How Airtel revolutionized telecommunications in Africa

With formidable forces in the leadership team driving both the aggressive growth of the business and the continuous improvements in customer experience, multinational telecommunications company Airtel rose to become the  capitalized company listed on the Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX). The company, for the first time, hit a record  high of N1,271 per share last month with a market capital of N4.

Airtel which has remained very profitable and value-driven was listed on the Exchange in 2019, and rapidly grew to emerge the largest African company on the LSE, unsitting Dangote Cement Plc from a position it had held for a while. Interestingly, the milestone achievement caught the eye of global investors as Tech giant Google disclosed its plan to invest $1b in Airtel’s parent company, Bharti-Airtel for a 1.28% stake.

The company was founded in 2001 as Econet Nigeria and was awarded Digital Mobile License (DML) for communication service in Nigeria. It made history on August 5, 2001 by becoming the first telecommunications service provider to launch commercial GSM services in Nigeria. In 2004, Vodacom took charge of the company as management changed hands. Later in 2004, Vee Networks took the reins of the company and became known as Vmobile. In May 2006, Vmobile was acquired by Celtel. In 2008, Zain Group, another telecommunications company acquired all Celtel International’s shares of over $3 billion. As a result of this acquisition, all operations of Celtel Africa was rebranded from Celtel to Zain. In 2010, Bharti Airtel, the parent company of Airtel Nigeria, completed the acquisition of Zain Group’s Africa business in a $10.7 billion transaction.

Worthy of applause is Segun Ogunsanya, who currently sits as the CEO for Airtel Africa after nine years as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Nigeria. He is equally the only Nigerian CEO of a major telecommunications multinational company, and as well the longest serving CEO of the organization.

Reigning as CEO for over two decades, Ogunsanya has over 30 years’ cognate experience firmly under his belt garnered across multiple geographies, organizations and diverse sectors such as telecoms, consulting, Banking and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG).

Ogunsanya is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s most celebrated company CEOs and his resilience is visible to all including Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari who congratulated him saying the flag of Nigeria has been hoisted proudly across the African skyline once again, even as he urged younger Nigerians to draw inspiration from Ogunsanya, saying with focus, dint of hard work, and resourcefulness, they would reach the peak of whatever careers they have chosen for themselves.

He kicked off his journey at Arthur Andersen, then moved to Coca-Cola International in Ghana where he grew to become the CEO. He moved to Kenya as CEO of the Coca-Cola operations there and returned to Nigeria as CEO of the Nigerian Bottling Company, the bottlers of Coca-Cola. It was from there he joined Airtel bringing along his FMCG experience apparently to make Airtel the “Coca-Cola” of the telecommunications industry. This is no surprise to industry watchers because he performed a similar feat in Airtel Nigeria, which became PAT (Profit After Tax) positive only one year after he joined the company from the Coca Cola Hellenic’s Bottling Company, Nigeria.

He joined Airtel Nigeria from the Coca-Cola System, where he started his career in Finance and gradually transitioned into senior leadership roles within the various bottling operations of The Coca-Cola Company across diverse markets and countries in Africa. In his last stint as the Managing Director and CEO of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company in Nigeria, the first African to be so appointed, he was responsible for over $1bn revenue operations annually.

He was also the CEO of the Kenya operations for Coca-Cola Sabco, where he was instrumental in successfully turning around the business. Before this, he worked with Eco bank Transnational where, as the Managing Director of its Retail Banking for Africa, he was responsible for retail banking operations across 28 countries.

Between 1999 and 2007, he was the Chief Executive officer of The Coca-Cola Bottling of Company of Ghana where he turned around the business from loss-making to profit-making aside from supervising the divestment of the Government of Ghana from the business.

Apart from manufacturing and banking, Mr Ogunsanya has consulting experience having worked with Arthur Anderson & Co in Nigeria where he was involved in Audit, Tax Advisory, setting up new businesses and profit improvement services.

Ogunsanya is arguably the first African to lead an FTSE 100 company. Not a stranger to recording firsts, he is also the First Black African Chief Executive Officer of Coca-Cola Bottling of Ghana; First Black African Chief Executive Officer of Coca-Cola Sabco’s Bottling operations in Kenya and First African Chief Executive Officer of Coca-Cola Hellenic’s Bottling Operations in Nigeria.

In 2012, he was appointed a member of the Implementation and Technical Committee of Strategic Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Policy by the Federal Government of Nigeria. He was a member of the Business Support Group, which was set up to provide a platform for anchoring the views of the Organized Private Sector on the development of a National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan for the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2013.

A director on the board of Nigeria Economic Summit Group, the foremost private sector advocacy group in Nigeria and a director on the board of Grange Education Ltd (Grange School). He also served on the board of the following organisations at various times: Coca-Cola Holdings, Kenya, Coca-Cola Juice Company, Kenya (BSK Limited), Board of Trustees of Machakos Institute of Developmental Studies (Kenya), American Chambers of Commerce, Ghana (Vice President), Board of Trustees of the Post Graduate Medical School of Ghana, Junior Achievers, Ghana Chapter, and ICT Advisory Board, Nigeria.

Ogunsanya, an alumnus of the highly regarded Mayflower School, Ikenne, Ogun State, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Ife, Nigeria. He is also a Chartered Accountant. A member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Institute of Credit Administration and Institute of Directors in Nigeria, he is also an Honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Food, Science & Technology. He is a member of the prestigious Lagos Metropolitan Club, the Ikoyi Club and Lagos Motor Boat Club.

On, November 28, 2021, he was awarded an Honourary Doctor of Computer Education Degree by Tai Solarin University of Education, Ogun State, Nigeria. So, you can call him Dr Segun Ogunsanya!

If his track record is anything to go by Ogunsanya, with his extraordinary leadership skills and his revolutionary management team is well-positioned to make Airtel Africa the largest, most profitable and most reliable mobile telecommunications network in the continent. Airtel Africa’s publicly avowed commitment to “expanding financial inclusion, sustainably bridging the digital divide, meeting the evolving needs of customers and supporting host communities” seems strong enough pillars to make the above dream a reality. With the recent approval of Mobile Money and Super Agent licenses for Airtel in Nigeria, the coast is clear for greater earnings and the reality will be sooner rather than later.


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