership (MBL), Master in HR*, B:Tech HR, National Diploma HR
Tim is the Chief Human Capital & Corporate Affairs Officer of MTC. He was born in his hometown of Luderitz and comes from a family of six. He completed his matric at Martin Luther High School near Omaruru where he was actively involved in student politics, leading the local and regional Erongo Nanso branch, while being the head of the Erongo Regional SRC which he was a founder member of. He joined MTC in October 2008.
Tim obtained a Masters in Business Leadership from UNISA, Masters in HR* and B:Tech Degree in Human Resource Management and a National Diploma in Human Resource Management through Peninsula Technikon in Cape Town.
Tim started his HR career whilst being a student at Sanlam Head Office in Cape Town where he was recruited based on an excellent recommendation by the Head of the HR Faculty, well renowned HR author Professor S. Bendix. In his final year of studies, he was recruited by Safmarine in Cape Town again through strong recommendation. Upon finalizing his studies, he returned to Namibia, Luderitz where he was appointed as HR Officer by Seaflower Whitefish Corporation in Luderitz, and later promoted as HR Manager, and eventually Group HR Manager responsible for HR operations for Seaflower Whitefish and Seaflower Lobster
In 2006, he was recruited by Shell Namibia as Country HR Manager, and soon thereafter assumed overall regional HR responsibilities for Shell Mozambique and Shell Botswana in addition to Shell Namibia. Whilst at Shell, Tim was extensively involved in one of Shell’s biggest HR Projects in Africa called HR Up, which involved systematically assessing the country HR departments to ensure the very basics are in place and make recommendations to ensure all findings are closed. During this project, Tim had direct responsibility for Shell Uganda, Shell Morocco, Shell Togo and Shell Mali in which he successfully managed to deliver and turn around HR best practices in those countries.
In 2008, he joined Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC) as Chief Human Capital Officer where he successfully turned around the HR strategy through an aggressive project called HR Excellence. In 2008, Tim took over the GM Corporate Affairs responsibility in addition to his role and was than appointed Chief Human Capital & Corporate Affairs Officer. While at MTC, Tim completed a Mini MBA in Telecommunications to enhance his business understanding of the telecommunications industry.
Because of his passion for the HR profession, in March 2010 Tim initiated an HR Breakfast Meeting which was attended by over 100 HR professionals from across Namibia. In that meeting, Tim made a strong call for a professional HR body and a resolution was taken at that Breakfast Meeting to form the Institute of People Management in Namibia. Tim is now the incumbent Chairperson of the Institute of People Management which will soon be officially launched.
In his spare time, Tim enjoys enhancing the HR profession to greater levels, watching soccer and being at home with his wife, Nothembile. He always enjoys poetry as he is fascinated by language and cites the fact that he loves noise with a purpose as the reason why his favourite music is Jazz. PF